When volunteers connect with their isolated neighbours, everyone benefits

Citizens from Tyburn, north-east of Birmingham city centre, have been rewarded for the work they are doing to help improve connections in their local community. Volunteers from Community Organisers – a project set up by the Ageing Better in Birmingham programme which aims to tackle isolation in the over-50s – have received awards recognising their ‘invaluable contribution’ to getting older people in Tyburn out of isolation.

Ageing Better in Birmingham is part of Ageing Better, a programme set up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Ageing Better aims to develop creative ways for people aged over 50 to be actively involved in their local communities, helping to combat social isolation and loneliness. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier.

Awards and certificates were given to 16 locals, who have all taken steps to improve their neighbourhood. The winners and nominees have all committed their time and energy on a voluntary basis, supporting people who are isolated and lonely. Sarah Powers, Health & Wellbeing Team Leader at Compass Support, the organisation responsible for delivering the Community Organisers project, said:

“These guys are doing all of this for free, and it is so important to us that we show every single one of them just how much we appreciate their efforts and hard work.”

The Community Organisers programme has 16 volunteers across Castle Vale and Pype Hayes and together they form a network of peers who help older people in Tyburn through befriending, acting as a point of contact and a voice for the community, and engaging with people in the area.

The plan is to support these local Community Organisers to continue to deliver positive change in communities after the life of this project, which is due to end in March 2020.

Sarah and her colleagues helped choose the awards, and have seen the difference it’s making not only to local residents the project is reaching,but in the volunteers too. Sarah said:

“On the night, some of the guests told me that they have never had a chance to come to an event like this, and no one seems to have heard of anything similar being done in Tyburn before.”

Community organiser Lizzie Venard, 51, won the award for ‘Outreach and Engagement’. She was previously out of work, living with anxiety and depression and unable to consider working due to her mental health. Through becoming a Community organiser, Lizzie has gained new friends and a good support network, her confidence has grown immensely, and she has managed to get well enough to go back to work.

Lizzie said:

“Had I not started volunteering I would still be sitting at home, still on tablets, not seeing anyone, not getting out.”

Sarah remarked:

“It is amazing to think that Lizzie, who was once unable to leave her home, has now received an award like this and such praise.”

So far, over 7,000 people have benefited from the Ageing Better in Birmingham programme, which was launched in April 2015 and is delivered by an Ageing Better Partnership led by BVSC.