Keeping communities connected

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Twelve months ago, the pandemic brought an abrupt and unexpected halt to St John’s over 55s activities programme. Turning what could have been a negative situation, into a golden opportunity, our team thought creatively about how they could continue offering those community outreach services that have the greatest impact on users. We spoke to the team 12 months on to find out how they’ve adapted and furthered their reach:

How has the pandemic affected the work you do for the community and how have you modified your way of working to meet the needs of your audience?

One of the primary aims of our service is to reduce levels of isolation and loneliness in over 55s – something the pandemic has inevitably caused an increase in. With the onset of lockdown and no immediate end in sight, we made the decision to offer online classes. While it took some time for the infrastructure to be implemented, as we were new to it too, in June 2020, we were in a position to offer a variety of online classes. These ranged from exercises like yoga, tai chi, dance; to watercolour art classes, stitch, and even a cook-along.

While we expected some of our regular participants to join, we hadn’t foreseen how popular the classes would be with the wider community. Demand meant we had to add additional classes and our reach spread throughout BaNES into the surrounding areas, and even as far as Yorkshire!

The feedback we received from the online attendees was overwhelming; for many people who are lonely or isolated, it became their only chance for conversation and met their physical and social needs. To have a weekly, recurring activity brought schedule to days, with something to look forward to. As we go forward, we’ll continue listening and learning from our feedback and making it even more accessible. We understood that technology was a barrier for some, which is why we offered additional support, helping attendees master new technology that became a lifeline throughout 2020.

These two quotes from participants sum up what many felt about our sessions;

 “The current sessions are wonderful, and personally I feel they have helped me so much, mentally & physically, through the strange times we have experienced. I live in Timsbury and would find travelling into Bath difficult and I certainly would not feel comfortable meeting face to face for quite some time yet.”

“The classes have been a lifeline to me as I have been shielding since last March” Feedback from watercolours participant”

Looking to the future, government guidelines will allow in-person classes to commence on the 24th of May. However, many still won’t feel comfortable attending from this date so we must adapt to our new normal. To do this, we will be offering a hybrid experience with the opportunity to join classes online or in person. This wouldn’t have been an option pre-pandemic and it means our service will reach hundreds of more people.

We don’t plan on stopping here either – we have seen the positive impact our service has had on the physical and mental health of participants and we want as many people as possible to experience these benefits. We are looking to work with similar service partners to help expand the service further than B&NES alone.

The next big challenge, for service providers throughout the UK, will be reaching those who don’t have access to computers or smartphones and so are unable to take advantage of the lifeline that the internet has become too many. Luckily, we feel up for the challenge.

To book onto one of our online activity classes, click here.