The Link Visiting Scheme – Working with churches to address social isolation among older people

Social isolation is often quoted as an issue which does not respect affluence or deprivation,and neither does it distinguish between people living in rural or urban areas, young or old. It can also affect those living in communal environments as much as those living completely alone.

It is for this reason that churches and faith groups are often in an ideal position to be able to reach and support isolated people as there is usually a church or faith centre situated in most communities ranging from inner city urban estates to rural hamlets and villages. Many such faith groups already engage with their local communities through home visiting arrangements as well as activities such as lunch clubs, toddler groups and various other community groups.

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Reaching Older People in Wokingham Borough

The Link Visiting Schemebegan as a church community project in 1998 and built links with social workers and health care professionals who began making referrals to the scheme. Volunteers were recruited to visit older people on a weekly or fortnightly basis for around one hour. In 2007, a further 20 churches created a network to enable a wider geographical area to be covered and the local authority also joined the partnership by providing grant funding. The scheme (now a registeredcharity) currently visits over 160 people in the Wokingham Borough area with a volunteer team of over 160.

The charity has, in the last seven years, developed additional events and activities to compliment home visits which help to widen social circles and encourage development of new skills and interests. These include a Understanding Computers courses; Pub Lunch Clubs; Singing Groups; Bowls Clubs and various seasonal parties and celebrations.

The Link Visiting Scheme operates according to Christian principles, but is clear that visits are made to those of all faiths or none, and volunteers are recruited from all sections of the community. Partnerships have also been developed with all key statutory and voluntary agencies including Age UK, Volunteer Centre, and Alzheimers Society and a voluntary sector ‘Befriending Forum’ meets regularly to share good practice and information.

Replicating the model nationally

In recent years, the charity has been working with local churches in other parts of the UK that are interested in setting up similar schemes in their area. This is being carried out using a community development approach and assessing local priorities and reviewing any existing services locally. To date, twelveschemes have been developed on the basis of this model with a further six shortly due to be commencing. Each local project is managed on a local level with support from the charity when required.

Discussions are also taking place specifically with church groups based along the south coast of England in view of the demographics of older people living in this area and partnership opportunities are being explored.

For further information about The Link Visiting Scheme national project, please contact Jeremy Sharpe – Director of National Project – at jeremy@linkvisiting.org or go to their website – www.linkvisiting.org

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