Live Better: Get Connected vs Lockdown

Lewis tells us how our Live Better: Get Connected programme is overcoming coronavirus to continue offering support.

Our Live Better: Get Connected project offers people in the Beauchief and Greenhill wards the opportunity to discover services on their doorstep that they might not be aware of. The project is delivered by the team at Reach South Sheffield, who are experts in helping people build confidence and resilience so that they can make positive changes for themselves, their families and their communities.

We chatted to Lewis, one of Reach South Sheffield’s brilliant team members, who tells us all about going above and beyond to continue offering support in lockdown:

How did the Live Better: Get Connected programme offer support before lockdown?

“We offer face-face, 1 on 1, support for people who are isolated due to financial challenges. Lots of the people we meet experience challenges with their mental health, so we help to find the right combination of support that has positive outcomes for individuals’ financial situation and all round health and wellbeing. People can get access to a befriending service or volunteering, advice with debt and benefits, or whatever it is that they deem will help with their mental health and their journey.”

How have you adapted the programme to continue offering support during lockdown?

“Now we can’t do face to face, we’re operating on a telephone or postal basis. A lot of the people involved with Live Better: Get Connected don’t have the internet or don’t have a phone, so I’ll call them if they have a phone and then send them letters if not – I’ll also send them a stamp and an envelope in that letter so they can reply.

As a project I support around 45-50 people and the population I work with are all over 50, with the majority being over 65, meaning they’re in that vulnerable category. I’ve been doing a lot of food deliveries, medication trips and prescription trips. We’ve also been handing out activity packs as Live Better: Get Connected. They vary from person to person as they’re individualised where possible. For example, some people ask for colouring and crosswords or crafts and activities to make things and others like card games. As a service I am very flexible in the fact that it’s guided by what the service user wants – obviously within reason!

We are also still seeing people if they experience a relative crisis. For example, if someone received a letter that they weren’t sure about, I will go out and read it with them.”

What are the main challenges of lockdown?

“A lot of the conversations I’m hearing around digital inclusion are that everyone has a phone and the next step should be for everyone to get a laptop or an iPad. However, there is still a massive population who don’t have a phone, don’t have the money to get a phone, or don’t want a phone.

Lots of the people who are involved with our service are only entitled to one benefit so in their eyes, having a phone isn’t that integral as that’s valuable money that they could be spending on food. Before lockdown, I could obviously see people face to face so not having a phone wasn’t a big issue. We are looking into funding some phones for the service users who can’t afford them.”

Have there been any positives to come out of lockdown?

“I think it’s actually quite enjoyable for the people that I speak to via the post, because it’s a different way of getting your view and emotions out. It’s probably quite a nice exercise for people to be honest. Also, it means the person I’m writing to has to go outside and post the letter, this might be the only time they go outside that week. This lets me know that they’re getting some exercise, in turn helping to improve their mental wellbeing.

“Another positive thing to come out of this is that we have identified new service users. Reach South Sheffield run two community hubs in Lowedges and Gleadless Valley and quite a few people have come forward as a result of the virus as they can’t get their shopping or prescriptions. It took the virus for them to reach out for help, so in that sense it’s been really good.”

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, what have you learnt from your lockdown about people’s mental health?

“Financial wellbeing and mental wellbeing are so interconnected. People get worried, especially in the climate that we’re in, that their life is going to get turned upside down. It’s trying to reassure people that that kind of stuff isn’t going to happen.

Telephoning does work really well; you can get a lot done over the phone – you just have to be patient. It’s just about providing the space for people to say what they want to say because a lot of the time I’m the only person they’ll speak to that week so it’s almost as much a listening service as it is a support service a lot of the time.”