Thousands shielding got help with food and medication thanks to voluntary sector

More than 24,000 people on the shielded list received regular checks to make sure they had food, gas/electricity and medication during the pandemic thanks to the voluntary sector in Gloucestershire.

Anyone needing support could speak with a social prescriber who was able to put them in contact with the right local agency to help – this included problems such as grass cutting and dog walking, reducing pressure on social care and the wider system.

A Help Hub and Call Centre, within Gloucestershire Integrated Care System, offered welfare checks from the existing Community Wellbeing Service (CWS) as well as other Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) agencies.

The CWS is co-commissioned by the county council and Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and delivered by a number of VCSE organisations on the ground.

The service brings social prescribing together with work to build community capacity; the close relationship between the CWS teams and the VCSE sector meant they could refer people and also link directly with other organisations.

A number of other ‘social prescription’ groups, run by the voluntary sector, also adapted during the pandemic and moved on-line where they continued to thrive.

Artlift, which delivers arts on prescription for adults with mental health needs, successfully moved online, as did The Music Works, which delivers music and song writing on prescription for children and young people living with chronic pain and respiratory conditions.

Artshape and Cinderford Artspace offered virtual circus sessions to children with type 1 diabetes, and the children even put on a virtual circus show for parents, clinicians and commissioners.

Mindsong, which offers singing and breathing exercise sessions for people with persistent respiratory conditions, also set up online sessions; for some people these were even more accessible than attending a face-to-face venue due to physical and mobility issues. The sessions were joined by a respiratory therapist so people could also see an NHS clinician.

After the green light from the CCG and police, Mindsong, which also delivers music therapy for people with advanced dementia were able to offer sessions in people’s gardens.

Carers of people with dementia had been reporting significant isolation and stress during the pandemic, so Mindsong’s flexibility and willingness to offer social prescriptions helped lift a significant burden for carers.

CCP, one of the VCSE providers of the CWS, also runs a community pantry in Cheltenham, which delivered emergency food provision through the first lockdown.

The pantry opened in May 2019 and allows clients to make their own food choices from a number of fresh options. CCP adapted to a delivery service during lockdown and 2,240 emergency food parcels were delivered with the support of 457 volunteer driving hours and an additional 663 Community Pantry volunteer support hours.

In many cases, its volunteer drivers were the only people that clients saw on a regular basis. They were able to offer advice on the doorstep for any additional needs, with the wider team following up with advice on debt, housing and benefits, domestic abuse, befriending or mental health concerns.

Local health and care commissioners were also conscious of the mental health impact of the pandemic, with referrals for mental health and issues such as financial worries on the increase.

Public mental health teams, the CCG and the VCSE sector came together to discuss and respond to the needs of the local community. As a result, the county council has commissioned emotional distress and psychological first aid training for all frontline workers including those in the VCSE sector, so that workers feel confident and have the right skills to support people they speak to.