Divorce, relationship breakdowns, and younger people migrating for work mean that in developed countries, more and more people of all ages, but in particular older people are living alone.
People are sociable, yet in many countries modern life, working patterns, affordability of housing are all reducing the quality and quantity of social relationships. Many people in these countries no longer live in extended families or even near each other.
Why are communities important for health and wellbeing?
A growing body of evidence shows that social isolation is bad for health. A full review of the evidence in 2010 (Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. (Click Here) found that people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships..
They found that the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality, such as smoking and alcohol consumption. And indeed exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.
The Genie project (Click Here) found a direct link between the number and strength of peoples social and support connections and their health and well being. But the project also found that you could support people to identify gaps and develop new social networks.
People greatly benefit from being able to share experiences with people in a similar situation, and most people will agree its easier to make changes to your lifestyle for your health and well being if you have the support of others.
Communities coming together to jointly solve issues- such as cleaning up parks and public areas, helping the streets feel safer by improving street lighting or initiatives such as Park Runs all help people make connections and stay well.
We call this community development and asset based approaches.
What are community development and asset based approaches?
This group of approaches seeks to draw on and strengthen community capacity to take collective action that will in turn lead to healthier, safer communities. Approaches can be applied at a neighbourhood level to address health inequalities and also used to work with specific communities experiencing the effects of social exclusion. Approaches include: community capacity building, community development, asset-based community development (ABCD), community empowerment models, community organising, and mutual aid interventions.
This is defined as ‘a long–term value based process which aims to address imbalances in power and bring about change founded on social justice, equality and inclusion’.
Social network approaches
These approaches focus on strengthening community and social support between people, via collective or community organising activities (as opposed to more individually-based peer support). Interventions will typically set up structures or processes that either enhance existing networks, for example neighbourhood network models that coordinate informal support to older people.
Time-banking and skills-based approaches
A Timebank is a way that local people can share their experiences, knowledge, skills and time with each other and be rewarded for doing so through earning time ‘credits’. For each hour that you give helping someone you earn a time credit. You can then spend your time credits on getting help from another timebank member yourself.
People give practical help to timebank members with things like supporting a neighbour with their gardening or shopping; cooking a meal or making a cake; giving music lessons; helping out with groups or starting new groups; writing a will; mending a bike; litter picking; starting a community garden.
Many timebanks have a person-centred conversation with anyone wanting to join, to find out what skills, knowledge or time they have to give and what they need help with. Through doing this, each timebank essentially creates its own community map.
Volunteering and social action
Volunteering is time given freely for the benefit of others. It takes many forms and may take place through organisations (formal) or with friends and neighbours (informal). In health and care, it can happen in any services including GP surgeries and hospitals.
Social action is time freely spent with others to tackle local problems, negotiate with public services, and improve conditions that benefit all. It is often carried out through independent community groups. Social action can be aimed at improving the health of individuals or the community, and it can also ensure that the people involved keep well, and improve their wellbeing.
It is important to recognise volunteering does not come for free and requires investment and doesn’t ‘just happen’. The better integrated into care and the better it is supported the greater impact it will have. There are many opportunities for innovation within services that reach into communities. Ideally volunteering and social action should have Board and senior manager leadership; services should be managed professionally and safely; volunteer managers need to be supported and trained; and the volunteers themselves need to be supported and feel valued.
A Compassionate Community is a community that provides support to someone who is dying. The community could be family, neighbours, local organisations, a faith group, local businesses or people living in a particular area. It could be some or all of these.
People in a Compassionate Community help care for a dying person through small acts of compassion, supporting the dying person during their end of life, often enabling them to die well and, if possible, at home.
Palliative care professionals, such as doctors and care workers, are also a vital part of a Compassionate Community. However, to provide the best possible end of life care to someone they need extra support from the patient’s community, particularly if the patient wishes to die at home.
By working and pulling together a Compassionate Community can help a dying person, and their family and friends, get the support and care they need, helping them to deal with dying and death and the subsequent bereavement and loss of those left behind. www.compassionatecommunities.org.uk