Action for Elders Trust

Award amount: £39,448

The charity

Action for Elders Trust was established in 2012 with a vision to co-create a society where older people can live a more fulfilling, active and meaningful life.

The project

Get The Bay Active! was a pioneering health and wellbeing project, designed to create a more fulfilling later life for older people supported by GP practices within the Bay Health Cluster Network – a community health network covering Swansea, Wales. The project used a peer-led approach to improve the health and wellbeing of older residents – improving physical health and mobility; developing better mental wellbeing and reducing social isolation and loneliness. This was achieved through:

Social prescribing: recruiting, supporting and training Activators – older volunteers who were committed to inspiring positive change within their community. The Activators were attached to a GP practice within the Cluster and were tasked with social prescribing, by holding weekly surgeries within the practice, talking to older patients about their health and wellbeing, and inspiring 100 of them to make a change.

What made a critical difference to the Activators was having a paid, experienced, Action for Elders facilitator who accompanied the volunteers to the GP practices, helping to give them confidence and also offering expertise in the full range of health and wellbeing activities available locally. There is now a successful peer Activator model which has continued after the project funding ended. Whilst face-to-face activity within GP practices is currently on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our Activators are keen to continue when lockdown restrictions are lifted. They are also providing telephone support to their peers to support them through the lockdown period.

Shirley, 85, was one of the peer volunteers. She was feeling isolated when she first became involved in Action for Elders, but through becoming a peer volunteer her confidence has grown. She says: “My life now has structure and meaning and I love giving something back by being a volunteer.”

Balanced Lives – the Activators were able to identify older people who were suitable to join community health and wellbeing activities, including the Balanced Lives groups hosted by Action for Elders. Balanced Lives is a holistic, evidence-based programme which aims to support physical, social, and mental wellbeing. The weekly groups combine physical activity with facilitated discussions and social activities based on individuals’ needs. During the ‘Get The Bay Active!’ project period, the number of Balanced Lives groups in Swansea grew from one to five through a range of funding sources, meaning that Activators – all Balanced Lives group members themselves – were able to signpost older people whom they talked to in the GP surgeries to the groups and introduce them to group members.

Organisation: Action for Elders Trust

System change and sustainability was an important element of the project: to create a model of health and wellbeing support which would model best practice partnership between the third sector and primary care and endure beyond the project period. The project has been the catalyst for a strong and successful partnership with the Bay Health Cluster Network, which has far exceeded initial expectations. The project has allowed Action for Elders Trust to dedicate more time to identifying community needs and responding to needs identified by the Cluster Network.

For example, primary health practitioners identified a growing number of care home residents with health and wellbeing issues, linked to their sedentary lifestyles within the homes. Together with the Bay Health Cluster Network and other local partners, Action for Elders is now delivering a project funded by Welsh Government’s Healthy and Active Fund supporting care home residents to improve their health and wellbeing.

The peer volunteering model has been adopted as part of a project with Public Health Wales, funded by the Health Foundation. As a result of the success of the model, Swansea Bay University Health Board’s Public Health team is now working with Action for Elders Trust to develop a training module which takes best practice from the project and develops it. The aim is to create a toolkit for training peer volunteers to help improve the health and wellbeing of isolated and lonely older people.

Sustaining the model during the Covid-19 pandemic: peer volunteers are helping each other by forming self-supporting telephone networks. Feedback has shown that this support is invaluable to older people, many of whom are shielding and therefore at high risk of their mental wellbeing deteriorating during the outbreak. During these times of social change the value of the project and the connections made during it are best summed up by these two quotes:

Dr Kirstie Truman, lead GP for the Bay Health Cluster Network: “The ‘Get the Bay Active!’ project has supported our Cluster Network with our social prescribing strategy. We’re grateful to Dunhill Medical Trust for funding this important project which has enabled us to strengthen our partnership with Action for Elders, something which is more relevant than ever due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of my older patients who have participated in the project have reported back that involvement with the groups and volunteering has changed their lives. I’m very proud of the partnership with Action for Elders and I’m keen to grow and develop our Cluster Network’s relationships with the voluntary sector over the coming years.”

James Lewis, Chief Executive of Action for Elders: “As a small, developing charity, the support from Dunhill Medical Trust has enabled us to respond to demand from older people for support with health and wellbeing in a community-led way. The peer volunteers supported through the project were able to relate to other older people and their issues around loneliness and isolation, and inspired them to take action. As we face the Coronavirus, the peer volunteers continue to play an important role in helping older people within our community feel connected and supported – this for me is one of the biggest successes of the project.”