My #socialprescribingschemedream is rapidly evolving all the time and I am happy with this. I am choosing to roll with it and ‘enjoy the journey’ if you forgive the cliché. I find I’m having lots of ideas and just want to clarify that by writing in the past tense in the following posts, does not mean I have discredited any of them or they are not current. Naturally some ideas get more airtime and develop further than others, but to keep you up to date and the blog accurate, I am backdating my first concept, which was prior to the idea to blog, and involved a cup of tea! Anyone who knows me knows I love a cup of tea.
My idea was to tackle loneliness by encouraging the elderly and primary care givers of children under 5, to befriend one another over a hot drink. I considered it my ‘oldies and tots proposal’. Initially I wasn’t exactly sure where the meet up would be, but given I was keen to tackle loneliness and isolation I did not want to make this a group. If people are well enough/confident enough/capable to get to a group you could access the many other wonderful groups set up in the community. My experience of preschool groups, albeit very positive, is one of noise, chaos and distraction and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be responsible for either putting elder generations through this or trying to manage it! But, more importantly, people often put on a front when they enter a group setting. I wanted to facilitate a real 1:1 companionship for the isolated or lonely. Where its ok to confide, and its ok to not be ok in front of each other. I considered this contact being in people’s homes.
Why do I want to bridge the gap between generations? Families are becoming more spread out geographically. There are many reasons for this, but in a very interesting TedTalks, by Courtney Martin highlighted that our strive for autonomy, independence and the ‘white picket fence’ of the ‘American dream’ come at the cost of our support networks. It is mutually beneficial for young people to spend more time with old people.
- For the elderly person they become more active being around babies and toddlers, they receive love, warmth and touch which they may not have experienced for a period of time, and they are distracted and engrossed by the child, perhaps forgetting their situation and circumstance during the contact.
- For the parent/guardian of the child, the older person provides someone who will listen, who is wise and has the benefit of life experience. They also provide the parent/guardian the opportunity to observe their child play. When I get the opportunity, I love to watch my children and their interaction as this is a novelty from being involved in the engagement. Having an elderly person around for tea could also provide a parent/guardian with a brief opportunity to complete a household task that might well be mounting up causing stress and anxiety, whilst the elderly person and child entertain one another.
- For the child the interaction teaches them life skills; how to behave around different generations, how to respect their elders and to adapt their play and behaviour accordingly and also they benefit from wonderful stories being passed from generation to generation, which would otherwise be lost.
In a society of social media, increased loneliness and isolation, I wanted to make time to enable conversation and support between strangers. The USP to this concept is enabling individuals to help themselves. A buddy system not reliant on a setting or a provider to facilitate, but reliant on individuals #salutogenesis. At this stage in my #socialprescribingschemedream I was considering carrying out a home assessment, linking people, (matchmaking if you will!) DBS’ing them and then offering support if and when required, but allowing Twinnings to do the rest! (other brands are available!)
3 main questions I asked myself:
- How am I going to find these lonely and isolated, vulnerable people? Could I be referred them via GP’s, health visitors and district nurses?
- How would I keep both parties safe? Risk of abuse, risk assessments, vetting and the general huge vulnerability of all parties would all need to be addressed. Whilst I did not have the answers to this, and I knew it was a huge area, it seems mad to me to put a close to a great idea that could help the majority, for the minority that potentially ruin it. There must be a solution.
- What is this? Is it a charity? A social enterprise? A health service I want to have commissioned?
I spent the next few months of maternity leave reading, asking even more questions and not necessarily answering any, but enjoying the process, and meeting as many people as I could who may be able to shape my idea.
Whilst I have lots more to write about how this concept evolved and who I have met along the way, if I jump to the present for a moment, I am very excited to see in the media over the last few days the Prime Minister’s commitment to tackle loneliness and the launching of the loneliness strategy. Wow! This is brilliant. Naturally the media have got really involved in loneliness as a result and I am really enjoying reading and tweeting about various local and national projects looking to tackle loneliness. Two projects I thought I’d mention include the Sainsburies ‘talking tables‘ initiative and local to home ENGage ‘traveling tea trays‘. Both these projects give me confidence and encouragement that my ideas are on the money, and social prescribing is definitely in vogue!