Building communities – community building across Wigan’s extra care housing

Community Circles have been commissioned by Wigan Council to work with care homes and in extra care housing settings across the whole Wigan Borough. Circles make a positive difference in individuals lives and help build local community connections.

As a Community Circle Connector in Wigan, my aim is to support anyone living in extra care housing who wants a Circle to have one. Their Circle will help them reconnect with a purpose; for example, a dream, an ambition or community activity. To achieve this a Circle is first established, which is run by a volunteer, who will ensure that actions are met to help that person achieve their purpose. A Circle may have additional members, those who are important to the individual, and they will also be part of the monthly Circle meetings.

Community Circles isn’t a befriending service – the aim is to support conversations and sharing of ideas that can help the person connect more with what matters to them, although friendships can and do develop as Circle meetings progress and when they do they are natural progressions and not forced relationships. 

"We must always keep in mind the value that these wonderful people can add both inside and outside of their respective extra care housing settings."

I met with a lovely lady recently who was identified by staff at an extra care housing setting as being particularly isolated and lonely. They had told me she wanted to move better. When I met this lady, it was true that she does want to move better, but the main focus for her is companionship – she wants someone with whom she can bond and get out for short walks or longer day trips with. We had a good chat about why we are not a befriending service but about how we can explore actions that can help her achieve her goal. I have a wonderful volunteer whom I will introduce shortly who works at another extra care housing scheme also in Wigan. Jointly we know of other ladies, at both settings, who have similar interests who are also lonely and isolated.

In addition, I recently caught up with another lady whom I first met earlier this year. At our last meeting she had told me, as she smiled and joked, that she had not laughed in as long as she could remember. She talked of precious memories of having an active life and of hearing canary song with her much-loved partner. She added that she would love to reconnect with nature and move better. Prior to a decline in her mobility this lady was an active volunteer and had run one of the original food trucks with her partner for many years. Upon introducing a Circle volunteer to her we talked about those memories and possible ways for her to move better and reconnect. It moved us both seeing her face beam and watching tender tears fall at the thought of connecting with those things that hold such tender reminiscence. The power of focussing on what matters.

"My hope is that these Circles will help relieve the loneliness and isolation currently prominent and bring these lovely ladies purposes to fruition."

Purposes for each Circle can have similarities but may require different approaches. By exploring the essence of a Circle – focussing on the purpose, introducing a great volunteer to help actions happen, getting everyone in these ladies’ Circles involved with those actions, and sharing great ideas, we will help to bring about the change needed. In addition, each Circle will grow a potentially wonderful network of connections. It is the intention of myself and that of our Circle volunteers to ensure these ladies feel valued and that their skills and contributions are recognised and celebrated. My hope is that these Circles will help relieve the loneliness and isolation currently prominent and bring these lovely ladies purposes to fruition.

Every person I meet has a fascinating history and a wealth of skills and knowledge. We must always keep in mind the value that these wonderful people can add both inside and outside of their respective extra care housing settings. Although it is evident that isolation and loneliness are common place in the extra care housing schemes where I work, I would love to see communal areas buzz whilst being used to their full potential, for both Circle meetings, and by community groups who have been introduced as a consequence of actions from those Circles. Thus, helping each individual feel they are an important contributor to their respective communities.

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