In a growing number of locations around Ireland, health professionals now have access to Social Prescribing, a referral service that aims to reduce loneliness and social isolation by linking people with non-medical sources of support within their local community.
‘I have new found confidence and friendships’ says one participant happily. Marie (59) explains two years ago she recognised she needed a change in her life. Her conversation with her GP leads to a prescription, a social prescription. While social prescribing is very common though out the UK, it is now growing in strength in Ireland. ‘I was low in confidence and I had lost my identity. My GP referred me to social prescribing. Not knowing if it could help me – I gave it a go’. It was this that brought Marie to Offaly Well Connected – Social Prescribing service. Marie has gone from strength to strength joining local craft, cooking and exercises groups. While Covid-19 has changed things, she has learned new skills and is now taking part in online groups.
At Offaly Local Development Company, Amanda Caulfield is the social prescribing co-ordinator who makes the connections between the person and their community. The project was set up in 2017 and is funded by the HSE. “Social prescribing creates important links for people who, who are interested in groups and activities in our community” explains Amanda. “It also creates links for people to our community who may have symptoms of mild depression or anxiety, who may have poor social skills, or maybe disadvantaged, lonely or isolated. It integrates all members of our community and is for everyone who is interested in improving their health, wellbeing and connection to our community’. As Co-ordinator Amanda works in conjunction with community development workers, community based services and health services to increase the uptake of local supports. In Offaly, Social Prescribing services are available free of charge to people over 18 regardless of their income or employment status. . Social Prescribing provides the opportunity for people to look to the community around them and to discover the range of services available in their local area.
The service like a lot of community based services, Covid-19 has changed the way it is delivered. Amanda explains “we know that many of the activities on offer through social prescribing aren't available because of coronavirus and it definitely brought loneliness under the spotlight in that sense’. I think it is hugely important as we go through this to recognise as a community we did become more connected in new ways.’ The project connected people in new and innovative ways. Online craft groups, an online journal group are just two of the ways this project continued to connect with the community. Also it became an important services to link people into all the supports that is available still in the community.
Carmel Lalor and Eileen McKiver are both Occupational Therapists within the HSE Community Mental Health Team here in Tullamore. They explained that Occupational Therapy is focused on increasing a person's independence in daily life. Social Prescribing mirrors a part of their role in that it assists people engaging in meaningful activities in their community. ‘We have referred many service users to both individual support and the groups that Social Prescribing have on offer. It has been a tremendous support to our service users and is another valuable resource in their recovery journey. We are witness to the fact it has enriched the lives of those who have used the service.’
Offaly Local Development provides this two day a week service here in Tullamore. Offaly Local Development Company (OLDC) is a partnership of agencies and groups representing the community, statutory and private sectors. It delivers a variety of programmes and supports to individuals, communities and businesses in Co. Offaly. Brendan O’Loughlin, CEO explains that the project is community approach to Wellbeing. “Loneliness and social isolation is one of the biggest factors facing Ireland as we are in the grips of pandemic. There is no doubt that the project has had a significant impact on all those that have engaged and outcomes are very positive. This is what this social prescribing initiative is achieving here in Offaly, by giving support to those who need it’
March 18th is National Social Prescribing Day. For more information on Social Prescribing Project and if you think you or someone you know may benefit for it, contact Amanda Caulfield, Offaly Local Development Company on 087 7470562 or email firstname.lastname@example.org