Our Place project members socialise together in a local park

The start of a new year is a time for resolutions, with many people talking about what they would like to accomplish in the coming months. People often start to reflect on their lives and talk about changes they’d like to make or challenges they want to undertake in the future.

For projects funded by the Trust, winter and the New Year can be a particularly important time, making sure residents have opportunities to meet up and stay connected.

Feeling connected and building new friendships is important to ensure we live healthy and happy lives. The quantity and quality of our relationships are critical social determinants of health.

One of the things all projects funded by the Trust have in common is the importance of building social links and ties.

Through being involved with projects, members start to feel more confident and improve their connections and make new friends.

Volunteer Centre Hackney runs the Our Place project, which started with a weekly coffee morning for people living on the Kingshold Estate, and has kept growing.

Lauren Tobias, CEO of Volunteer Centre Hackney, has seen how vital local community projects are for connecting people and making them feel they are part of a trusted community.

She said: “Many people, no matter what their age and background, can become isolated for any number of reasons, but may not want to recognise or be willing to share that this is how they feel.

“Projects like Our Place offer people the chance to come together, to focus on an issue outside of themselves, to enjoy an activity, and just be, without pressure of having to ‘do’ or ‘deliver’. They provide safe spaces for trusting relationships to grow naturally with people they would not otherwise meet.

“Having a trusted community, with whom people can feel they belong, is so important for people at this time of year, and particularly for people with mental health issues, who can find this time of year especially difficult.

“The Our Place project is a community hub, bringing people together to share their skills and develop and deliver joint activities for the benefit of each other. People are supported to recognise their own skills and their own passions, and to work together with peers to develop and deliver projects that they believe will benefit their community.

“Through sharing activities, a sense of purpose and ‘doing’, people start to talk about their experiences and life goals, and form new connections naturally. Close trusting relationships form amongst people who would not otherwise meet, which for many, becomes like family. Many members of Our Place have told us that they have formed a strong supportive network that has changed their lives.”

The Trust’s Active Communities programme addresses health inequalities by supporting residents to come up with their own ideas to create change in their neighbourhood and through supporting them to build stronger connections.

Last year, the Trust’s Active Communities programme was independently evaluated by consultancy Ecorys UK.

The Trust published a summary report of the second of a four-year evaluation exploring the impact of the programme. The report showed that members of 93 per cent of projects had more friendships and connections as a result of being involved and 91 per cent said people felt less isolated.

Residents were also increasing their knowledge, understanding and skills, which often went hand-in-hand with their increasing self-confidence – and, with that, improved aspirations.

Overall, members reported feeling happier and benefiting from a better quality of life.

Visible Elders Group, also supported through Active Communities, encourages its members to feel more connected with their community.

The project, run by Asian Resource Centre Croydon, allows members to enjoy different activities including dance classes, yoga, and Tai Chi, as well as coffee mornings.

The project is led by a steering group made up of its members and works to bring people from different backgrounds together.

Ima Miah, CEO of Asian Resource Centre of Croydon, says that this can be a particularly difficult time for members who might not have any family nearby.

She said: “Many people have no family, lost partners and reduced mobility which can mean that during the winter season they have few visitors and often feel very isolated. Social isolation has been identified as a silent killer and we have seen first-hand the effects it has on people’s mental and physical health. During these times we try tackle the root causes of such illnesses and provide people with an alternative.

“Our project is having a direct impact on reducing people’s social isolation and increasing their health and wellbeing, increasing the bond of friendships within the community. Most of these people do not have anywhere else to go and by partaking in this project we have seen all kind of emotional, social and health benefits. It is a place for people to come and get to know each other in their local area, give each other company and support as well as to enjoy dance and fitness sessions in a safe and welcoming environment.”

In the year ahead, we look forward to continuing to help projects across Great Britain to make the changes they want – that support people feel more connected to their communities and each other, and to make where they live even better.

To read more blogs from the Trust, click here.

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