Amid the global pandemic and rising loneliness and isolation, one Peckham-based social wellbeing enterprise is working to bring people together with a community approach to physical and mental health, writes Simon Throssell…
Community Bridges was established in June 2018 by health policy and research consultant Sandra Evans.
When she moved to the area four years ago, she knew it was the perfect place to put her idea into motion.
“Even if you don’t know Peckham, when you come here there’s a special kind of community spirit,” she said.
“During my time as part of an early psychosis team in the NHS, I was responsible for linking up patients who were coming out of hospital with community activities to try and help their reintegration back into the community.
“I really discovered that whilst there was so much going on in the community, a lot of the care coordinators didn’t really have the time or resources to find out what all of those activities were, even though they might have really benefited their young clients.”
Community Bridges does just that – bringing together what is going on in Southwark and south London together in one free resource – with a focus on tackling loneliness and isolation.
People who are lonely are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviours from smoking to lack of exercise and overeating, of which can have a compounding impact on their existing physical and mental health conditions, making them harder to treat.
Community Bridges launched in Peckham Levels in 2019 and soon after was producing two community magazines focusing on how people’s lives had been transformed by joining a new group or taking up a social activity.
The magazines also include a pull-out calendar of events including poetry groups, mum and baby classes, and Universal Credit advice sessions.
But then the pandemic halted their plans. Responding to COVID, its volunteers set up a food service and a free phone line, as well as moving their magazine and other resources online and creating a podcast.
In a recent survey, 38 per cent of people who engaged with the organisation experience a long term health condition and that 27 per cent of people said that Community Bridges had improved their wellbeing.
“We were really happy with the results because it came just after a year of us working on this,” Sandra said.
“It was initial proof of concept that what we are doing is helping people.”
She added: “We want people to have easy access to the free activities going on locally so that they can try out different things that resonate with them a little bit better than a ten minute GP appointment.
“The NHS route might be a really helpful and beneficial experience for some people but there is a lot of aspect of loneliness and mental health that needs to be dealt with within the community.”
For more information, visit their website at www.communitybridges.co.uk and find them on Facebook @communitybridgesCIC, on Instagram @comm_bridges or on the free information phone line 0800 046 5393.