Community support a lasting legacy

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

AGEING Well Torbay is coming to an end, but much of our work over the last seven years will continue.

AWT was just one of fourteen projects funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, tasked with looking at ways of tackling loneliness and isolation in over 50-year-olds.

The learning has been phenomenal as each area set about testing different solutions to the same problem. The key to the whole thing was the use of test and learn, which allowed for failings alongside the successes.

Here in the Bay, we were given the opportunity to create a team of Community Builders who worked in defined areas across Brixham, Paignton and Torquay, identifying opportunities to bring people together and providing support where necessary.

There is no quick fix to isolation and it often takes a range of things before a solution can be found, but at the centre of it all is the individual and their particular needs.

We have always been careful to work with people, not for people and we look for the strengths in people and communities to bring out the best in everyone. We have always believed that we have what need when we share what we have.

Reasons why people become socially isolated are complex and multi-faceted and working with the individual to identify those reasons such as mental health, financial issues, housing or ill health need to be sorted before the journey out of social isolation can even begin.

In Torbay, we have found time and again that isolation comes about for a variety of reasons based on the topography, public transport, bereavement and disability to name but a few.

So many people have moved here in later life with fond memories of family holidays taken when health was not an issue and transport was either a car or the ability to walk up and down hills.

At first, life in the Bay is glorious. Friends and family visit from afar and life can feel like one long holiday with beaches, moorland and numerous attractions in easy reach. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot. A very different reality can be just around the corner. So often a partner dies and then the family and friends needed for support are a long, long way away, the traditional historic network is no longer there.

Health issues can mean the loss of the family car and the fabulous views from the top of the hill are less attractive when walking up and down is no longer possible and there are no buses.

Life can change overnight and a formerly outgoing character can become isolated, lonely and depressed with no one to turn to and little to look forward to.

And that is where we come in. Community Builders, often working with social prescribing colleagues from Age UK Torbay, help people reconnect with activities, and groups that they want to engage with.

It can be anything from morning coffee groups to afternoon tea dances, from walking groups to any number of hobby clubs from yarnbombers to railway modellers; all have key things in common, company and the potential for friendships.

A community that has a wide range of activities that people want to do creates an environment where people can feel connected. The activities act as the hook for people wanting to get engaged and involved, which in turn can build confidence allowing people to form friendships.

Friendships cannot be engineered, but you can bring people together and provide an environment where ‘natural’ bonds can be nurtured and developed. Friendships are the ultimate tool in preventing isolation.

As we move on from AWT, we will continue to help build communities, but there will be no age restriction this time. We will continue to seek out the best-connected people in every community, regardless of age and help them identify things that matter to them and their neighbours.

We will continue to seek out the strengths, skills and assets in every community and tease out the best way of using them for the benefit of everyone.

It has been a long journey to get where we are, but taking what we have learned from projects across the country we can build a better, stronger Torbay.