My Time to Shine - Connections

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Every month we focus on a project funded by Time to Shine to see how they support older people in Leeds.
This month we hear about Health For All: Connections, which is a project for older people in South Leeds.

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March 2021

Connections is a fun-filled, creative and realistic project reaching older people who are experiencing social isolation, and is designed to accommodate many ages and demographics. The project engages older people by offering a variety of activities that spark a passion or rediscover lost interests. We are also very keen on providing activities that encourage and promote physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The project’s main base is in South Leeds, utilising suitable facilities and infrastructure to provide a menu of life enhancing activities for our participants. However, we have been successful in implementing groups and activities and sourced venues across many Leeds post codes. The Connections project adopts a community development approach and supports the participants to run their own groups, offering traditional and new activities including sport, singing, gentle exercise, arts and crafts, woodwork, metalwork, photography, walking, construction, gardening, DIY, I.T. and social groups. We support people to independence through advice, guidance and funding to ensure sustainability, so building a network of
older people’s self-help groups across the city. Exciting new groups established include: mindfulness, Reiki, Tai Chi, Quizzes, poetry and creative writing. Many of the techniques in our self-care activities can be used at home promoting better sleep and a reduction in stress levels.

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I really benefit from being involved.
I meet new people, make new friends and learn new skills

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We currently work stand-alone and also alongside local organisations, with which we have established links. We continually strive to work with new projects where it is appropriate to do so e.g. Neighbourhood Networks and other third sector organisations. We are keen to raise awareness of social isolation and its detrimental effects on older people, recruiting volunteers and Community Connectors from those local areas/communities. These are trained and supported to, in turn, engage older isolated people in the project. Connections engages the participants in a programme of discovery as to what existing interests they have and establishes activity groups with a focus on such passions. We also introduce new interests that inspire and motivate older people to be part of a social network and connection of peers. The network circle will gradually improve their mental wellbeing and reduce their social isolation and loneliness.
 
There is no doubt that the current pandemic and the restrictions it imposes and the lockdowns we have experienced have seen us adapt in a way that we were not expecting. When the face-to-face groups had to cease in Spring we quickly grabbed the nettle of using digital technology, embracing such things as Zoom
and Facebook. This allowed us a platform to continue with the groups, and although there was no personal contact, our participants were able to continue with their activities and have the interaction so badly needed through these difficult times. Our current online groups include Tai Chi, Poetry, Singing, Quizzes, Social Groups, Mindfulness, Camera & I.T.- all of which we will continue both face-to-face and online once the Covid situation finally ends. We are currently running a free food parcel delivery system for our older members along with a group counselling session for those struggling emotionally with the pandemic.
 
We asked some of the people involved with the project to share their experiences. First of all we talked to Liza Oliver:
 
Liza’s Story
 
I was born in Middlesborough and most of my life I lived up North, near Sunderland. I had a big family there: uncle, auntie and cousins. My Nana lived there too. It was a good life! Every month or so we’d have a party – drinking and dancing. Parties in our homes. I used to stay with my auntie a lot. On a night-time she’d make me ham and pease-pudding butties. She’d send me out for fish and chips too.
 
I was born deaf. My auntie found out. I was on the floor playing – and she was making noises, but I wasn’t responding. So, she said to my mum and dad, “you’d better take her down to the health visitor, get her hearing checked out.” She was right: I was deaf. I had a good bond with my auntie, my Nana too.
 
I was living in Somerset and there was no deaf community or support for deaf people. I came to Leeds and moved into Shine House, which is a residential home for deaf people with mental health issues. I also have schizophrenia. I spent five years there. I got married, but that broke up. Now I’m with Claire. I met her in Manchester, in a coffee shop in the gay village. We formed our relationship from there. And we got married 2 years ago. We had a good wedding, people came from Wales, Canada, Australia. We enjoyed the day.
 
I was living round the corner from the community centre. I think I saw something on the internet. I
went down there for a meeting. This was before Covid. They were doing the kitchen out, so they made it accessible for me – I’m in a wheelchair. So, me and Amy and Martin looked at the menu to make sure

it had Vegan and Gluten-Free food. We decided I would help in the kitchen and we’d set up a British
 
Sign Language Class. When the lockdown lifts, I’m hoping to go back and start running the class on a Tuesday and invite people along for lunch. I’m going to design some posters to get people to come for lunches.
 
I’ve joined two groups on Zoom. The Women’s Group and the Music Group. I’m really glad I did it because it helps me keep my mind off Covid. And I can keep in touch with my friends. In the music group we do singing warm-ups and some play instruments. Amy plays guitar and I play my drum. I was a bit dubious about going on Zoom. I didn’t think it was that good, but it’s brilliant. You can see the other members joining in.
 
I really benefit from being involved. I meet new people, make new friends and learn new skills. And I get into a routine – getting up, getting the bus. Martin and Amy are great. They accept who you are - and they do their best to communicate with me.

 
Pat’s Story
 
I got involved when the first lockdown started back in March. I'm a clinically vulnerable person and couldn't go out anywhere. Normally I spend time every week as a volunteer for OPAL in Leeds 16. I was really missing this and the people who I volunteer with. OPAL had been told about the support work Health for All were doing - especially online and told me about the weekly Zoom quiz they were doing. I love quizzes anyway so this was perfect for me. I knew other volunteers who were going to give it a go too.
 
I get so many positive benefits from being involved. I have a regular activity to look forward to. I can see
and chat with others. It makes me want to do a bit
of research or reading about the world around me. It’s fun and cheers me up. Martin and Amy who deliver the quiz are always upbeat and friendly. I really look forward to the weekly session.

 
I love that Connections is quite easy to access. It’s reliable - same day & time every week. And the leaders! The company, the laughter and the fun - and of course the challenge. For me I still have to be very careful. I'm still spending most of my time at home, so I still look forward to the weekly quiz. Meeting up with others online is a great substitute for face-to-face meetings. It’s made such a difference to me and helps me to stay sane. A BIG thank you to Martin and Amy.
 
Sue’s Story
 
My daughter and I are regular Coffee Afternoon volunteers for Opal. We thoroughly enjoy our sessions at the Welcome In. Due to Covid restrictions early on in the pandemic we found ourselves with some time on our hands which was unusual. We were really pleased to be put in touch with Health for All and to be able to join in their activity sessions via Zoom.
 
We quickly established a good rapport with Martin and Amy from Health for All due to their upbeat personalities and inclusive attitudes. The sessions are lively and fun, make you think and completely immerse you in the here and now. Everyone is welcomed to the session and a wide friendship group has been established which creates a contact point in the week to look forward to.
 
The best thing about the project is the feeling that if you had a problem there would be someone there to help with reassurance, practical help or to point you in the right direction. I would very much like our involvement with the project to continue for as long as possible during the current Covid pandemic and beyond. Covid is responsible for many tragic events but has (perversely) been responsible for already fantastic projects to highlight and play a major role tackling loneliness and isolation.

 
Thanks to Connections for being the highlight of the week!
 
If you live in South Leeds please contact martin.brennan@healthforall.org.uk or Amy.hallam@healthforall.org.uk to join in any of the groups or set up your own.

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