If North Yorkshire’s innovative Living Well programme had an advertising slogan it could well duplicate a popular paint brand with ‘it does what it says on the tin’.
Because since the ground-breaking service was launched six years ago, it has helped an astonishing 14,000 residents to live their lives well and – in many cases – deflected them from needing more intensive help from support services.
That has proved a benefit to both those who have been able to enjoy an extended independent lifestyle and the public services that could otherwise have needed to take their care on board.
Living Well was launched in 2015, soon after local authorities took on extended responsibilities for public health, and used an untried system of using locally based co-ordinators – recruited from a diverse range of backgrounds – to work with those needing assistance and help to steer them towards the organisations and services which could help.
The idea proved a resounding success and in the years that followed the scheme itself has evolved and expanded, with increasing numbers of North Yorkshire residents benefitting from the support and expertise it is able to offer.
As its sixth birthday passes this month, the service has become an integral part of North Yorkshire’s offer to the public and in some areas has become embedded with a multi-agency approach, as co-ordinators spend part of their time working from GP surgeries.
When the service was launched, it had a team of around 20 co-ordinators drawn from backgrounds as diverse as housing, health, the armed services and the Ministry, though that has now doubled.
In the first year, around 1,000 people were assisted but as Living Well has become established numbers have grown, with around 4,000 getting help in the 12 months before the pandemic.
Through that period, the service became predominantly digital because of lockdown, but still managed to continue offering support where needed and was able to assist those unfamiliar with online skills to fulfil more of their routine tasks via the internet.
The anniversary – and success of Living Well – are now being celebrated with local events to promote it, as well as an event to bring the team of co-ordinators together with people who have supported the team since the beginning.
Cath Simms, North Yorkshire’s Head of Prevention Services, said: “Living Well was set up to work with people early – to help improve their health, well-being and independence and help them to be as resilient as possible. The aim was to work with them as individuals and focus on what was important to them.
“One of the major problems Living Well was intended to tackle was loneliness and social isolation, so we help connect people to activities and groups in their communities, from small ‘knit and natter’ groups to larger and more formal social organisations. It has been found that long-term loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“We know that people have become at risk of greater isolation due to the pandemic and we will continue helping even more people to connect with their families and social groups, using digital technology.”
North Yorkshire County Councillor Andrew Lee, Executive Member for Public Health, said: “Living Well was a new way of helping people when it was introduced in 2015 and it has fulfilled all the expectations the council had of it.
“From the beginning, the service has grown in size and evolved in some areas, with its value being proved countless times over the years.
“A crucial part of that success is the team of co-ordinators, who bring a wide range of skills and experience to their role, as well as the personal commitment which has helped make Living Well provide such an effective service.”
Living Well praised for stepping in to help after a woman’s fall
Recruiting a domestic cleaner would normally be a routine task, but complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic meant Muriel Blythman struggled to find the help she needed after a fall left her with mobility problems.
She received help from us, with us arranging for grab rails to be installed in her bathroom to allow her to use it safely, and as a result she was put into contact with the Living Well team.
When she explained her difficulties, caused by an arthritis-related fall which left her struggling to walk, her co-ordinator Fiona Ellin was able to help her access a cleaner who was available. Muriel, who lives in Arrathorne, said that had been a transformation.
“I cannot speak too highly of Living Well,” she said, “I am an independent person but there is a time when we all need that help.
“Fiona came and asked if there was anything Living Well could do and I had been trying to get some help with cleaning the house. I had tried some places, but they were not taking anyone on until after the pandemic, but Fiona was able to offer me a list.”
Muriel contacted one, who accepted the work and that has made a remarkable difference to her wellbeing: “She is an absolute treasure, she has turned my world around,” she said.
“For me, the contact with Living Well has just been brilliant."
Secret Garden provides sanctuary and stimulation for recovering stroke victim
After Kev Ward suffered a stroke, North Yorkshire County Council’s Living Well service was among the organisations which helped to put him on the road to recovery.
