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Older people helped to reconnect with charity’s ten ‘Steps to Connection’

Older people across the country can now benefit from a new resource developed by The ExtraCare Charitable Trust. Produced in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Steps to Connection is an interactive guide to building stronger, more satisfying community for those aged 55+.

The COVID pandemic has highlighted the vital importance of social connection. Whatever our age, it’s shown us how relationships with others bring joy, structure and purpose to our lives. In normal circumstances, chronic loneliness affects over 1.4 million older people in the UK [1]. In recent months, this figure has been much higher. With routines disrupted, opportunities to leave the house limited, and normal coping strategies removed, many older people have been left especially hard hit by the pandemic.

ExtraCare, a registered charity that exists to create better lives for older people, has developed Steps to Connection with this in mind. The book takes its readers through 10-steps to find long-lasting community while social restrictions remain in place and, especially, as rules are lifted in the return to normal life. Topics include: “Nourishing Your Relationships” and “Giving Back”, to “Working with Your Thoughts” and “Keeping Mobile”. The book also contains practical tips, interactive exercises and prompts for reflection, helping readers to take a “do it yourself” approach to community-building.

Steps to Connection has been developed as part of ExtraCare’s Engaged Lives project (2019-2022) – a National Lottery funded initiative to build confidence and connection amongst residents and the local communities around ExtraCare’s twenty retirement villages and five retirement schemes. Since Spring 2020, the project has run community workshops that have brought ExtraCare residents and members of the wider community together to explore different means of staying connected, empowering people to lead the social lives they desire.

Like all community projects the Engaged Lives project had to evolve during 2020. The result - a resource that could reach more older people, more quickly, and containing advice that can be easily-implemented to bring positive change all across the UK. In this vein, Steps to Connection packages the highlights of ExtraCare’s workshops into a handy personal guide book, with new sections on special topics including “Connecting from Home”, “Going Digital” and “Finding Community as a Caregiver”.

Gill Hallsworth, aged 73 resident at ExtraCare’s New Oscott Retirement Village in Birmingham attended the community workshops and says the materials have helped her: “It was nice to attend something where I could sit and talk to other people. Interaction in the village has been limited recently but here I found some companionship. The materials prompted me to find people I was losing contact with. After each workshop, some of us would scoot off to the coffee shop, and we’d sit for another hour or so talking about bits and pieces – the group helped everyone to stay connected.

Steps to Connection is written by Dr Michael Roberts, ExtraCare’s Engaged Lives Project Officer, who comments: “We knew that our workshops were effective, and COVID-19 allowed us to explore different ways to bring their contents to a wider range of people. In Steps to Connection, we’ve included a wealth of practical materials, reflective exercises and everyday tips to try, so people can find those best suited to their circumstances.”

Dr Roberts has produced this guide in collaboration with Michael Wilkes-Spellman, Dementia and Mental Wellbeing Lead for ExtraCare, and graphic designer Mark Atkinson whose illustrations have brought the guide to life.

Michael comments: “I have been working in ExtraCare for over a decade now and, in that time, I have met hundreds of residents with rich life histories and lots to share. I hope Steps to Connection helps many older people re-engage with their community, strengthen social ties using the skills they already have and learn a few new ones”.

Mark notes that: “Designing the ‘Steps to Connection’ book has been a really rewarding process with the knowledge that this book will serve as a hugely important tool to help older people connect with their community. The positivity of the books content was obvious immediately and so to visually bring this alive a series of illustrations were developed to enhance the text in an uplifting and vibrant way. Along with the use of rich colour palette, the illustrative style of this book will hopefully inspire and energise readers to confidently engage in many of the rewarding activities that are included.”

The book costs £7.99 and can be purchased at https://www.engaged-lives.co.uk/. Digital versions can be downloaded for £3.99. All funds raised will be reinvested back into ExtraCare’s services including its Dementia and Well-being services, enabling the charity to support all its residents no matter their health or wealth.

Further detail about the book and the Engaged Lives project can be found at https://www.extracare.org.uk/engaged-lives. For case studies or an interview with author Michael Roberts please contact Cheryl Flounders, Media Officer at cheryl.flounders@extracare.org.uk.

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The ExtraCare Charitable Trust:  ExtraCare is a registered charity established in 1988. Our vision is better lives for older people and our mission is creating sustainable communities that provide:

To deliver our vision and mission we essentially do three things: we develop new villages, we operate villages and schemes, and we support our villages, schemes and our ‘extra-care’ model through fundraising, advocacy and research.

Each of our 20 village and schemes has 5 to 18 social, health and leisure facilities that are accessible to our residents, volunteers and local people representing all age groups living in surrounding communities. We operate a chain of Charity Shops which help fund care and well-being services for older people living at our each of our locations. 

extracare.org.uk

 

 

[1] https://www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/policy-research/loneliness-research-and-resources/