Steph Lewis from the Community Development Service explains how and why a Winter Wellbeing project has turned into a service that’s offered all year round.

In January 2017 ELHFA and CDS services jointly started the Winter Wellbeing Project which was based on the very successful Winter Wellbeing Café run during the winter of 2016.
The Winter Wellbeing Project recognised that many people living in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Leeds experience severe social isolation for a variety of reasons.  As a result the project was rolled out in three ways; a café similar to that of 2016 was again set up to welcome people from all over Leeds on a Friday evening to meet new friends and socialise, as well as to receive support from staff in a number of ways, including advice and signposting on to other services.  A befriending service was established where volunteers were recruited and trained to visit isolated people in their homes, to offer support and a ‘listening ear,’ including sitting with them and having a cup of tea or accompanying them on shopping trips etc.
The final part of the project was an ‘afternoon tea,’ which encouraged several isolated service users to get together to make new friends and enjoy an afternoon with each other in a safe and friendly environment.  The Winter Friends Scheme delivered training to the volunteer befrienders, all of whom commented on how helpful they found the information & how it complimented the training provided by Touchstone CDS/ELHFA staff.
 The Winter Wellbeing café enabled staff to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the struggles & day to day life of some of the most disadvantaged residents of Leeds, with people attending from as far as Leeds 25 & some from just around the corner in Lincoln Green, as well as some who have no accommodation whatsoever.  The staff have commented that it was a very humbling experience for them.  At the cafe each attendee was given a free hot evening meal, with this usually being a 3-course meal of healthy and filling food.  Some comments received were “Great food and company.  Fun was had by all.”  “Great place to meet with new and old friends.  Even people who can’t speak English properly were able to feel included when we played dominoes & cards.”  “Many thanks for the pillows.  They will help with my back pain.”  “No-where else helps us the way you do & gives us things we can’t afford..  When we feel abandoned & treated like we are worthless, it is good to know someone still cares.  Thank you and I will be sad to not be able to come here anymore on a Friday.”  “Very good – you get hot food, make friends, it reduces isolation and boredom, stops me from feeling lonely all the time as it gets me out.”  “I wish it could last more than two hours.” “You have helped to increase my confidence,” “this really helps people like me on a low income who can’t afford to eat properly.”
In total the Wellbeing Café welcomed 21 people through its doors on a Friday evening and each person was offered one to one time for their individual concerns to be heard privately, as well as for support to be given where needed.  Winter Wellbeing items were also issued to over 100 people including those attending the café, service users groups within the Leeds 7, 8 and 9 areas and those visited under the befriending scheme.  These included warm bedding and clothing.
The staff were also able to link people to services to help with house heating problems, as well as provide warm bedding to women fleeing domestic abuse, young ladies who had been forced to leave the family home and people who were on very low incomes and struggling to buy basic items to get them through the winter.
 Since the funding for the Winter Wellbeing Project ended in April 2017, because of its success and the very high demand regarding social isolation, CDS has continued to support isolated people by facilitating the Wellbeing and Befriending Scheme.  We have worked with 8 volunteers including two students on placement.  The scheme has had referrals from over 30 people living in areas ranging from Leeds 7 to as far as Allerton Bywater and Garforth.  We have also received some very positive feedback from staff in some of the referral agencies including Connect for Health and St Martin’s GP Practice.  We have had to ‘put a hold’ on new referrals due to capacity and a need that has far outweighed our time availability.
The volunteer befrienders continue to visit over 20 service users between them and are much appreciated by everyone they support.  Many service users have commented that they don’t know what they would do if the service no longer existed however, the volunteer befrienders are also encouraging more service users to live a more independently controlled daily life, enabling them to be better aware of what they can achieve and things they can do/activities they can participate in locally, using their own volition.  Whilst we recognise that some service users are physically unable to get out and about and we continue to offer them support, we will work with others to help them to regain their confidence to secure their independence.  We are also linking with other befriending agencies to compliment our work and accept referrals from new service users.