Our evaluation of the Standing Together Cymru project, the culmination of three years of work which adapted to meet the challenge of the pandemic, was released to mark a very special day in Wales, St David’s Day.
Established with the aims of reducing the loneliness and isolation of participants and improving their emotional wellbeing, the project facilitated connections between tenants through meaningful activity. The group offered peer support and increased community engagement. This was particularly pertinent at a time when access to the outside world and day-to-day activities were halted due to the risk of COVID-19 and the ensuing restrictions - when participants reported a huge sense of loss, but which also provided a unique opportunity for them to connect with one another.
Participant - Standing Together Cymru
I know people are suffering with mental health and I thought, well I’ve got a bit of it you know myself…and I’m not as active as I was before, so I need someone to talk to...and see how they are coping as well.
What is peer support?
Peer support involves people sharing knowledge, support and practical advice with each other. A large evidence-based review, summarising evidence from over 1,000 studies, has shown that peer support has the potential to improve the life experience of those diagnosed with long-term physical and mental health conditions.
The project, funded by the Welsh Big Lottery, ran in partnership with four housing associations across South East Wales: Melin Homes, Derwen Cymru, United Welsh and Newport City Homes. These covered 22 housing schemes, supporting the 211 tenants who live there (195 people attended in person with 16 continuing over the telephone/virtually at the height of the restrictions).
Standing Together Cymru built on the Mental Health Foundation’s proud history of facilitating peer support groups in Wales since 2010. The Project Evaluation highlights the importance of addressing loneliness by building social connections. The Empowerment and Later Life Team at MHF adapted all projects in the pandemic from face-to-face to remote delivery, post, phone and virtual.
Our current Picture This programme provides computers tablets and customised training to get older people who have previously been digitally exclude online and connecting virtually, using creative virtual sessions to address loneliness.
What is the impact on people in later life?
Wales has a large and growing older people’s population - by 2030, it is projected that there will be just over 1 million older people in Wales, which is 33% (nearly one third) of the total population - 45% of whom live alone. Many older people report sub-optimal feelings of wellbeing. The need for social connection is of paramount importance to living a healthy life and maintaining resilience, and one way this can be realised is through community engagement.
An evaluation of the project showed that whilst physical health challenges increased during the lifespan of the project, wellbeing was maintained – no mean feat, given what we know people have endured over the last two years. The project was measured against the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s 5-Five Wellbeing index measure of wellbeing and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)’s 3 item loneliness scale. The outcomes revealed a decrease in overall health, but maintenance of wellbeing and positive feelings of inclusion.
Dr Jenny Burns, Associate Director of the Mental Health Foundation in Wales said:
We hope the findings will be of interest to the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales in realising her Ageing Well priority and show the value to Local Authorities of commissioning peer support groups when considering the needs of older people.
We welcomed the Older Person’s Strategy published last year (October 2021) and ask that older people be recognised as a group experiencing inequality. We would like to see their distinct needs met in the new Welsh Government mental health strategy and considered when the current strategy is reviewed later this year. Issues affecting the mental health of older people include digital exclusion and digital literacy, age-related poverty, poor access to health and social care services and ageism. Addressing these needs through a cross-governmental prevention approach should be a key measure for assessing the success of the next mental health strategy.