We started with a survey, asking housing and care providers around the country about their provision of activities to promote social connection and good mental health and address loneliness. We shared this widely across the sector, and the responses we received demonstrated a need for more of this kind work.
The Toolkit we developed is a co-produced resource based on a collaboration between the Mental Health Foundation, Notting Hill Genesis and Hanover Housing. We have over a decade of experience facilitating peer support that enables good mental health.
As leading housing providers, our partner organisations understand the challenges of dealing with loneliness and poor mental health in later-life schemes. The toolkit offers a unique combination of this expertise in a product that addresses these challenges.
As a community-based initiative, the toolkit builds stronger relationships among tenants and staff, which have the power to improve wellbeing. This is accomplished by training staff to facilitate groups with different and deeper conversations than traditional, activity-led sessions.
The groups allow members to express a range of emotions (positive and negative), avoiding glossing over difficulty, trying to ‘fix’ problems, or artificially cheering people up. Because of this way of working, tenants feel seen, heard, and respected. In turn, they feel more able to reciprocate this treatment, creating a more empathic and mutually respectful culture in the scheme.
Run your own Standing Together project
We develop an implementation plan for organisations interested in using the Standing Together toolkit. Our standard practice is to run initial co-production sessions with staff and tenants to find out how best a Standing Together group can work in their schemes and what support needs to be in place.
We provide dedicated staff training, which includes an overview of later life mental health, as well as how to be an empowering facilitator. For an agreed number of sessions, we co-facilitate groups and model our approach. This includes a phased handover of primary responsibility for planning sessions and leading discussions.
We also implement a structure for staff to debrief after each session to discuss any difficulties, identify best practices, and plan for future sessions.
The National Lottery Community Funded (formally the Big Lottery) Standing Together project (2015 to 2018) facilitated self-help peer support groups in retirement and extra-care housing schemes across London. The aims of the project were to build social connections among tenants, improve mental health and wellbeing, and to address loneliness, which disproportionately affects people in later life.
The Mental Health Foundation worked in partnership with Housing & Care 21 and Notting Hill Genesis, facilitating 19 groups and working with over 320 people in later life.
We emphasised that the groups belonged to participants, and always co-produced the content of sessions, discussing the interests and life experiences of the people who attended. In this way, groups became places for people to share different parts of their identity.
Just one example of this was a book that we co-produced with a group of women from East London, some of whom had lived in the same neighbourhood since before World War II.
At the end of the project we distilled some of our learning into the book Pulling Together. This gives a broad overview of our way of working, and the values that guide our approach.
The project evaluation evidenced the benefits of this way of working, finding that peer support groups can play a powerful role in promoting social connection and addressing loneliness in later life housing.