Our coordinator Ray Olaniyan has made a fantastic contribution to MACC’s ‘No Going Back’ publication this month. It features articles from leaders of voluntary sector organisations in Gorton and Levenshulme, who share their experiences and views of working at a neighbourhood level during the Covid-19 crisis.
You can read his article below!
NO GOING BACK
When faced with the first national lockdown on 23 March 2020, the level of uncertainty seemed unmanageable for a lot of people. There were far fewer things within our control on both a personal and professional level. When the Prime Minister’s statement concluded that evening, living rooms all over the country filled with questions: ‘What will happen tomorrow? When will this lockdown end? Will I get sick? Will anything happen to my loved ones?’
I needed to find a way to alleviate this uncertainty. I needed a focus and a plan for our older residents and their befrienders. Levenshulme Good Neighbours work with around 300 older adults each year, 60 of whom are
in befriending relationships. We are proud that these matches are made with preferences and interests in mind rather than through the availability of our volunteers. It is a personalised service, one that takes into account
the individuals we work for and our longest matched neighbours celebrated six years of friendship in 2020. Supporting older neighbours in partnership
Finding the solution to one simple question became my mission: ‘How can Levenshulme Good Neighbours safely reach out to our older neighbours at a time when they need our support more than ever?’
The Covid-19 crisis has been the ultimate test of our working relationships with our community partners. Organisations and residents in Levenshulme have shown that they are robust, they are strong, they are connected and they are resilient. During the first lockdown, Levenshulme used contrasting slogans to the ones heard on the radio or on the telly. Levenshulme
chose to spread the word about ‘social solidarity and physical distancing’ rather than about ‘social distancing’. We understood, from the very start, that the response to Covid-19 was not just about physical needs, it was
also about social needs. Levenshulme Good Neighbours came together with
other local community groups and organisations and prioritised four key areas of work:
– Looking after older people’s welfare
– Ensuring that everyone had access to food
– Providing activities to keep people entertained
– Tackling digital exclusion
By the time Manchester City Council’s Community Response Hub began, the Levenshulme approach was well established. We fought the virus collectively with our partners to ensure our older locals were fed, entertained, stayed crafty, felt accompanied and motivated throughout the pandemic. This had a beneficial impact for both our older service users and
our volunteers in the community.
Our older neighbours split into two categories. Surprisingly, some were thankful to see the world coming to their doorstep. They found schemes, such as meals being delivered, free IT equipment and mutual aid cards to be uplifting. On the other hand, others felt their confidence levels eroding as they watched their world shrink each day. The Covid-19 crisis has left some, who it had taken us a long while to persuade to take pleasure in being out there in their communities, feeling lonely, isolated and craving social interaction. It is not only our older neighbours that experienced loneliness. We recruited a new pool of volunteers who volunteered not just because they wanted to do something good but also because they were feeling isolated and needed contact with the outside world. The befriender became the befriended.
Sympathy for older neighbours transformed into empathy. It is not only our older neighbours that experienced loneliness…. The befriender became the befriended
We are the Experts
We have invaluable insight into the lives of our older neighbours. Our volunteers have spent over 11,500 hours befriending them and learning about 26. Right now, it feels like we have a moment in the spotlight and the
attention of our partners in the public sector…. It is time to build on this work and ensure that we are valued as community partners not only in
crisis but long into the future their needs and wishes. We spend time one to one with people, we know about their shifts in moods, their interests, their eating habits and we hear their personal stories. We really understand the impact of the pandemic on individuals’ lives. We need to recognise and understand that people in our neighbourhood get older and for some, getting out into community spaces is not feasible and for others it is not desired. If there is one thing we have learned throughout the pandemic, it is that we can bring a sense of belonging and community to a person’s doorstep.
It pleased me to see a shift in my work from activities and events in communal spaces for the maximum numbers of older adults to taking an individualised approach. This personalised support is how it should be;
it is what we have always championed. Instead of being driven by numbers, we have been given the opportunity by our funders to support people in a way that is most meaningful to them. If there is one thing we have learned
throughout the pandemic, it is that we can bring a sense of belonging and
community to a person’s doorstep.
A Trusted Partner
A trusted partner I am pleased to say that our relationship with the
public sector has developed positively throughout these testing times. We found that our partners from the health and social care statutory sector are not only willing to listen to us, but they have relied on our expertise to understand the individuals that we collectively support. We have replied to letters from local GPs inquiring about the wellbeing of some of our
most isolated, older neighbours. We have taken phone calls from social work teams where the conversation centred around our service, what support we usually provide for older adults and how we planned to adapt.
Community groups and voluntary sector organisations continually attempt to demonstrate the valuable contribution we make to improve the health and wellbeing of those we serve. We have been banging this drum for decades and banging it loudly. Right now, it feels like we have a moment in the spotlight and the attention of our partners in the public sector.
It feels like the script is beginning to change and we are emerging from the Covid-19 crisis as a trusted partner, rather than an afterthought. It is time to build on this work and ensure that we are valued as community
partners not only in crisis but long into the future.
So, ‘how can Levenshulme Good Neighbours safely reach out to our older neighbours at a time when they need our support more than ever?’ The answer is simple. The solution to all of our problems is each other.
To read the opinions and views of some of the other fantastic organisations in our neighbourhood, take a look at the full publication