Our homes can be a sanctuary in uncertain times. Home means different things to all of us. The bricks and mortar of where we live will either support good mental health, or by the state of repair be detrimental to both our mental health and physical health. The way we experience our relationship with neighbours and our local community will also have a positive or negative impact on our wellbeing.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown means that most of the population are spending significantly more time at home. If you are older and/or experience long term health conditions, shielding means that it is likely you will be at home for quite some time.
Working for the charity the Mental Health Foundation, I am lucky enough to be Programmes Manager for Empowerment & Later Life. Over the last five years we have facilitated many peer groups with people who are tenants in later life housing schemes, working with over a thousand people in London and South East Wales.
Lockdown has meant that we can no longer work face-to-face with people but have had to adapt to working over the phone, using conference calls and by sending people creative packs. We are hoping to upscale this work. We are seeking funding to use technology and creativity to increase people’s social connections, both where they are living in their housing schemes and with family and friends.
Indeed, we know that the physical distancing measures implemented to stop the spread of the pandemic have left many older people – particularly those in later life housing schemes - isolated and lonely because they are not able to leave their flats. Furthermore, not only are people living in this later life housing likely to be under lockdown for longer, they are far less likely to have access to the technology for maintaining virtual social connections.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, is kindness. And today’s focus is on older people and kindness. Kindness is central to our mental health. It has the potential to bring us all together, with benefits for everyone, particularly at times of great stress.
In the projects I am involved with in later life housing schemes, we have heard about many acts of kindness from both staff and residents, despite the many stresses of Lockdown. People have been getting calls and support from staff to check how they are managing. Cakes are being made and shared with safe social distancing in mind. One group participant phones their GP surgery weekly to check how they are as the people in the surgery have been so good to them.
We are launching a project with self-kindness in mind, One Day in Lockdown. You can draw or take photos, ‘Picture This’. We want to encourage intergenerational conversation about how people are looking after and being kind to themselves in their homes during Lockdown. By drawing or photographing the cup you have your first drink out of, what you can see out of the window, what you are looking at on a screen, TV, computer or phone and a plate with food you’ve enjoyed.
The aim of the project is to use technology and creativity to increase people’s social connections with not only their neighbours, but also their family and friends. In partnership with AnchorHanover and Notting Hill Genesis Housing, we will provide 160 residents with tablet computers and a package of art materials. We will use this to facilitate weekly creative sessions building on the success of the Mental Health Foundation’s peer support work with people in later life.
A key objective of ‘Picture This’ is to address an inequality that predated the pandemic but has been exacerbated by it. The success of this project is therefore likely to depend, in large part, on ensuring that people in later life housing are supported with sensitivity and care to make the most of the technology. We look forward to sharing progress via the Housing LIN.
Please share this document with as many people as possible. Talk to your children, your parents, and grandparents about this. You can share images of drawing and photos on social media using #onedayinlockdown (opens new window) or email us firstname.lastname@example.org. Please can you also support other people to both take part and share their images, who will not find it so easy to do so.
At the Mental Health Foundation through our projects like Standing Together, Standing Together Cymru and Creating Communities we know that people’s mental health in later life can be considerably affected by their housing situation. With a focus on Kindness, ideas like ‘One Day in Lockdown’ and ‘Picture This’, and improving people social connections, we can achieve better mental health and wellbeing in older people’s housing.
For more on housing and mental health issues during Mental Health Awareness Week, visit a series of blog this week at: https://www.housinglin.org.uk/blogs/ (opens new window)
And for more information and resources, supported by the Mental Health Foundation, visit the Housing LIN webpages at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week (opens new window)