Having social connections is an important factor that shapes our opportunities to be healthy and live longer lives. Many of People’s Health Trust’s funding programmes place a strong emphasis on building social connections as the foundation for increased confidence, skills, voice and aspiration. Social connections can reduce isolation, combat loneliness and reduce stress, as well as contributing to a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) creates challenges for the Trust’s funded partners to find ways to keep connected with their communities, we have committed to be flexible with our grants, and allow for local charities to use their funding to either address vital issues as they arise, or to find new ways to connect with each other. Many have risen to the challenge, and are finding new ways to connect, reach out, and deliver vital services to their local communities.
English for Action London is a project that provides free English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) lessons to adult migrants who live in in Tower Hamlets and have limited English. The project aims to encourage members to take collective action on problems they face around poor housing, poor working conditions, hate crime, and lack of migrants’ rights, as well as giving people the chance to come together and discuss their similar experiences.
Due to COVID-19, the group has had to stop their regular lessons and get-togethers, particularly as Tower Hamlets has a high number of cases of the virus. The charity are experimenting with teaching via Skype and WhatsApp and are encouraging their educators to share notes and teaching guides. Project members have also started calling round the students to check in with them and dropping groceries off to people who are self-isolating.
Headspace Bolton provides stand-up comedy training sessions led by comedy professionals for people affected by mental health issues. The project includes writing, performance and leadership skills as well as opportunities for regular performance. The project means members can come together for support and guidance, tackle isolation and to develop connections with each other and contacts in the industry to promote their work. The project aims to use humour to reduce the stigma and discrimination towards people with mental ill-health and improve opportunities for employment in the arts sector. Due to the government advice, the group stopped their physical sessions, and instead took their talents online, running online podcasting, scriptwriting and stand up and sketch writing courses for their members
Headspace Bolton keeping in touch with members who are sellf-isolating before the physical distancing government restrictions.
Another group overcoming the challenges to remain connected is the Rogues Shanty Chorus, from the Voice cLoud, who aim to encourage interest in Suffolk's unique coastal, cultural and musical heritage by exploring folk music and its associated tradiitons created by fishing communities. The project holds music sessions for parents of children in their early years, extra-curricular music workshops for young people, and a choir for local people.
Although unable to meet, the group were determined that those who viewed the choir as a lifeline wouldn’t go without, hosting a singalong over Facebook live, with over 4,000 people watching, and joining in with the singing from home, whilst keeping the banter and friendships alive in the chat throughout. You can watch the live session here.
Many other projects are also planning on moving online whilst physical distancing and self-isolation is recommended, in order to follow government advice and protect their members, many of whom are within the vulnerable criteria. Staithes Area Men’s Sheds in Whitby are planning to still take part in wood working in their homes, but will move the ‘banter’ online through video calls.
Although the virus has meant many physical meet-ups and get-togethers have had to be cancelled, the necessity for social connections remains unchanged, and the projects are committed to filling this vital need. Technology today means that we can remain social, and address health inequalities, even whilst we physically distance.
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