As he got over the illness, he was given assistance by a Living Well co-ordinator who suggested Northallerton’s Secret Garden could be helpful.
That is tucked off the High Street and was developed in a project that started with the United Reformed Church and other elements of the community, with gardening sessions part of the function it provides.
A ‘garden potterer’ before he became ill, that appealed to Kev, who believes he has benefited on several levels from becoming involved, learning new skills and getting exercise on his walks to and from the garden, as well as becoming involved in a close-knit team of volunteers.
The fact that the garden was known to Living Well spotlights exactly the way the service functions, relying on the local knowledge and contacts of its co-ordinators.
Kev said: “I have been a keen amateur potterer in the garden for a long time, so it was something I was keen to volunteer for. I’ve found it is really good for me, I have to walk there, so that is a good thing and it is a really friendly group.
“I think everyone works together really well and it is a tight little group. The garden is an excellent community resource for people to drop in and get off the High Street,” he said.
Living Well helps Scarborough student who struggled with isolation
Scarborough student Hannah Mitchell is making the most of her education as she enters the final year of a fine arts degree course at York University and credits the Living Well service with helping her through some difficult times in recent years.
Hannah, 25, has called on Living Well several times as she has come to terms with mental health issues and her most recent contact was during the pandemic, though as a result of contact with co-ordinator Chrissy Douglas she has found support elsewhere in the community.
That has allowed her to move away from the support Living Well offered, establishing a new network of friends and contacts to help her live an independent and fulfilling life – exactly what the service was intended to achieve.
Chrissy was able to help Hannah link into the Scarborough Mates group, which was set up by craftsmen with skills including metal and woodworking.
Although the group involved mainly retired men, Hannah found herself among people with a shared outlook and her involvement has meant the group’s focus has also shifted towards involving younger people.
That support has allowed Hannah to develop and she is now looking forwards to getting back to face-to-face education, as well as her endeavours with the Scarborough craft group.
She was referred to Living Well by MIND, the mental health charity, and despite the difficulties caused by pandemic restrictions, she was able to have socially distanced meetings outdoors, providing the support and guidance she needed. Chrissy was also able to maintain contact by telephone, offering the support and encouragement which helped Hannah take the positive steps she needed.
“Living Well have always been good at setting a goal and we have always reached it,” she said.
“When I needed support Chrissy knew where the gap was, needing to be integrated into the community.
“At first we just talked about what I was doing at university and how I felt isolated because I was living in Scarborough and commuting to York.”
The connection worked so well because Hannah felt she ‘clicked’ immediately with Chrissy, providing the confidence to move forwards. That experience has even influenced her project work at university, where she is currently exploring photography and graffiti art.
Former Methodist minister’s Living Well job ‘fits like a glove’
Thousands of residents have benefitted from North Yorkshire’s Living Well scheme, but they are not the only ones to gain rewards from the scheme.
Mark Haynes found the work so satisfying after he joined during a break from his role as a Methodist minister that he decided to make it his permanent career and has no intention of moving on.
He is one of the team of co-ordinators, the staff who work with residents to find answers to their problems and help them achieve independent and fulfilling lifestyles.
Mark applied on instinct after seeing the job advertised during what he assumed would be a break from his role in religion.
That move quickly changed his perspective and after training he realised the job was a natural move: “I felt it just fitted me like a hand in a glove,” he said.
“Some of the skills I had used previously transferred across; an interest in people and particularly people with vulnerabilities. I realised I wanted to do it for the rest of my working life.”
The impact Living Well can have is the principal reason for Mark’s decision.
“A very, very small difference in someone’s life can make a profound impact on someone’s life,” he said. “Part of the genius of Living Well is that we have time to spend with people and all sorts of things can unravel, which were not apparent when the referral was made.”
Mark now works in the Ryedale district, where he lives and still conducts occasional Methodist services, but has dedicated his working life to Living Well.