Walking with Micah
West Preston Methodist Church
@HOME CAFÉ: a place of safety, acceptance and belonging
Despite a significant and welcome increase in partnership working through the pandemic between local councils, health service, and the voluntary, community and faith sector (VCFS), it is still often the case that one partner has little knowledge of, never mind understanding of the others. Fortunately, there are some notable exceptions, such as the community engagement work taking place through West Preston Methodist church. Wendy Foot began working there as the funded Church Inclusion Worker in the middle of May last year, with a remit to reach out and support lonely and isolated people. As this was during the first lockdowns she initially undertook a lot of telephoning from home, which was itself much appreciated by those she called. As many in churches and other organisations have found through the pandemic, the telephone has proved to be an invaluable device for keeping in contact, particularly for the lonely and isolated, those for whom Wendy's role was particularly created, and those who often find it difficult to engage with the fast-moving digital world.
Whilst this inclusion work started with, and still includes 1-2-1 support, the capacity for this was soon exceeded, and so a number of groups / activities have been set up to meet the unfolding needs and requests. The church on the Ashton site was already running a luncheon club, and other activities have grown organically, beginning with chatty chairs in July 2020, both at the Ashton site (see photo), and at Ingol Methodist, a simple and informal setting for informal sociability and conversation. During lock-down, the outdoor chatty chairs was 'open' when the churches weren't, and allowed people to maintain social skills and confidence during lockdown. Another confidence / skill-building activity was a baking course which ran for 6 weeks, one result of which is that two ladies who met on the course now meet regularly at the café to support each other. They have promised to bake when fresh supplies of cake are needed. Thus began the creation of a holistic approach to support vulnerable individuals, addressing physical, mental, emotional / social, and, in particular, spiritual needs, and the name ‘@ home café’.
Providing support for those in need also involved engaging with organisations whose remit includes referring people on to identified places of support. This is an emerging model whereby various statutory - and voluntary - bodies refer 'clients' to places of support, such as churches, and to individuals, such as Wendy, the Church Inclusion Worker at West Preston Methodist Church. The network of external agencies who are referring into @HOME now includes: frequent user service NHS, mental health recovery team, social prescriber, community asset development, share-it, peer talk, not to mention church members. David Singh, Social Prescriber / Health & Wellbeing coach, from North Preston Ingol Health Centre, explained that Wendy first made contact with his GP practice manager, at a time when social prescribing in Preston was in its infancy. He and Wendy then met face-to-face, discussed their roles and how they could work in partnership, supporting local people.
David typically refers people struggling with low mood, social isolation, health and wellbeing issues. He says "These people benefit from meeting others, engaging, and interacting with others; making new friend helps their mood. Any learning and taking part in activities helps the individual’s health & wellbeing".
Structured activities to support emotional and spiritual health have been developed as part of the @HOME 'menu'. These include the Wellbeing journey (a holistic wellbeing journey with a Christian focus, run as a 6-session course); the alpha course (being run by partners from other churches), a weekly guided meditation (combining breathing, mindfulness, reflections, music and silence), and a monthly celebration which all who are involved are invited to. One lady told Wendy that she has been given new life by coming to the Wellbeing journey. On top of all this, Wendy also makes 1-2-1 home visits to people when needed.
Already over 50 people have engaged with one or more activities, and these are expanding as people's stories are heard and needs are identified. This holistic approach to wellbeing is a fantastic example of what faith groups have to offer, and the @HOME operation also illustrates how powerful can be a partnership between the VCFS, local authority and health sectors. David Singh echoed this view: "Working in partnership, we share expertise, local knowledge and we bring that local community feeling; we aim to create that supportive environment for the local people, to promote independence and reduce social isolation".