A charity that works with care home residents in Essex has been making their wishes come true thanks to grant funding from national charity Independent Age.
Facing additional pressures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, care homes are increasingly having to prioritise health at the expense of wellbeing initiatives which can have a hugely positive, and in some cases transformative, impact on residents. That’s where Friends and Neighbours (FaNs) Essex come in.
The Friends and Neighbours (FaNs) Essex initiative links older people in care homes with volunteers to help combat loneliness and isolation in later life. Care home residents can write their wishes on a ‘Wishing Washing Line’, located both online and in places like supermarkets, and FaNs Essex will connect each older person with a volunteer who can make their wish come true.
The wishes are often small things, such as having someone to play cards with, or just to see someone for a chat, but being able to speak to someone other than a care worker can make a real difference for isolated older people. The Wishing Washing Line is just one project run by the charity, which also facilitates initiatives such as Care Home Bake-Off allowing residents to get back into the kitchen, Mr Motivator Exercise promoting movement whilst having fun and the intergenerational ‘Young FaNs’ group, where young people visit care homes and play games or chat with older people.
FaNs Essex has been so successful that the model has been replicated across the country, but the charity, like so many others, faced real difficulty during the pandemic. Successive lockdowns presented a significant challenge to the charity’s operations, having to shift their focus almost overnight from befriending and activity-based work to finding and delivering things like basic PPE to struggling care homes. Assisted by a small army of ‘micro-volunteers’, over 18,000 pieces of PPE were delivered to care homes across Essex, as well as 12,000 care packages for exhausted staff.
The charity was able to keep supporting older people through the pandemic thanks to a £13,500 grant in 2021 from national older people’s charity Independent Age. During COVID-19, Independent Age gave over £3million to 278 small charities who otherwise may have had to scale back the services they provide to older people or risked closure.
Independent Age is providing further grant funding to community-based organisations that help older people to live happy and connected lives. Essex is one of three areas of the country where the charity is rolling out its new local grant programme, and as part of this Independent Age plans to distribute £750,000 over the next two years to help develop partnerships and build capacity among community organisations with a particular focus on organisations working with older people struggling financially and those older people facing inequalities.
Tony Smith, Chair of the My Home Life Essex Community Association (MHLECA), the charity behind FaNs Essex, commented:
“We are a small charity, so without grants from the likes of Independent Age, FaNs Essex simply wouldn’t be able to support the people it does. Over the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been increased competition amongst charities for grant funding, so Independent Age’s support is even more vital now than ever before.
“Older people in care homes have been through so much over the past few years. The current cost of living is putting a further squeeze on care homes and their staff. Our volunteers, whether they’re three years old or 63 years old, have such an amazing impact on the wellbeing of care home residents. We often find that most people want to help do something positive but don’t know how to – our micro-volunteering approach allows people to dedicate as much time as they’re able to give with no pressure to commit to more than they can.
“We’re so grateful to Independent Age for their partnership and financial assistance over the past year, and hope to continue this relationship for many years to come.”
Mark Hayward, Head of Grants at Independent Age, said:
“We are proud to work with and fund some of the incredible work that FaNs Essex has been doing over the past year. Few have suffered more during the pandemic than care home residents, making the FaNs Essex’s work to give a good quality of life to care home residents all the more important.
“The work of FaNs volunteers throughout the pandemic has been exemplary but COVID-19 restrictions have really taken their toll on older people in care homes, their families, and those who work tirelessly to care for them. Although we are thankfully through the worst of the pandemic, worries around infection have been replaced with the ever-increasing cost of living crisis. It’s absolutely vital that FaNs get the support they need to carry out their work with people most in need.
“Our ambition is to support even more fantastic community-based organisations like FaNs and that’s why we’re planning to roll out more grant funding in the Essex over the next two years.”