- Date awarded: July 2022
- Awarded value: £9,360
- Fund: NHS Charities Together Community Partnership Grants Programme
- Location: Gallatown Hub, Kirkcaldy
Kirkcaldy-based Gallatown Gala & Community Group’s post-Covid project to reduce social isolation, improve mental health and encourage greater inclusion was funded by the NHS Charities Together Community Partnership Grants Programme via Fife Health Charity, enabling the development of volunteer community responders and to support community food champions.
Following funding from NHS Charities Together Community Partnership Grants Programme via Fife Health Charity, the main element of the project initiated by Gallatown Gala & Community Group (GGCG) has been to build a team of 12 volunteer community responders to provide outreach activities on an ongoing basis enabling people to be supported within the community. A crucial aim of the initiative has been to reduce the need for medical intervention and help prevent hospital admissions following overdose.
Six peer mentors have already completed the Introduction to Volunteering Course facilitated by Fife Voluntary Action. This element of the project aims to help volunteers build personal resilience, develop a coping strategy toolkit and become trauma informed, ensuring they are better equipped and more likely to provide positive peer support to their family, friends and neighbours in the wider local community.
The first cohort of volunteers completed a resilience workshop, entitled Coming to our Senses, held in the rural surroundings of Falkland Estate, where they took part in team building activities, woodwork crafts and a group session where they reflected on their personal journeys and shared experiences. Applying their new found skills within the community has already led to a range of positive benefits including reducing social isolation, improving mental health, encouraging greater diversity and inclusion and helping to define future employment goals within the care sector.
Recognising that the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences have had a marked impact not only on the local community but on the project itself, the GGCG saw a huge increase in feelings of isolation, fear and despair of things getting any better during and following prolonged lockdowns.
Practical issues such as members self isolating due to the illness, or simply being afraid to leave their homes or mix with others, threatened the numbers of participants at certain points. By acknowledging the difficulties and resuming activities in full adherence with national guidelines post lockdowns, the GGCG was able to reassure participants and encourage them back into the local community.
As the community continues to recover from the pandemic, the community responders have remained committed and motivated to effect positive change for themselves and the wider community.
“They seem to be ready for fresh challenges, whilst surviving and coping with their own significant issues on a daily basis,” explains GGCG development worker, Cairinne Macdonald. “The intergenerational dynamic of the group appears to be successful, with people feeling supported and reassured by stories of the struggles older people have overcome. This is a definite positive factor in the development of the group, with participants finding they have much more in common than they would have thought originally.
Supporting the community responders is as important as supporting clients who are benefitting from the project, continues Cairinne. “We have worked hard to ensure continuity of support throughout the life of the project so far, our participants continue to access the one-to-one support on offer, in addition to supporting one another."
The Difference Our Funding is Making
Resilient in the face of ongoing challenges such as the pandemic and its aftermath, mental health issues and significant increase in levels of poverty, the GGCG reports that their growing team of community responders continue to show commitment and remain motivated to effect positive change for themselves and the wider community.
Reflecting the project’s objective to reduce social isolation, GGCG’s links with their core group of volunteers have helped to establish a community craft group, Darn Good Yarn. Utilising their new found confidence, the volunteers now run a busy weekly group for an average of 17 attendees, ranging in age from 34 to the mid-80s. The volunteers are able to tune in to the mood of the wider group and are quick to welcome new members with a smile and a cup of tea.
The craft group has proved to be a great asset in attracting new community responders. One new recruit to the group even reported that she has stayed down the road for eight years and didn’t realise there was anywhere local for folk to meet.
The group also gives staff the perfect opportunity to observe how people interact and highlights those with a proactive and caring approach, as well as bringing support needs to the fore. From the GGCG and Cairinne’s standpoint, supporting the community responders is as important as supporting clients who are benefitting from the project. “We have worked hard to ensure continuity of support throughout the life of the project so far, our participants continue to access the one-to-one support on offer, in addition to supporting one another."
In terms of improving mental health, project participants report they feel more positive and better equipped to cope with the daily challenges and crisis they face. Being able to access regular group meditation and relaxation sessions within the Gallatown Hub brings great benefits. As one of the community responders says: “This is our safe place now. I can come here on my own and feel like I’ve come home.”
As previously mentioned, the growing team of community responders are benefitting directly from the GGCG’s objective of encouraging greater inclusion as part of the project by completing the Introduction to Volunteering Course facilitated by Fife Voluntary Action. All will have completed this by the end of the project. As a result, participants feel better informed about the range of volunteering opportunities available and have even gleaned useful pointers regarding future employment goals. One volunteer hopes to pursue a career in the care sector and now has a clearer picture of her options.
The participants are also playing an active role in promoting inclusion. Three are now active volunteers at the YMCA Community Hub, two set up and run the Toddlers Group, one has secured part time work as a Play Ranger, one leads an equality and diversity group for families where their first language is not English and one has set up her own small craft business from home.
To date there have been many good indicators of peer support in action. Cairinne reports that participants are visibly more positive in engaging with activities and are spreading the word amongst their friends and families. In the one past week alone, the community responders welcomed five new women to the Darn Good Yarn craft group, they encouraged two of them to join the project training.
“Thanks to the support we have received from NHS Charities Together and Fife Health Charity, we will continue to build on our existing solid foundations going forward. We will encourage our community responders to put their own life experiences to good use to benefit both themselves and others. Our responders are already encouraging others to join in our ever-increasing community circle of support. We will continue to ask for their input and wherever possible to action their suggestions and requests for further training and areas of support.”
Cairinne Macdonald, Development Worker, Gallatown Gala & Community Group.