Monday, 3 December 2018

Connected Generation project

Connected Generation project staff meet the Community Connectors

Zandra Pitt is the Project Officer for this new lottery-funded project - Connected Generation -  in which five organisations work together with people over 50 in Powys.

I met with her recently to find out more about how Age Cymru Powys, Citizens Advice Powys, Credu, Disability Powys and the Royal Voluntary Service are supporting people to build on their strengths and enjoy a greater sense of wellbeing.

How did your involvement start?

I have worked in a variety of roles over the years, in England and Wales, including women’s aid and homelessness charities, a children’s legal centre and various community advice services. I studied law as an older student.

I was the Advice Manager at Cardiff University Student Advice Service for nearly seven years and saw a major increase in mental health problems whilst I was there.

Where did your interest in the project stem from?

The fact that it involves five partner organisations, each bringing their own scope of what they can offer, attracted me. That, and the person-centred approach of the project, really interests me. The project will raise a lot of the challenges that people over 50 have but also the opportunities that are available to them.

Tell us more about the project and your role

The Connected Generation project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund People & Places programme for three years. Of the five partners, Credu (formerly Powys Carers) is the lead organisation. As Project Manager I am based with Credu, along with two Outreach Workers. Then we have two Outreach Workers with Age Cymru Powys, another two with Disability Powys, one Adviser with Citizens Advice Powys, and the Community Development Worker and assistant with the Royal Voluntary Service.

The project is committed to working with people with the aim(s) that they will:

  • Feel more connected to other people and less socially isolated. 
  • Feel more able to shape the services that impact on their lives and feel more listened to, valued and respected in their relationships with services that matter to them. 
  • Feel that information, advice and support is more coherent and enable them to make informed choices. 
My role involved pulling the project together initially. I look after the reporting and monitoring, and raise awareness working with all the partners,

Which organisations do what?

When people are referred to the project the Outreach Workers from the relevant organisation (Credu, Age Cymru Powys or Disability Powys) will aim to build trust and rapport and have a conversation about what matters to them most over time. The outcome is around what that person wants. The workers may have to pull in others rather than signposting or referring on. We operate an “any door” approach. There is no central hub. Rather than turn people away the individual partners will make internal referrals so that people are not put back on the merry-go-round, constantly trying to find the right route in for support.

If reducing isolation is an outcome, then we would look at who or what that person wants to be connected to appropriately.

The staff have received training in “Circles of Support” and “Effective Collaborative Communication”. It is about listening and having the conversation at what matters to someone at a given time.

The client may want to pursue other interests. For example, Credu runs carers’ groups, whilst Age Cymru Powys holds regular crafts and social groups.

We meet regularly with Clair Powell, the Senior Officer Community Connectors at Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations. The Connectors refer clients in to the partner organisations for support.

Citizens Advice Powys has a caseworker dedicated to the project and can be pulled in by the outreach workers. She provides advice on a range of issues including benefits, debt, and housing.

The volunteer support element is led by the partner, the Royal Voluntary Service, whose community development worker recruits and trains volunteers to become companions.

Connected Generation get together

Who is the project for?

People in Powys who are 50 + who need support. We aim to create long-term self help and support to build personal resilience for the future. If they require more specialist support, say round their mental health, we will pull in another organisation/service.

What kind of difficult life challenges do older people experience in Powys?

There are many examples. Some of the most common include:

  • The cared for and the carer. 
  • Coping with illnesses. 
  • A need for information and advice in order to move forward. 
  • Wanting to carry on meeting up with friends once a week when there are rural transport and/or mobility issues. 
  • Maintaining own home. 
  • Physical and/or mental health issues (including clinical depression/bipolar disorder/dementia). 
  • Feeling lonely and isolated. 

How does it support people struggling with their mental health?

We will provide support but may also look at pre-existing networks to refer to other specialist support such as Ponthafren Association or the nearest Mind centre as appropriate.

How does the project make a practical difference?

"Many thanks for your kind help and the information you have provided, really useful. I’m going to call Llanidloes Home Support in my lunchtime and I am working from home tomorrow, so if she could visit then that would be great, I’ll stay in touch."

"Carer phoned outreach worker a few weeks later and expressed his thanks again for all the help, his stepson’s anxiety levels were much lower and this makes his caring role more manageable."

"Just speaking to the outreach worker and getting the information he needed, M felt that he had lifted a big weight from his shoulders."

"By this time they were both overwhelmed that someone had stepped in and offered them information and support – ‘No one’s ever done anything like this for us before'."

"Somehow we have been listened to and heard and helped."

"Thanks for the visit. It is time for me to reassess my work / life / caring balance, so your contact couldn't have come at a better time."

How is the project influencing policy and practice at a national level?

We want to influence local government, the health board, National Government and hear the voices of older people to make changes to policy and improve services. It is about enabling the individual and collective voices to be heard in the right place.

Some of the groups come together with other stakeholders to inform and give evidence to various inquiries and consultations.

We’re aiming to work in a coproductive way. I attend the Older People’s Partnership Board along with Gail Hamer, the Chief Officer at Age Cymru Powys. The project started in January 2018 and we are already reviewing how it goes and learning all the time.

At the same time the five partners are all continuing to feed into their national networks.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

As I am new to the area – getting to know it better, as I’ve not worked in Powys before. Developing essential networks and understanding the scope of the organisations and other services. Ensuring that we keep true to the people centred approach.

Tell us about some of the most rewarding work you have done on the project so far

Meeting an incredible group of committed people. Myself, I’m a step away from working with individuals, but I’m very aware of the work they do in the team. They are very supportive to people who have powerful stories to tell.

When you’re not working how do you enjoy spending your time?

I like art, socialising with family and friends, and walking. I recently completed a three-day course on stained glass, which was really good. 

Many thanks to Zandra for telling us all about this exciting new project. To find out more about the Connected Generation project contact Zandra Pitt by emailing or ring 07971 637 447.

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