Charities deliver hundreds of mental health support packs to isolated older people in Dacorum

Thousands of support packs were delivered across Hertfordshire

Friday, 7th August 2020, 3:48 pm
Updated Friday, 7th August 2020, 3:53 pm

Hertfordshire Independent Living Service (HILS) and Small Acts of Kindness have been working together to provide 300 mental health support packs to isolated older people in Dacorum.

The not-for-profit organisations exist to help older and vulnerable people across Hertfordshire.

During the coronavirus pandemic many of the people they help have found themselves becoming lonely, anxious, and depressed as they follow government guidance to avoid social contact.

Volunteers for HILS

Prompted by concern for their clients’ mental health, HILS and Small Acts Of Kindness teamed up to produce thousands of wellbeing packs to provide much needed comfort and help get people through the crisis.

With over 50 per cent of over 65s believed to be living alone, and 1.2 million over 70s are reported as experiencing chronic loneliness, charities and public health professionals have been

warning of concerns to the long-term health of older people as they continue to isolate themselves.

Age UK has reported an 88 per cent rise in calls for support.

Mental health support pack

As Hertfordshire's meals on wheels provider supporting over 4,000 older residents every year with hot food provision, HILS has witnessed these effects first-hand.

HILS chief executive, Sarah Wren, said: "Because our meals on wheels service is a life-line for so many older people, our teams have continued to visit people to deliver food – so they were seeing how difficult it was for some of our clients to stay isolated at home.

"It was heart-breaking for our teams to have to stay far away, and give clients meals at the door when they are used to popping in for a chat.

"But they knew that this was necessary to help keep clients safe."

Charities deliver mental health support packs to isolated, older people

HILS client, Maureen, said: "When the lockdown began, I couldn’t quite believe it.

"The feeling of isolation is really very bad – not being able to have a friend round for a cup of tea is hard."

HILS had already been sending out wellbeing information and activity booklets to their clients since lockdown began.

But, by teaming up with Small Acts of Kindness, they were able to develop a far more substantial pack catering specifically to mental wellbeing.

They also worked with a variety of funders, including: Hertfordshire Community Foundation, Friends of the Jubilee Centre, St Albans District Council, St Albans Older People’s Trust, and Hertfordshire County Council Locality Budget Grant scheme.

HILS project manager Eloise Rivlin-Derrick, said: "We already work with Small Acts of Kindness to distribute their Winter Warmer Bags to our clients every year – they always go down well, everyone loves the blankets, and fluffy socks, and tasty hot drinks sachets.

"So it was great to combine forces again to produce a gift bag with useful goodies direct to their door.

"Many older adults have no access to the internet, and so have been disconnected from the resources that have supported many of us throughout lockdown.

"We worked with mental health professionals to ensure that these gifts catered to the specific challenges they have faced during the pandemic and let them know that their community is here to support them."

Each pack included a colouring book and pens, a pack of cards with suggested card games, literature with puzzles, word searches, mindfulness exercises, and useful contact numbers for other support organisations.

A separate pack was also developed for people with hearing or sight impairment which included large print literature, and a soothing lavender-scented neck wrap.

Recipients were invited to share their comments by filling out a survey – and the results have been extremely positive.

"How wonderful to have a present dropped to my door like this," said one client.

"It was nice to know I was being thought about,’ said a recipient of a pack tailored to people with sensory impairment.

Lynne Misner, chief executive of Small Acts of Kindness, said: "These wellbeing activity and gift bags have been a source of happiness for thousands of older people for whom lockdown and isolation is taking a big toll.

"Not only are they useful, they are also a little and welcome reminder that people care - something that matters so much to an age group who have been hidden from view for so many months and are beginning to feel forgotten.

"We are proud to have been a part of this project and delighted that it is reducing isolation and loneliness and connecting communities with kindness."