Community Connections Lewisham was launched on 1st September 2020 and followed on directly from the Covid-19 Response Hub, using lessons learnt from the first six months of the pandemic and seeking to support ongoing community recovery. It merged our previous ‘Community Connections’ and ‘SAIL (Safe & Independent Living)’ projects into one and was accompanied by a new Monday-Friday phone line and a brand new website through which clients and professionals could make online referrals.

Support over our phone line

During the first four months alone we received over 3,500 calls and supported 2,800 clients in total, a figure considerably higher than our pre-covid service, which had supported 2,200 clients per year. This confirmed a huge increase in demand for social prescribing support as well as reflecting greater awareness and trust in our service among Lewisham residents. Food support remained the priority need and one way we responded to this was through coordinating the Age UK Hot Meals Service, delivering two free hot meals per week to fifty of our most vulnerable clients. At the same time we gave an increased level of support to individuals needing befriending, mental health services and social groups (both online and face to face).

Demand for our service increased further during the difficult first few months of 2021, during which time we supported an average of 906 clients per month. The majority of these clients referred themselves directly over our phone line and presented a variety of support needs such as help with their health and wellbeing, getting more socially active, financial struggles and IT/internet needs. Our response included making a total of 1954 ‘signposts’ (information given directly to clients) and 1137 ‘referrals’ (passing on a client’s details to another specialist organisation with their consent) to over 400 different groups and services in the borough.

Roughly a quarter of our total contacts were with other professional agencies across both the Statutory sector Voluntary Community Sector (VCS). This has been a great way of sharing our knowledge with other professionals about existing service provision in the borough and their referral pathways. Regular interactions with other professionals have also given us the opportunity to clarify in more detail the types of support we can and cannot give, therefore helping to ensure that referrals we receive are appropriate for the person being supported.

Person-centred Planning Support

Along with same day support over our new helpline, the launch of Community Connections Lewisham also saw the reintroduction of in-depth ‘person centred planning’ (PCP) support for individuals with multiple and/or complex needs and barriers. Though 1:1 home visits were not possible, our team of Community Facilitators began providing extended phone assessments, supporting clients for up to 6 weeks to make healthy life changes through discovering and engaging with relevant local groups and services.

By the end of March 2021 we had completed PCP support for 132 individuals, all of whom reported to be struggling with one or more long-term health condition such as mobility issues or depression/low mood. By asking clients a set of wellbeing questions before and after (using the Warwick & Edinburgh wellbeing scale) we were able to take some measure of what difference our PCP support was making. For all questions asked we were happy to record an overall increase in scores given, indicating that the client’s wellbeing had been improved through, for example, starting to address problems and feeling closer to other people.

Community Development

Since the launch of CCL, our Community Development Worker has been busy building our links with other statutory and VCS organisations. Leading a total of 214 meetings (mostly online) from September to March, our CDW has supported over 110 different groups with a range of needs such as applying for funding, recruiting volunteers, creating effective publicity and helping groups develop partnerships with one another.

The work of our CDW has led to a number of positive outcomes; for example, the Quaggy Community Choir were supported with identifying and applying for funding from the Awards for All scheme, which resulted in them securing a £3,410 grant that has prevented them from shutting down. With digital exclusion being a high priority, our CDW also gave extra support to ‘Catbytes’ IT Hub by connecting them with the national project ‘Restart’. They have provided Catbytes with 250 licences to wipe computers as well as offering free spare parts and repairs of IT equipment, enabling Catbytes to save a significant amount of money and lend out a greater number of devices to digitally excluded residents.

Having now built up a mailing list of over 400 groups, our CDW has been maintaining regular contact with both our Adult Social Care colleagues and the wider social prescribing network in the borough (groups such as One Health Lewisham). Through regular updates and meetings they have provided up to date information about new groups and services, and created a platform through which professionals can share best practice in supporting vulnerable 18+ residents. This has also supported our key objective of bridging the gap between the statutory and voluntary community sectors; for example, through making the Adult Social Care team more aware of community provision, and through sharing our knowledge of safeguarding and ASC client’s needs with local community groups.