Gilli's voice - Moments of Joy
Age Better in Sheffield’s ‘Moments of Joy’ and ‘Hello Neighbour Boxes’ have been helping older people through the pandemic by providing vital information and human connection in a time of isolation.
Gilli works for Age Better in Sheffield, one of 14 programmes across the country funded by the National Lottery to look at ways of reducing loneliness and social isolation among older people. At 61, living alone and now working full time from home this is something she has first-hand experience in.
The week before we officially went into lockdown, we had a meeting to discuss what our response might be to the emerging situation. We didn’t understand the full implications of what was about to happen, but we anticipated thousands of older people self-isolating in their own home or in care homes and sheltered accommodation. What could Age Better in Sheffield do in response to such a tidal wave of imposed isolation? This was when we first started talking about “Moments of Joy”. String quartets were mentioned playing in the grounds of our Extra Care Homes in Sheffield. It sounded, at best, a nice idea but we were about to be engulfed in a pandemic and violinists playing on the grass didn’t sound like a priority.
A week later we went into lockdown and started contacting the project leads at the various South Yorkshire Housing Association run accommodation for older people to ask if there is anything they needed from us, for their residents. I get an enthusiastic response and a request for brightly coloured wool and large knitting needles for the “Knit and Natter” group who are now confined to their rooms. Requests come into the team from other care homes for similar items and for befriending phone calls. By teaming up with a number of individuals and organisations across Sheffield, Age Better in Sheffield were able to create a box full of Sheffield inspired free gifts, activities and tips for people aged 50 and important information about other services.
COVID-19 has certainly posed a unique challenge to our ambition as a programme to reduce social isolation and loneliness and helping people stay connected.
I provided some content for the boxes, sharing prompts for creative writing and so #InMyMindsEye was conceived, to encourage people to allow their imagination to transport them to places they can’t go right now.
Over 2,000 of our Hello Neighbour Boxes have now been distributed by Age Better’s partner organisations such as Sheffield Mind, Age UK, Soar, Reach South Sheffield, Lai Yin Association, and South Yorkshire Housing Association, as well as other community organisations based in the programme’s target wards. We also had the support of South Yorkshire Housing Association’s volunteer team to help with the distribution. Although everyone’s idea of joy is different, we hope that some of the items in these boxes sparked creativity or reminded people of the wonderful city they live in, and maybe offered some reassurance that Age Better in Sheffield, along with many other organisations, are here if they need us.
And the string quartet? It was on 19 May, musicians played in the grounds of Westmeads. One of the residents listening to the performance said afterwards, ‘I only hope it did for others what it did for me, whisking me away from the reality of this horrible nightmare of a world with COVID-19. Gone for nearly 2 hours of heaven by angels on strings.’
COVID-19 has certainly posed a unique challenge to our ambition as a programme to reduce social isolation and loneliness and helping people stay connected. The Age Better in Sheffield ‘Moments of Joy’ project with input from creative arts professional Cara McAleese is now fully up and running, providing activities to support residents in care homes during this time of isolation by offering weekly dance sessions and regular live music performances. This project is going to continue beyond the time of the initial crisis. It will be extended to offer other activities such as writing and poetry and will continue to explore ways of bringing joy to older people through creativity and performance.