Jan 18

It's all about people and time

Posted: 8 January 2018

Shirley Steeples is the registered manager at Princess Marina House, run by the RAF Benevolent Fund, and is a registered manager member of Skills for Care.  She shares their best practice initiative on combating loneliness and social isolation for serving and former RAF personnel.

Princess Marina Friendship Groups Friendship group at Princess Marina House

In 2015 the RAF Benevolent Fund undertook research to discover the needs of our beneficiaries and social isolation emerged as a concern to our older veterans. We know that the causes of this are varied and can include poor mobility, lack of and cost of transport, loss of confidence, diminished financial status, as well as difficulties in keeping in touch with friends and family.

We hear frequently from our guests about how lonely they are when they are at home and how much they benefit from their stays at Princess Marina House. We offer a range of support, including respite and care breaks for serving and former RAF personnel and welfare breaks for their families and veterans, specialised advice on benefits and care services and support.

In response, we have introduced a number of initiatives to deal directly with this.

Through a partnership with the charity, Community Network, we introduced a weekly telephone friendship group, staffed by trained volunteer facilitators. I identified those who might benefit and promoted the service to our guests.  Everyone who was interested completed an application form listing their interests and availability.

Three groups of six were formed, with ground rules covering confidentiality, taboo subjects and codes of conduct. These were agreed with each member of the group prior to the first call. Personal details other than names are not shared with the group.  

Participants chat for an hour each week with the facilitator on hand to assist in the conversation and to ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to speak.

The feedback from the groups has been extremely positive with almost all participants reporting positive improvements to mental wellbeing.  Participants have formed friendships and some have arranged to exchange contact details so they can keep in touch outside of the group. It’s been so successful we’ve expanded this service and have two further groups due to launch this month.

We have also introduced a lunch club. Many of the veterans who stay with us live locally and enjoy their visits so much that they are really sad when it’s time to go home.

Historically, we ran a Tuesday lunch club for members of the RAF family to eat in the restaurant; however we were unable to meet the demand and had many veterans on our waiting list. We were sponsored by the Aged Veterans Fund to expand this service to a daily service for two years

Veterans pre-book their places by telephone and choose their main meal. This reduces waste and therefore cost. They can bring friends and family with them and can reserve a table for up to eight. Veterans pay a fee for their lunch - which also includes the opportunity to join in an afternoon activity. In circumstances of financial hardship we waive the fee. 

Although we have been fortunate at Princess Marina House to have benefitted from the Aged Veterans Fund and the RAF Benevolent Fund, it would still be possible to organise adaptations of these initiatives in other services.

For instance, it would be possible to replicate the lunch club; most of the cost could be recovered in the cost of the meal. The addition of people from the community mixing with residents in the home gives positive benefit to residents and guests.  It raises the profile of the home in the local area.

The biggest single element in a care environment to combating social isolation and loneliness is people and time. At Princess Marina House we have an excellent team of dedicated and compassionate staff from housekeeping and catering to care entertainments and admin.  Time is always built into their day to enable them to spend time talking and interacting with our guests and clients. 

Find out more about becoming a registered manager membership of Skills for Care here for only £35 per 12 months. Join our growing community of registered managers dedicated to improving the quality of adult social care.