Age UK Dorchester

Award amount: £40,860

Organisation: Age UK Dorchester

The expansion of the ‘Reach Out’ project

As the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness highlighted, weak social connection is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, which demonstrates the importance of schemes such as this one we’ve helped fund, run by Age UK Dorchester (AUKD).  This project has provided immense benefit to isolated older people in Dorchester.

AUKD is a charity that works to promote the well-being of older people in and around Dorset. The charity runs a ‘Reach Out’ service that plays a key role in tackling social isolation in and around Dorchester, Weymouth and Portland. Through this service, the charity works with partner agencies to support older people to develop new networks, new interests and ultimately, new friendships. If people are unable to leave their homes, the charity aims to match them with a volunteer befriender.

AUKD provides practical assistance for older people benefitting from the ‘Reach Out’ service, such as:

  • researching local clubs and groups;
  • accompanying older people to attend these new clubs and groups until they feel settled;
  • identifying transport solutions;
  • linking isolated older people with each other.

The charity also provides a wide range of complementary free services, such as advocacy and casework, and welfare benefits assistance and advice. This can help provide additional income for older people, helping them to access to lunch clubs, activities and other social events.

The purpose of the grant was to support the expansion of this project to ensure consistent service across West Dorset, provide a holistic referral process (covering physical, emotional and social aspects) and to develop the service further into a volunteer ‘Good Neighbours’ scheme. The ‘Good Neighbours’ scheme involves neighbours undertaking small one-off tasks for older people in the area. Between October 2015 and December 2017 the charity received 440 referrals. Of that number, 106 have been introduced to an activity and 100 have been introduced to a volunteer (There are now 115 volunteers registered with the charity as befrienders). Older people living with a health condition, such as dementia, have been provided with advice and support, and AUKD have provided signposting to specialist agencies, depending on their individual needs.

A couple of brief examples…

  • MH (early 70s) was a widower who was struggling following bereavement and subsequent isolation. He was encouraged to volunteer in the day centre and is now doing 3 days a week and very much enjoying being part of a team and having responsibilities and focus again.
  • A lady in residential care was very isolated. Lizzie, one of the ‘Reach Out’ volunteers, visited her and they would go out walking, sometimes with Lizzie’s toddler. Lizzie has now set up a toddler group in the care home (photos shown).