Magna Vitae: Maintaining connections through community projects Local authority: East Lindsey District Council

The projects aim to support residents of East Lindsey who may be experiencing isolation, living in poor health or living with dementia. During lockdown the Trust had to find new ways to continue these projects and ensure some of the district’s most vulnerable residents were supported through the pandemic.

Magna Vitae Trust had to find new ways of delivering their community projects which support isolated and vulnerable residents across East Lindsey. Working with partners including East Lindsey District Council, they set up a virtual one stop shop, undertook weekly wellbeing calls and delivered ‘Bags of Happiness'.

The challenge

Magna Vitae Trust was set up in 2014 by East Lindsey District Council to run their culture and leisure facilities and services. The Trust hosts three community projects which deliver activities for those ages 50 plus.

The projects aim to support residents of East Lindsey who may be experiencing isolation, living in poor health or living with dementia. During lockdown the Trust had to find new ways to continue these projects and ensure some of the district’s most vulnerable residents were supported through the pandemic.

In addition, the Trust had to find a way of continuing community projects on a significantly reduced staffing level. Only 19 of 170 staff were not furloughed across the Magna Vitae business. They also had to satisfy funders the National Lottery Community Fund and Louth and District Hospice that projects could be successfully delivered when face-to-face delivery was not an option.

The solution

A range of approaches were adopted to ensure project participants, particularly the most vulnerable, were supported during lockdown. The Trust acknowledged that while digital engagement was important, it could not reach everyone and that keeping contact by post and phone are equally valuable.

The Trust worked with East Lindsey District Council to develop a platform on the Magna Vitae website to provide a ‘one stop shop’ for information for residents. The initiative was delivered by a reduced staff team reprioritising existing budgets to achieve wellbeing outcomes. No additional funds were received for the work. Existing project budgets were re-prioritised and funders were consulted at the outset to agree how best to continue to support project beneficiaries.

This included information on how to keep active and have fun, befriending support and practical, financial support and advice, with links to government guidance throughout the pandemic. The Trust also worked with partners to provide digital support to those identified as in need. People were signposted to access skills and in some cases equipment. 

Social media platforms were used to keep in touch with project participants through exercise sessions, seated dance, recipes and online cookery sessions. For those not on social media, materials were posted to them including recipes, newsletters and the ‘Sporting Pink’, a weekly printed publication provided through their work with the Sporting Memories Foundation. Weekly wellbeing calls were offered alongside group quizzes and small friendship groups where participants supported each other.

When the time was right, the team undertook a series of socially distanced deliveries of goodie bags, ‘Bags of Happiness Survival Kits’. These included a range of items including biscuits, candles, chocolate and tissues.      

Wider teamwork which took place at the same time included the ‘SOFA Fest’ a virtual festival supported by local artists, and support given to local sports clubs to access funding which will enable their survival beyond the pandemic.

The impact

The ‘feelgood’ impact of this work was most appreciated by those who had been shielding for an extended period of time.

The team signposted participants to essential services such as LPFT Mental Health IAPT team and the Admiral Nursing team, this early intervention may lead to longer term cost 

savings. The ‘Happiness’ survival kits assisted participants in providing their own self-care. In total:

  • 1539 wellbeing calls were undertaken
  • 110 ‘Bags of Happiness Survival Kits’ were delivered across 4 towns
  • 238 copies of the ‘Sporting Pink’ were delivered
  • 287 nutritional and digital handouts were sent to people who do not use Facebook.

One resident said: “Having a bad day today so pulled out the Happiness survival kit. Thank you so very much. Reading the card of contents of the kit bag has made such a difference to my day.”

Cllr William Gray, Executive Board Member and Portfolio Holder for Better Ageing at ELDC said:

“We care about our communities and know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, people needed a number of things: information, practical support and help, advice, guidance – but we also knew that we should not overlook their wellbeing. As an area committed to being Age Friendly and supporting our communities to live and age well, we were pleased to work in partnership with Magna Vitae on a number of initiatives to support our communities during this time. We are really pleased that the bags of happiness scheme developed by Magna Vitae brought a smile to people who would otherwise have felt isolated and lonely”.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Magna Vitae will not return to deliver community programmes as before.  For example, evening phone quizzes will continue as they have widened access, especially for carers and residents who are unable to travel or leave their homes.

The Trust are cautiously returning to smaller groups meeting outdoors, bearing in mind many of the participants are physically vulnerable so extra precautions are being put in place.

To sustain activity the Trust will use what has been learned during lockdown to attract new funding and to emphasise to current funders the meaningful support that can be provided when face to face contact isn’t viable. 

Lessons learned:

‘One size doesn’t fit all’ and there is a need to adopt a blended approach, considering ‘new’ and virtual solutions work alongside face to face delivery.  By keeping the virtual delivery aspects, the Trust will also make sure the projects can continue to be delivered should there be a local lockdown through the winter months. Residents already struggle with transport issues due to being within a rural area and virtual delivery options provide opportunities for greater access.