Virtually supporting each other through the Pandemic
As our way of life cautiously begins to reopen, a group of people with complex needs in Wakefield have reflected on the mutual support they have given each other online during repeated lockdowns.
Sustain Wakefield - which works with vulnerable adults, couples and families at risk of homelessness in Wakefield - started holding face-to-face special interest groups before the first lockdown in March 2020. The groups were based around arts & crafts, gardening, cooking & eating - with a primary focus to provide an opportunity for people to socialise, hopefully easing isolation and exclusion.
When these groups had to end, Fran Lomax, Volunteer and Peer Development Coordinator for Sustain, which is part of Turning Lives Around, turned to the internet and started a Virtual Coffee Morning in their place.
She explained: “I started the Virtual Coffee Morning (VCM) in the first week of the first lockdown last March with four people from the existing groups and another two people joined during the year."
“It has met online for the last 12 months with continued success and with the members becoming their own support group sharing problems, offering solutions and caring for each other.”
"When times got tough, and some members felt especially low, others would contact them outside of the VCM to check they were okay. The VCM and support resulting from it have been described as a "lifeline" by one member who added she did not know how she would have coped without it. Another lady with mental health issues said it had "kept her from doing something silly", while a male group member commented: “I was so lonely and down, but now I really look forward to Thursday mornings.”
The VCM has evolved over the year and now features a weekly music and general knowledge quiz.
With the gradual easing of restrictions allowing for some outdoor contact, the group is beginning to meet outside once a month for a take-out coffee and a walk.
The gardening group at Appletree Allotments, in conjunction with Spectrum People, has also restarted.
“The last 12 months have been exceptionally hard, especially on those who not only largely live alone but also have social, mental health or other complex needs,” said Fran.
“It has been great to see these group members make the most of the contact they have been able to have, forging friendships and being a support to each other. I hope they will continue their links with Sustain as volunteers, inspiring other service users through peer support.”