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BAB is a partnership of individuals and organisations working together to reduce isolation and loneliness among older people in Bristol.
The North Bristol Advice Centre (NBAC) is one of the partners that deliver the Community Navigators project; a project, which works one-to-one with clients, aged 50+ supporting them to feel happier, healthier and less lonely by connecting them with their community. The navigators provide this service free of charge, either at the home of the older person accessing the service or over the phone.
During lockdown, NBAC had to suspend their face-to-face appointments with clients and instead kept in touch with clients through weekly calls and offered prescription collection and urgent food shopping. Once lockdown began to ease, NBAC was able to make doorstep visits and reintroduce their home visit service according to social distancing guidance. The Community Navigators would not normally offer long-term support to clients, however, due to the complexity of lockdown and the impact this had on people's wellbeing and mental health, it was important to extend support where possible. One client the Navigators worked with over lockdown was Eleanor, who was first referred to the service in 2019 via the Community Support at Home team at NBAC.
Eleanor, (85) lives by herself in Lockleaze where she has lived for over 40 years. Originally from a large family, all of Eleanor’s siblings have now passed away and although she has children and grandchildren, she was missing the human connection offered by people of a similar age to herself. Eleanor describes it as “Not having the same connection you can get with people your own age who share the same cultural memories as you.”
Eleanor lives with COPD which leads to becoming breathless quickly, meaning she can find it difficult to walk far from the house, because of this Eleanor was spending a lot of time alone at home. Eleanor used to be very socially active and loved going out and about, but since her husband passed away, and the tragic loss of her very young grandson this has led to feelings of depression and loneliness.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, the Community Navigators connected Eleanor with local groups such as arts and crafts, shopping trips, and a film club at The Hub and Buzz café on Gainsborough Square. Eleanor began going out on shopping trips with support community at home, and began to feel more confident leaving the house to attend the local craft group at the Buzz Café. Eleanor enjoyed walking up to the Buzz café, or as she calls it, “The chat café’ as it felt homely and inviting with a friendly atmosphere.” During this time, Eleanor noticed how her emotional well-being had benefited from being introduced to people locally and spending time with people she felt connected to in ‘mind and spirit’.
However when the coronavirus crisis began Eleanor was advised to shield which has led her to spend more time alone again, “Because I’m in my 80’s I feel I’m losing out on my time and life … I can touch the silence.” Family and neighbours have been regularly helping with food shopping but Eleanor said she felt like she was “Being a burden when they have their own families and health issues to worry about.”
What Eleanor has been most grateful for is how the navigators have been in contact weekly, she feels lucky to have the connection with the team while she is shielding away from her family. Eleanor would recommend the navigators as they have brought “positivity and human contact back as losing contact with friends has been really sad.” The navigators have supported Eleanor through weekly calls to check in on her emotional wellbeing, offered referrals to professional emotional and counselling support, prescription collection and urgent food shopping. Eleanor says that these calls make her, “Feel like there is always someone available, that I am not alone”. Eleanor has found that receiving a call “long or short” makes her feel supported locally and that although life is different now, she feels less isolated.
The Community Navigators have continued to support Eleanor to build confidence in travelling with a local accessible transport scheme and to support her to a socially distant and safe coffee morning. Eleanor has been referred to ReEngage for befriending who also offer volunteer-led afternoon teas all within Government guidelines in the local area.
The Community Navigators hope to support Eleanor and others they have been working with to attend locally supported Christmas activities. Eleanor is very interested in these activities as she would like to, “give back to people who may have been feeling the same as me, I want to help others feel less alone.”
For the team at NBAC, the coronavirus crisis has been a test of their resilience and staff morale has struggled, particularly as the seasons change. NBAC continued with monthly supervision monthly to support staff burn out as client calls were complex and challenging, often featuring suicidal feelings and depression
Eleanor tells us that talking to the navigators regularly has given her her motivation back. “I’m nosey and love people and want to know about people’s lives and have connections, they’ve made me not give up.”
The Community Navigators project has been jointly funded by BAB and St Monica Trust since April 2020.
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