“I took a chance,” said Hackney resident Jill Tetlow, who was one of the first customers at the new advice clinics at the Nightingale Luncheon Club.
She is a well-known face at the community gardens on the Nightingale Estate, but it was the first time she had enjoyed a hot lunch at the club, which is supported by Hackney CVS and Hackney Council.
Social prescriber Alex Bull from the Family Action charity will be on hand once a month to offer practical support for residents who might be struggling with issues such as housing, form-filling, getting referrals to Citizens Advice, or advocacy support.
He is based at the Hackney Downs primary care network and works with its group of GP practices.
On his first morning at the Nightingale Luncheon Club, Bull has helped one resident with housing, referred Tetlow to get hands-on support for her painful osteoarthritis, and suggested a grant to one family who need a new wheelchair.
Tracy Kearney said: “We didn’t even know you could apply for grants, so it was worth chatting to Alex. He’s also helping with a Blue Badge application.”
Tetlow said she was happy to discuss her health issue with someone she had not met before.
“I think I have done the right thing. I’ve got a referral and hopefully I will feel less pain and it will help me with my activities.”
Bull explained that a lot of his work relates to housing and disrepair.
“It affects people’s mental health too. Problems with housing are pervasive, they invade every area of someone’s life.”
He also helps people with finance and debt and refers people to Hackney Council’s money hub which helps people claim all the benefits they are entitled to.
Bull said: “We also help people with social isolation.
“A lot of people are socially isolated, young people as well as the over-55s. We try to get people more involved in what’s around them. There is a lot going on in Hackney.”
He said he tries to find solutions to people’s individual needs.
Activities like community gardening are great, he said as he found out about the garden where Tetlow helped grow vegetables.
“It’s amazing, it gets people outside, they have a bit of exercise and have social contact with other people. They can see things grow and change. But the key thing about social prescribing is everything is voluntary.”
He said others might need a volunteer to help them feel comfortable attending a coffee morning for the first time. He refers others to the City and Hackney Wellbeing Network to support their mental health.
“We have a big team, and we share resources. In a day, I might see six or seven people with six or seven different things, so I can use the resources to help them.”
Rachel King, Hackney CVS lunch clubs development co-ordinator, said: “We are running these as drop-in sessions and they are also a chance to introduce older residents, especially those who are socially isolated, to the Nightingale Lunch Club, which is open five days a week.
“We believe this could be of benefit to people who live alone and might feel overwhelmed by practical things.”
Regular lunch club attendee Richard Leader said: “I think this advice session is a good idea.”
He said it was useful for people who might need some help tackling problems and might not know where to get support and could enjoy a hot lunch too.
The lunch club proved a lifeline to him during the pandemic when he could not leave home.
“Sarah delivered my meals for me and she was the only person I saw. I did not see my neighbours for two years.”
The club in Olympus Square, Hackney Downs, has been running since the 1970s. A two-course meal is served from 12 to 1.30pm on weekdays for £4 to people aged 55 and over.
The next dates for the advice sessions are 12 December, 9 January, 13 February and 12 March. They run from 10am to 12 noon.