This Mental Health Awareness Week, leading North East mental health charity, Mental Health Concern, is on a volunteer recruitment drive for their Chain Reaction initiative to tackle loneliness and isolation in older people in Newcastle.
Chain Reaction, a city-wide partnership between Mental Health Concern, Search, and KeyRing, currently offers a range of support for over 200 older people to help them stay active in the community and improve their mental wellbeing. Projects include community group activities like art clubs, walking groups, reading groups, and coffee groups, as well as one-to-one support for those who need it.
Following the COVID-19 lockdown, many of the face-to-face activities provided by Chain Reaction had to be cancelled, and the charity had to find other ways to help tackle loneliness and isolation in older people. A telephone buddy support system was set up, where volunteers call people who are living alone to chat and offer friendship and company. As Covid restrictions have lifted, many in-person groups and activities have been reintroduced but there is still a need for distanced support for those who cannot go out or feel uncomfortable in crowded places.
Due to the increase in demand for the range of services, and as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Chain Reaction is looking to recruit more ‘befriending’ volunteers to talk to older people living on their own, and provide friendship, advice, and support in their day-to-day lives. The charity is also looking for volunteers to help facilitate the increasing number of community activities that are back up and running across the city, as well as one-to-one assistance for older people returning home from hospital who live alone and need extra help as they get settled.
Over half of people referred to Chain Reaction’s services in 2022 report that loneliness or isolation is impacting their mental health, with the Mental Health Foundation reporting that nationally, during the COVID-19 lockdowns, loneliness was almost three times that of pre-pandemic levels.
Michelle Ree, Team Lead at Chain Reaction, said: “We are very proud of the range of activities and support we offer older people in Newcastle, but following the pandemic, and a huge increase in loneliness in our older people, it is so important to provide the right support and friendship that our communities need.
“Our volunteers are an incredible group of people who take time to talk to those who use our service, making sure they feel listened to, supported, and connected to their neighbourhood. Volunteering is a truly fulfilling activity, and Chain Reaction can offer a flexible way for people to give back to their communities.”