Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme plans to tackle social isolation during COVID-19 outbreak

A Neighbourhood Network scheme in Leeds is gearing up to combat loneliness among older people during the coronavirus crisis.

Tuesday, 17th March 2020, 5:00 pm
Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme runs walking groups to keep older people active.

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours’ Scheme, which helps people over 60, has around 1,200 members and a quarter of them are over 85-years-old.

The scheme, which is based in East Leeds, decided to shut its doors this afternoon following new Government advice about avoiding unnecessary social contact. It runs many inclusive activities for around 400 people per week.

But with people over 70 being encouraged to stay at home, the good neighbours’ scheme has got contingency plans to reach out to older people in Cross Gates should they have to go into lockdown.

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Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme runs luncheon clubs on Wednesdays and Thursdays at two venues.

Jo Horsfall, Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme manager said: “I think the main concern is the impact of social isolation and how older people will cope, if it is the four months the press are predicting.”

“We’ve already had a couple of calls from people saying they are not going out now as their families have told them they have got to stay in.”

“A lot of the people who attend here don’t really go anywhere else. A lot of them are transported in by our volunteer drivers. Some don’t have family and they only see us during the week.

Normally the centre in Cross Gates helps people through luncheon clubs, classes, health activities and trips out.

Members of Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme on one of their coach trips.

But with the Government’s advice to avoid unnecessary social contact, it now plans to support its members from afar.

It will draw on its vast database to set up lists to support older people to get their weekly shopping and their medical prescriptions. The scheme also plans to extend its telephone befriending service to ensure people stay connected.

Jo said: “I want people to know that we are taking it seriously. But I think people need to be aware of the impact of social isolation, especially if this is for fourth months.”

The good neighbours initiative already has a Digital Health Hub, which encourages older people to Skype and do Facebook. The hub has been running for six months and there is also talk of a WhatsApp support group. But the scheme is acutely aware that some of the older generation are not digitally savvy. So the telephone and help from younger neighbours may become crucial. The manager thinks younger people could put a note through the door of an elderly neighbour to see if they need anything, like shopping or their prescription fetching.

Jo also stressed the importance of elderly people keeping active, physically and mentally, especially if they become housebound. She said they should continue moving, if possible, to avoid muscle waste. They should also get out into the garden. They could read a book or get some old photos out to “try and keep the happiness going”.

Jo is concerned that older people could become depressed or have mental health issues if they lose touch. But once the crisis is over, Jo is looking forward to the scheme’s usual role of helping to bring older people together. She added: “We will continue to support older people, keep them well and let them live in their homes as long as possible.

“We do a lot of preventative work and we want to continue with that and support Leeds City Council to make Leeds the best city to grow old in. It is, really. The services across Leeds are actually amazing.”

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Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme was founded in 2002.

It is based on Station Road, Cross Gates, Leeds, LS15 7JY, and is open from 9am to 4pm Mondays to Fridays.

The project, which became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation in 2015, runs activities for people over 60 who live on the Cross Gates side of York Road.

It is supported by around 120 volunteers who provide 555 free hours per week.

Leeds City Council part funds the scheme, which also get grants from the likes of the National Lottery’s Building Connections fund and Time to Shine.

The scheme runs a variety of “something for everyone” classes and also provides breakfast, coffee mornings and lunch.

It benefits from donations from Tesco’s Community Food Connection (CFC) scheme. The food initiative, run in partnership with FareShare, sees surplus stock from Tesco stores being given to community causes.

Jo Horsfall, manager of the Cross Gates scheme, said at least 150 people benefit from the donations each week.

Nicola MacKay, community food programmes manager for Tesco, said: “We are proud to work with Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours Scheme CIO, whose dedication to the community is amazing. They have already helped so many people, and we are so pleased to be working with them to assist even more people in need.”