Older people across the country can now benefit from a new resource developed by The ExtraCare Charitable Trust.

Steps to Connection is an interactive guide to building stronger, more satisfying community for those aged 55+.

The COVID pandemic has shown us the vital importance of social connection. Whatever our age, it’s highlighted that relationships with others bring joy, structure and purpose to our lives. In normal circumstances, chronic loneliness affects over 1.4 million older people in the UK . In recent months, this figure has been much higher. With routines disrupted, opportunities to leave the house limited, and normal coping strategies removed, many older people have been left especially hard hit by the pandemic.

Steps to connection

ExtraCare, is a registered charity that exists to create better lives for older people. It has developed Steps to Connection in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The book takes readers through 10-steps to find long-lasting community while social restrictions remain in place. As well as the return to normality as restrictions ease. Topics include:

  • Nourishing Your Relationships
  • Giving Back
  • Working with Your Thoughts
  • Keeping Mobile.

The book also contains practical tips, interactive exercises and prompts for reflection; helping readers to take a “do it yourself” approach to community-building.

Steps to Connection has been developed as part of ExtraCare’s Engaged Lives project (2019-2022). This National Lottery funded initiative is about building confidence and connection amongst residents and the local communities around ExtraCare’s retirement villages and retirement schemes. Since Spring 2020, it has run community workshops that have brought ExtraCare residents and members of the wider community together.

Like all community projects the Engaged Lives project had to evolve during 2020. However, the result is a resource that could reach more older people, more quickly,; and one that contains advice that can be easily-implemented to bring positive change all across the UK. The Steps to Connection book, effectively brings together ExtraCare’s workshops, plus extra topics, in one place.

Helping people stay connected

73 year old Gill Hallsworth, is a resident at ExtraCare’s New Oscott Retirement Village in Birmingham. She attended the community workshops and says the materials have helped her. “It was nice to attend something where I could sit and talk to other people. Interaction in the village has been limited recently but here I found some companionship. The materials prompted me to find people I was losing contact with. After each workshop, some of us would scoot off to the coffee shop, and we’d sit for another hour or so talking about bits and pieces – the group helped everyone to stay connected.”

Steps to Connection is written by Dr Michael Roberts, ExtraCare’s Engaged Lives Project Officer. He comments: “We knew that our workshops were effective, and COVID-19 allowed us to explore different ways to bring their contents to a wider range of people. In Steps to Connection, we’ve included a wealth of practical materials… so people can find those best suited to their circumstances.”

Dr Roberts produced the guide in collaboration with Michael Wilkes-Spellman, Dementia and Mental Wellbeing Lead for ExtraCare. Graphic designer Mark Atkinson’s illustrations have brought the guide to life.

Michael comments: “I have been working in ExtraCare for over a decade now and, in that time, I have met hundreds of residents with rich life histories and lots to share. I hope Steps to Connection helps many older people re-engage with their community, strengthen social ties using the skills they already have and learn a few new ones”.

A tool to build community

Mark notes that: “Designing the ‘Steps to Connection’ book has been a really rewarding process…. this book will hopefully inspire and energise readers to confidently engage in many of the rewarding activities that are included.”

You can purchase the book for £7.99 (print) £3.99 (digital edition) from the charity here. All funds raised go back into ExtraCare’s services including its Dementia and Well-being services, enabling the charity to support all its residents no matter their health or wealth.

Find out more about the Engaged Lives project here.