Richmond Hill Elderly Action: snapshot of flexibility

Leeds Neighbourhood Networks Schemes work with and for older people in their local areas. Each network responds to the needs of the community, which usually means social groups, trips out, lunch clubs, support with benefits or housing, and wellbeing activities.

Richmond Hill Elderly Action (RHEA), which has members aged 55-101, aim to cater for all interests, hobbies and desires. They have compared their ‘usual’ offering to their work during the Covid-19 pandemic. As you can imagine, there have been many changes during 2020.

Before the pandemic forced the UK into lockdown, RHEA was delivering a dementia safe space at the Bank Café, lunch clubs three times a week and social groups with a range of activities. As the news about Covid was breaking, people in the Richmond Hill community were already starting to isolate. As lockdown and shielding began, and RHEA had stopped its groups and meet-ups, changes had to happen:

“Where our social opportunities had to stop, the more intense one-to-one support took over and new, and very real problems started to rise.” (Darrell Xavier, RHEA project manager)

In March and April, RHEA wrote to and then telephoned their 1,000 members, saying the organisation was still open and support available. They made ‘safe’ home visits to those who couldn’t communicate via the phone. Gone were the lunch clubs, but £6,000 was secured to create an essential food buying and delivery service. They also worked with other local groups as part of the Leeds City Council’s food hub for the entire area.

“[We] set up a ‘food hub’ and between staff and volunteers, up to 60 food deliveries were made to RHEA members every week. This service was free of charge as people obviously couldn’t get out to get money.” (RHEA News, December 2020)

Before Covid, the network ran a men’s group, a canal sailing group, knit and natter and groups playing games and doing competitions. RHEA adapted, making the most of the summer weather to play street bingo, then started phone bingo too! Trips out became socially-distanced picnics in the park or mask-wearing rainy day trips on the minibus, with only three people allowed on board to keep everyone safe.

Rhea Blog Photos Web

Digital inclusion became very important - RHEA worked with 100% Digital Leeds to borrow iPads, then finding technical and mobile network support to help people stay connected. They helped others buy digital devices, encouraged them to learn online and trained members to use WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, Google Translate and lots more.

Their December newsletter shows the change in activities this year has triggered:

  • Reminding people about the latest rules and guidance on how to stay safe
  • Regular phone calls to check in with members and have longer chats where needed
  • Working with the whole ward of Richmond Hill and Burmantofts, including many local organisations and Leeds City Council, to make sure people of all ages can access food and other essentials
  • After the lockdowns ended, accompanying members to appointments or shopping, to help build confidence and offer support
  • Offering advice and support on avoiding scams by phone, online or in person
  • Remembering those who died this year and supporting people to grieve in very difficult circumstances.

It’s clear that RHEA is a vital part of the community in the Richmond Hill area. Whatever the pandemic has brought to Leeds, they’ve adapted. Like so many other amazing organisations across this city, they are supporting, encouraging and helping people to do more than survive 2020. From the newsletter to the beautiful photos, it’s clear that RHEA members are being supported to thrive in a very difficult time.

Gillian Schofield
Time to Shine monitoring and evaluation assistant

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