The “Link Visiting Scheme” is a befriending service, which aims to combat social isolation among older people. It was initiated in 1998 by Woodley Baptist Church in Berkshire in the United Kingdom and has had quite an impact in the borough of Wokingham.
Now, organizers believe its model can be used across the U.K.

The Link Visiting Scheme arranges for a volunteer to visit an older person once a week between one and two hours. This contact often provides a lifeline to older people who may not otherwise have any contact with the outside world.

After operating in the town of Woodley for nine years, the church recognized the need for such a plan across a wider area. In 2007, church leaders from across Wokingham Borough explored ways in which they could work together to address issues of isolation.

This resulted in 19 churches of various denominations creating a network for this purpose. The local authority then agreed to provide funding to enable staff to be employed to run the project.

The primary focus of the original plan remains on home visiting, but other projects have since been started according to the needs and interests of older people.

These include:

â—     Weekly courses on understanding computers, enabling older people to learn how to use email and the Internet. This leads to older adults being able to communicate regularly with relatives or investigate other local activities available to them.

â—     Regular “Pie and Pint Clubs” are aimed particularly at older men who may have been bereaved or are isolated for other reasons.

â—     Other projects, such as singing groups, bowl clubs and various outings and special events.

In all, more than 230 older people are now regularly reached, of which 150 receive visits and another 80 engage in other projects and activities. A team of more than 130 volunteers enables this to operate.

There is growing evidence of the detrimental effect that isolation and loneliness can have on the health, well-being and life expectancy of people of all ages.

The model of the Link Visiting Scheme provides a crucial social point of contact, which, in itself, helps to build self-confidence and self-esteem and often leads to improved mental health and independence.

Consequently, older people can gain improvement in their mobility and explore options to visit local clubs, church activities and events leading to the establishment of a wider circle of friends.

The “Understanding Computers” and “Pie and Pint Clubs” provide opportunities for friends to engage in innovative and beneficial activities enabling the development of new skills.

Volunteer visitors also gain from the experience of sharing in the life of an older person from a different generation, leading to a greater understanding of life in earlier times.

Volunteers often report a sense of achievement and mutual benefit by having contact with a member of the community who appreciates them.

Since 2012, the charity has been responding to a sense that the model could be used in partnership with churches in other areas across the country.

This vision is now becoming a reality with the support of The Cinnamon Network, which has been providing guidance and funding to allow the model to be replicated.

The advantage of the model is that it works well in both rural and urban settings and can be set up with minimal resources. The primary need is for a team of Christians with a heart for older people and an enthusiasm to work with various churches and other agencies.

A period of around six months is required to plan and prepare for the launch of a local project.

This process is supported and guided by those with experience within the Link Visiting Scheme who make available all of the operational documents, policies, training materials and other guidance.

A longer version of this article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain and is used with permission.

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