Rather than assuming a ‘social deficit’ and that something was missing or negative in Halstead, a town of just under 12,000 inhabitants in Essex, Essex Partners wanted to further understand social isolation and loneliness by focusing on the ways in which people are connected, the facilities and services they do access, and the extent to which they feel isolation or loneliness are issues in their community.
Drawing on The Young Foundation’s experience of working with communities across the UK, Essex Partners initiated Halstead Connected, utilising the tools of community action research and social innovation to support the people and organisations working to promote well-being and social connections in Halstead.
The work was co-designed and co-delivered with local partners that have deep connections into the local community: Braintree District Council; Community360; Greenfields Community Housing and Essex County Council. The work was delivered by listening and observing through qualitative research, enabling dialogue and reflection through community engagement and by co-creating new approaches informed by local people.
In listening to and engaging with residents Halstead Connected found:
- 60% of residents find Halstead to be a welcoming community, however some groups feel disconnected and isolated;
- The majority of people identified as experiencing isolation and/or loneliness were older people, disabled people, people living alone, people with long-term health conditions and new mothers;
- Social isolation and loneliness resulted from a range of factors, including changing support networks such as families moving away or not having close relationships;
- Local services, growth and change play a central role in people’s sense of connection to their community and to one another. New housing developments, cuts to public services and the NHS crisis were also identified as factors in the extent to which people felt connected or were experiencing isolation and/or loneliness;
- There was concern that the new housing planned for Halstead may impact the strong sense of community that many people value;
- The link between there being nothing for young people to do, and perceptions of young people as perpetrators of anti-social behaviour was also notable, and was challenged by the young people who took part in the project as being an unfair narrative which discouraged young people from connecting and achieving their potential.
As part of Halstead Connected, Essex Partners worked to support local people and organisations to address social isolation and loneliness in diverse and creative ways, through promoting better connections locally. These include:
Encouraging local residents to support their neighbours: This included initiatives such as a pledge-making – where residents pledged a small action which would improve social connections locally.
Window cleaner Oli for instance, pledged to support his neighbours: “[Since making the pledge] I have been able to help an elderly couple who I clean for with their tablet. Mainly helping them download files, apps and look up topics on the Internet. They had zero experience with this kind of technology but now they are getting on really well with it and downloading what they need without much help” - Oli, Window Cleaner, Halstead
New larger scale initiatives, such as a neighbourhood get-together called ‘Tea on the Green’, have also been established. A local resident is teaming up with Halstead Day Centre to pilot her This Is Your Life scrapbook project with members there.
Building confidence and connections for young people: In response to one of the main findings of the research - that there is little opportunity for young people to connect with in and around Halstead - one young person was supported by the Partnership to restart a youth council. She and a group of nine others are keen that; “by representing ourselves as respectful and mature people, hopefully we can change what some people think of us and then set up a programme of how we want the youth council to be run”.
Welcoming and connecting existing residents and newcomers with the town: Halstead Town Council already provides a range of information about local activities and events to residents and invites local groups to add details of their activities to the Council’s website. To tackle the issues raised about the potential disconnection between older and newer residents, and to help promote a sense of belonging and participation, the Council is now exploring welcome packs for new residents. Halstead Connected partner Braintree District Council has created a laminated copy of the research illustration which is destined to tour Halstead. The aim is that as many people as possible will be able to engage with the research findings and can continue to discuss, reflect and act on the issues of social isolation and loneliness.
The ripple effect
There were also several smaller outcomes from the Halstead Connected project which may potentially have a large impact in the longer-term:
- Increased information about the funding streams available to local organisations, and the offer of support to access these, was made to local community leaders from the Partnership.
- Community360 and Greenfields Community Housing plan to meet to see how they can work together to support local initiatives.
- As a result of meeting through the project, the local food bank and Richard de Clare Community School connected and are exploring potential collaborations.
- Braintree District Council is looking at how they can support and work with the local children’s centre.
- Community360 would like to explore how the old Post Office on Halstead high street could be turned into a community space, following conversations they had with residents at the pop-up stall: “we all agreed the Post Office would be perfect as a Community Space - the people of Halstead would definitely benefit. All service providers would be able to better reach the community” (Caroline Burrows-Wren, Community360).
Keeping Halstead Connected
Recommendations for the future include:
- Further support for new and existing initiatives working to tackle social isolation and loneliness and increase social connections
- Sharing with community members the available support (both financial and skills-based) can prove essential to enabling people to make the most of opportunities, building confidence, and sustaining successful initiatives.
- Continue to raise awareness of the importance of tackling social isolation and loneliness and provide opportunities for people to connect locally
- Prioritise initiatives which connect people on their terms
- Utilise new housing developments as an opportunity to build a healthy, connected community
Page last updated 16/11/18