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How community projects are helping tackle loneliness and isolation

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Dr Chris Manning

MRCGP, Founder and Chair, Sheddington

Our health is not simply the absence of illness; it is a positive state in its own right. Meaningful social interaction is proven to be vital in combating loneliness and maintaining our wellbeing.


When my younger brother died three years ago, preceded by my mother a few months earlier, I was very unsure what to do and sank into an episode of depression (whilst still on medication). I knew I had to do something real and meaningful to lift myself out of it. Having read about Men Sheds in Australia, I decided to set one up in an old church hall near where I live.

It is perfectly possible to feel very down and for life still to matter. There have been many challenges – especially COVID-19 – yet addressing these has brought some 20 of us much closer together and we are now ready to expand further into our community.

All in it together

Our motto is “Benefitting our community through meeting, making and mending together.” There are so many human ‘conditions’ that benefit from company, and activities that give meaning to life and protect health.

Many of our woes can be dissolved through meaningful activities, banter and the company of others and so we do our best to ensure that people are able to find their sweet spot. This might be quietly weeding; noisily turning something on the lathe; chatting to someone who has brought in an item for repair and much more.

Our motto is “Benefitting our community through meeting, making and mending together.” There are so many human ‘conditions’ that benefit from company, and activities that give meaning to life and protect health.

Social prescribing

As a GP years ago and before the introduction of printers, I wrote ‘social prescriptions’ by hand on the script itself – advice for diet, exercise, relevant charities, mutual support groups and local/national charities. Now there is a National Academy of Social Prescribing to lead on both research and activities that enable people to be ‘signposted’ to relevant help and support.

Most recently, University College London launched a call for research into loneliness and self-isolation. Together, the UK Men’s Sheds Association (UKMSA) and the University of East Anglia bid successfully to research this issue in the context of Sheds. This will be instrumental in informing UKMSA strategy and operations; Shed organisers at local level and those to whom we all relate to in our various communities. It will also build on the recent research published by the Scotland Men’s Shed Association and lever Sheds into the ‘community conversation’ across the UK – without Sheds losing their soul in the process.

The UCL project has been funded by the Loneliness & Social Isolation in Mental Health Research Network, which is funded by UK Research and Innovation (Grant reference: ES/S004440/1) and their support is gratefully acknowledged. Any views expressed here are those of the project investigators and do not necessarily represent the views of the Loneliness & Social Isolation in Mental Health Research Network or UKRI.

References:
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/psychiatry/research/epidemiology-and-applied-clinical-research-department/loneliness-and-social-isolation-28

Men’s Sheds as an alternative healthcare route? A qualitative study – Scottish Men's Sheds Association

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How specialist dementia support can aid care

Caroline Baker

Director of Dementia Care, Barchester Healthcare

Moving into a care home can be a challenging time for those living with dementia, but having specialist dementia caregivers and supportive communities can help ease the transition.  


At the very heart of our dementia ethos is the belief that we see the person and not the condition. With every new resident that comes to live in our communities, we take the time to get to know that person and their loved ones so that we can develop an in-depth knowledge of who they are, who and what is important to them and understand the life they have led. 

Specialist dementia environments  

We recognise that moving into a care home can be a distressing time for somebody living with dementia as they are moving into a new environment and our staff are skilled at managing the settling in time, to alleviate anxiety and make them feel as comfortable as possible as quickly as possible.  

Our homes all have clear signage, colours and themes within the corridors of the memory lane communities, as we understand the important role this can play in helping the residents to find their way around the home more easily.  

It is also really important to us that we focus on nutrition and ensure that our residents are able to continue to eat and drink the things that they like. Assistance is provided to help them to do this through the use of skilled staff, specialist crockery and cutlery (if that is required) and a choice of dining settings to accommodate their individual needs. 

We have also found robotic pets to be a real hit as many of our residents had either a cat or a dog at home.

Understanding dementia care needs  

Our staff at Barchester are extremely knowledgeable in dementia care and provide daily activities that are suitable to the individual’s needs and we are constantly looking at new technology that can support this. We have introduced magic tables into a lot of our homes, these are interactive light projectors designed to promote stimulation through specialised games.  

They support increased physical and social interactions for residents and most of all, offer the opportunity to have fun, which has proved to be a real success as family and friends have also been able to participate in this along with the resident. We have also found robotic pets to be a real hit as many of our residents had either a cat or a dog at home and we have seen so much joy when residents are interacting with them.  

Barchester Healthcare’s specialist dementia team are working with Leeds Beckett University’s Centre for Dementia Research. Their findings are being implemented in Barchester’s Memory Lane communities.  

To find a Barchester home near you go to www.barchester.com 

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