My Time to Shine - MHA Beyond the Garden Gate


A look behind-the-scenes at Beyond the Garden Gate, a fantastic befriending project run by MHA. The project has been funded by Time to Shine over the last three years and has helped a huge

Tamount of isolated older people in Leeds. By Jayne Holland


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Feb 2021

The original aim of the project was to provide a befriending service to help lonely older people go “Beyond the Garden Gate”. Lots of older people are so isolated that they rarely go out; the project was set up to build people’s confidence and help them reconnect with their local communities. The befriending service is led by volunteers and the idea was to support older people for 12 weeks. The older people would be referred by the Reablement (SKiLs) services in Leeds. A volunteer would initially meet the older person to set out some personal goals. These goals might be as simple as to have a chat on the telephone; walk to the garden gate; go on a supported shopping trip; or visit a local coffee shop. The volunteer would provide short-term support for the older person to gain confidence. Hopefully the older person would start to do day-to-day activities themselves - or be linked to a community schemes for longer-term support if they needed it. The volunteer could then move on to help other older people.

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The project was set
up to build people’s confidence and help them reconnect with their local communities
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The project initially linked with three neighbourhood network schemes based at Pudsey, Farsley and Horsforth. This was extended to the South Leeds scheme based in Beeston as the project expanded. The team was appointed, a project manager, volunteer recruitment manager, and one community support coordinator. At a later date (as the project extended) a further community coordinator joined the team.
Meetings were held with the reablement management team in the west of the city and the “Beyond the Garden Gate” referral pathway was introduced. This meant that the right people knew about the project and could refer anyone to it. At this point the  Community Support team prepared our own processes to accept referrals. These included a dedicated email address and landline phone number with answering service. We also began a large recruitment drive for volunteers so we were ready to provide the support.
How did it work? The referral was sent to the CSP. They made contact with the older person directly. Sometimes we’d do a “warm handover” where one of the community coordinators met the older person alongside one of the reablement team. They’d work with the person to agree goals. Then we’d find a volunteer befriender and go from there.

We’ve now extended the project to include the reablement team in the South and other neighbour- hood nursing teams, community mental health workers and more. These referrals are received from all over the Leeds. The project acts as a “triage” system to allow easy referrals to all neighbourhood networks across the city if necessary.
As the Community Support Project draws to a close, the team and volunteers are working more directly in the MHA Communities teams so that the work with the “Beyond the Garden Gate” initiative continues to provide the support that is required.
Jackie and Zara, who have been part of the project hare their stories.

Initially, it was my social worker who contacted the community support project. I had recently lost my long-term partner and had been in hospital. I was living at a kind of nursing home based in Pudsey whilst I was waiting to be rehoused. I was feeling a bit lonely and worried about what might happen to me when I moved to a new house. Helen and Jane from the community support project came to see me. They told me about how they had a team of volunteers and they could get someone to come and talk to me and help me go out and about shopping and things like that. A lady called Zara came to see me at the home and she took me shopping and talked to me. She was lovely and she still supported me when I moved out to Bramley.
When I was involved with Zara, I felt very supported and she helped me a lot with my anxiety. She used to get me to write things down when things were worrying me and then we used to talk about them when we met. She really helped me get the confidence to go out and be more independent. She used to listen to me. It helped me feel less lonely and less isolated and I felt able to do more things by myself.
When I moved, I was linked to Bramley Elderly Action and a lady called Julie helped me and got me involved in things. I have been settled in my flat quite a while now. I now have a carer who helps me with my anxiety and she takes me to the shops or the bank. She tries to get me to remember my shopping list in my head as we go round the shop - I think she is trying to help retain my memory and keep me focused!
The Covid situation had restricted things a lot. I hope we can start doing more normal things soon. I would like to volunteer but it’s hard for me to think about that at the moment. I have seen Jane since Covid started. She came to visit me outside to check how I was doing - she is not allowed to come in. It was great to see her as sometimes it is difficult as I haven’t got a phone. I feel safe but I have found being more locked up difficult. People have mentioned about computers but I don’t understand them. I would rather go to the library and read things. I just really feel that the Covid situation has knocked me back a bit but I think I will be ok when I can see more people who might be able to visit me.

Jackie Watson
After searching online for a volunteering opportunity, I found some information about MHA and the befriending project they were starting. I sent an email Jackie and Zara, who have been part of the project hare their stories. Initially, it was my social worker who contacted the community support project. 
We had a great chat about our experiences with befriending and I was happy to sign up to volunteer straight away.
I really enjoyed meeting up with Jackie each week. It was amazing to see how far she progressed, from being quite shy on our first few visits, to venturing out to look around the charity shops for an afternoon out together. We spent our first visit drawing pictures and telling each other where we were from and a little bit about where we grew up.
Jackie didn’t have the confidence to go out for a walk or felt too nervous to talk to new people.

Towards the end of our visits, we were going on walks around the village, Jackie was confident enough to ask the driver for our bus tickets and would order our drinks at the café! It really brings a smile to my face knowing that I have been involved in Jackie’s progress and have helped to give her confidence when meeting people and carrying out her daily tasks.

I enjoying getting to know new people and hearing their stories. Volunteering as a befriender is a great way to meet people and to me, it was a very fulfilling way to spend a Saturday afternoon! The person you’re visiting becomes a friend and meeting up for a cup of tea and a catch-up becomes something to look forward to each week, from both sides. Not only do I feel a great sense of joy and fulfilment when I think about helping Jackie, this role has also helped me understand what I would like to do in my career. I now work in a patient services role in the NHS, which was inspired by the people I met whilst volunteering with MHA. This role has really inspired me to help people, not only in my work life but in my personal life because I have seen what positive difference programmes like this can make on people’s lives.
MHA has a fab team. The first person I spoke to was Sue, who was so friendly, positive and proud to be part of this project – I instantly felt like Ito be part of this project – I instantly felt like I wanted to be involved! I met some other lovely volunteers at an induction day and coffee evening that the team put on for volunteers. We got together for coffee and biscuits which was a great way to meet other volunteers and hear about their experiences and what they wanted to put in and get out of the role.
I felt very supported throughout my time as a volunteer. On my first visit I was met by Jane who introduced me to Jackie and helped out. Our first visit run smoothly. Jane had lots of experiences and stories that she shared with me. She checked in with me after my first few visits to make sure everything went ok and I felt like I could contact her or Sue if ever I had any questions.
Jackie is such a lovely lady, she is very caring and I’m glad I was able to spend my time volunteering
with her.

Zara Payton
Thanks Zara and Jackie for sharing their stories.
If you want to get more information about MHA contact them at 0113 271 6201
or look at the website at

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