As Christmas approaches and news reports highlight increasing loneliness among older people – an innovative health project is working to tackle isolation in South Bristol. The Social Mirror project is being piloted in the Knowle West community to link people aged 65 plus and 18-25 to local activities that could help their health and wellbeing.
We’re working with the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Commerce and Manufactures (RSA) as part of a research and action project to improve people’s social inclusion. We’re trialing Social Mirror at the William Budd Health Centre over a 12-month period and hope to reach 300 people by the end of March 2014.
Patients are asked to complete a short questionnaire via an app on a tablet computer and are then given a ‘social prescription’. This directs them to community activities or groups such as coffee mornings, sports classes or local history clubs – instead of being prescribed drugs or other health interventions.
Project Manager Gaia Marcus from the RSA commented: “Scientists have found that feeling lonely over long periods of time can kill you: being emotionally isolated can be as fatal as smoking, and common illnesses made worse by loneliness include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, and cardio-vascular diseases. Social Mirror is a way of linking local people to local activities and groups, using local knowledge. It’s a bit like an automatic magazine quiz: you answer questions and, if you need it, Social Mirror can issue you with local ‘community prescriptions’ based on your interests… from a walking group to a photography class…”
KWMC’s Sue Mackinnon added: “This project has been very well received by the community – and the feedback from those who have joined a group has been really positive. It’s great to know we are making a real difference to people’s lives and helping to tackle the growing problem of isolation, especially among the elderly.”
Recently retired local resident David Bird says taking part in Social Mirror has made him feel ‘life is worth living’. He was given a prescription for a walking group and has never looked back. He says: “It has changed my life. I would recommend it to anyone. I wasn’t doing anything; I’d been a recluse and for three days a week I wouldn’t go out of the flat and the weight was piling on. I’ve now lost a stone and I can talk to people quite freely which I couldn’t before.”
Mary Hall runs a lip-reading group at Knowle West Health Park for those with hearing loss. She has had referrals from Social Mirror and says her group really benefits those who attend. She explains: “They come and meet other people like themselves and compare notes to their heart’s content – it’s much less isolating for them. I reckon I keep people out of doctors’ surgeries because of depression. They come once a week and we are like a family here.”