Emma Corker splits her time between Freelancing as a Consultant and Trainer at RBE Associates and working as an Honorary Group Psychotherapist in the NHS. Here, she outlines the approaches a community health programme has taken to support local people throughout the Covid-19 outbreak.

Project Smith is a community development programme in the London borough of Lambeth. It takes a local approach, working at street and neighbourhood levels, to support the community and its people in building and improving their own capabilities and local connections, and thereby improving their health and wellbeing and that of others. The project is designed using a person-centred approach where the ethos of co-production is applied throughout each of its stages (design, delivery, and review).

Project Smith is part of a mixed-model approach supporting social prescribing in Lambeth with two work streams.

Local Community Connectors - local people who give their time to support individuals and connect them to each other, as well as to relevant community groups and statutory services. Training in the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), Supporting Behaviour Change, is provided by RBE Associates (an RSPH Training Centre) before they become a Community Connector.

Community Connectors attend regular monthly supervision called Safaris, as the connectors visit a different community, health or wellbeing organisation in Lambeth. This helps them to learn about what there is in the area to signpost people to. Connectors are then added to a WhatsApp support group where they can access immediate advice and information from each other to support people more.

Lambeth Wellbeing Fund - a small-grants fund that supports a range of health and wellbeing activities, which can be grouped into the four broad categories: physical activity, arts and crafts, community activities, and digital / IT skills. Most of the projects received funding ranging from £2,000 to £5,000. The two work streams are designed to support change in outcomes related to the Wheel of Wellbeing. An evaluation was carried out by NEF Consulting, published in 2019, which has evidenced outcomes which can be mapped against all six ways to wellbeing.  

The Community Connector programme has now mobilised over 100 Community Connectors who are working at street and neighbourhood level.

Case study – pre-Covid-19:

Kin is in her sixties with eight children and four grandchildren. She lives in Kennington, Lambeth. She works as a volunteer for South London Refugee Centre and enjoys supporting people through sharing what she knows.

"Many people do not know about how to access the right places. If you do not have information, you go to the wrong places. A little push [in the right direction] to make their life easier for them".

Kin enjoyed the Safaris. One of the monthly Safaris was held at her workplace.  

"It was amazing - people sharing and learning information from each other. I love the Safaris. You get [a lot of] information - you seek advice, and you get more confident".

Since joining the WhatsApp group, Kin has found helping people has become easier as she has access to different Community Connectors willing to share their knowledge with her. As a result, she is now more likely to approach people who may be struggling and ask if they needed support with anything. Recently, Kin signposted people to her organisation where they can access English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, free yoga, healthy cooking, as well as support for housing, benefit, and immigration issues. Kin also attends the ESOL lessons and yoga on a weekly basis. She recently supported a single mother who has six children to get a flexible part time job in a care home. 

"When you see the person is vulnerable and when you help them and [they] go home happy, you feel like you did [something] and you feel confident".

Case Study - During Covid-19:

Connector Dena like others has had to work harder to support Lambeth residents, as services usually open to referrals are shut and support lines overwhelmed. Dena came across a very vulnerable male, who after a brief conversation, found out that his benefits had been stopped. He had no gas, electricity or food for two weeks. He was suffering with poor mental health and told Dena that he was feeling suicidal. Dena managed to contact the electricity provider and get him electricity and food for a few days from a local charity. Dena asked the connectors via the WhatsApp group for help. Immediately connectors came back with an influx of ideas for where the man could get a food parcel delivered and a local soup kitchen that was still serving the vulnerable.

Dena persisted after one of the connectors recommended calling the Lambeth Council Covid-19 hotline. Once she got through she was delighted with the wrap around support offered by the Covid-19 response team: mental health support, food parcels, 24 hour hardship loan until benefits are reinstated, as well as numerous charities that provided toiletries. Dena also works for Groundswell homeless charity and was able to put in place welfare calls twice weekly. Dena said:

“It is amazing what people can do when everyone works together - all this done from working from home due to Covid-19!”

The programme has proved invaluable at this time, as many of the people that the connectors work with are vulnerable or older people.  The connectors have provided reassurance and clarity about Government messaging and maintained and promoted as much safe independence as possible. Jane, a Community Connector, said the role has helped her cope with the difficulties of home schooling and she has used the principles of behaviour change to increase the motivation of those she supports as well as her own motivation.

In response to Covid-19, Safaris now happen virtually twice a week for two hours. Connectors have access to the project team, to share successes and problem solve. It is clear they are using their skills to reduce the burden on statutory services and empower local people to manage as much as they can by themselves for as long as they can. 

For information about training and RSPH qualifications, and to discuss potential work programmes, contact Graham Rushbrook FRSPH, Director of RBE Associates on [email protected] 

For information on Project Smith, or if you are a Lambeth resident and you would like to do the FREE RSPH accredited training to become a community connector contact Emma Corker, Project Manager: [email protected]