[Linda Stone and Ian Darch, Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council, to present report]
Ian Darch, Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council, introduced Linda Stone and explained that this would be joint presentation on the work of the Social Prescribing Support to Connect project. Ian Darch explained the background to the project and that the main aim was to support customers referred to the service and develop an action plan that will help them to tackle issues of isolation and loneliness. Ian Darch advised that the project was not a substitute for medical interventions but was intended to reduce demand for them and there was national evidence that people will go to the hospital and their GP much less if they get support.
Ian Darch explained the other social activities provided by WVSC aimed at bringing people together that are isolated and lonely together, such as book and breakfast clubs. Linda Stone explained the different reasons that could lead someone feeling lonely or isolated, such as health or debt issues. The service can refer people to specialist organisations that can offer more support if needed. Ian Darch commented on the link between the work of the project with other NHS services locally and also across the region.
Ian Darch explained that referrals are received from Health and Social care workers and also workers linked to GPs. The service started in in 2017 as a pilot project funded by CCG and then later funding from Department of Health and NHS enabled the service to expand and work in partnership with all of the Primary Care Networks. Funding from the National Lottery Building Connections fund has provided money to run their own groups where gaps have been identified.
Ian Darch commented on how the service responded to challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect on the number of referrals received, estimated to be about 150 a month (before Covid-19). However, there is concern that the number of community services is not enough to meetthe level of need for such services. In addition, the service has also set up a volunteer phone befriending service to increase the link workers capacity so they could keep taking on new people and where possible face-to-face meetings for groups have been arranged.
Ian Darch commented that it was estimated that 35,000 people in Wolverhampton do not have access to digital technology and the impact that this has had on accessing a range of benefits, support and education services available online. The issues range from not having Wi-Fi connectivity or the laptops or phones or not being able to use the technology.
Ian Darch commented on the challenge of getting people connected who also have additional needs, such as sensory challenges or where English is the second language which presents a further barrier. The current focus of the project is helping people who already own equipment to become confident in using it so that they can access groups support and information and also encouraging them to join existing online discussion groups.
The service has received 72 referrals since May 2020. Ian Darch commented on the positive outcomes from people who were having no social interactions before the project started and now have been able to get into groups which has been life-changing for them and increased their independence and resilience.
Ian Darch commented on the challenge to delivering the project when people were having problems using a mobile phone and the different solutions that have been used to overcome them. A key finding from the project is that people need varying amounts of practice to embed the skills and to support this the service is currently exploring the use of volunteers as IT buddies who can help in these situations.
Ian commented on the challenges to sustaining the project in the future and in particular helping people who are unable to afford to buy phones or laptop equipment.
The project has been able to get donations of tablets and have been able to fund the cost of getting data bundle, but more help is needed to meet current demand.
In response to this the service is considering approaching local businesses who might want to donate second-hand equipment and also meeting the costs of getting people connected. Ian Darch commented on other ideas being developed to help people who have similar barriers such as lack of skills, connectivity and equipment.
The panel commented on the excellent work of the project which is focusing on try to reach people who are lonely and isolated, while at the same time managing the challenges presented by Covid 19. The panel commented that this project is a really good example of the public sector and private sector coming together to deliver something that helps people in need.
The panel discussed ideas for publicising the work of project to people in need and also encourage possible volunteers. The panel suggested promoting the project on the Council’s website and also social media sites. The panel agreed to ask the Director of Communication to consider this idea and report back progress to a future meeting.
The panel invited Ian Darch and Linda Stone to present an update on progress of the project to a future meeting.
The panel discussed the issue of connectivity and the challenge of people not having mobile data to access the internet. Ian Darch suggested working with internet providers to make sure the people have free access to data and that they can go online to address the issue of the digital divide in the City. Ian Darch commented on discussions with advisors planning the rollout of 5G and the need to find innovative solutions that could provide free access, where possible, to the internet.
1. The panel agreed to invite Ian Darch and Linda Stone, Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council, to present an update on progress of the Social Prescribing Support to Connect project, to a future meeting of the panel.
2. The Director of Communication to be asked to consider ideas for promoting the work Social Prescribing Support to Connect project on the Council website and also its social media sites and report findings to a future meeting of the panel.