Inverclyde really is a caring, compassionate community

Name: Sean Macfarlane

Title: SPRING Social Prescribing Co-ordinator at Your Voice Inverclyde

Tell us a little bit about what you do and how it has changed during lockdown?

My role involves helping people address their health and well-being by connecting them to sources of support within their community, individuals are referred by primary care professionals. I am based within the community and work at Your Voice within Inverclyde, we have an established Social Prescribing team which includes Community Connectors and MacMillan Info and Connect projects.

Due to the current situation, I have been keeping in contact with all individuals within my caseload regularly, to provide welfare check-ins and connect them to appropriate local services where required, examples include; food isolation boxes, SPRING activity packs, prescription collection, lifeline shopping. I have also been assisting another local 3rd sector organisation with referrals for self-isolation boxes for individuals who are self-isolating.

How have you adapted to lockdown?

Our team is working remotely due to COVID-19; we use Microsoft Teams to communicate internally. I find it is important to keep to as much of a routine as possible and keeping in contact with family and friends. I also try to maintain regular exercise by running and online circuit training classes. I have found it’s good to have something to look forward to at the weekend by taking part in quizzes or group/family video calls.

What have you learned from the crisis?

It has really confirmed that Inverclyde really is a caring, compassionate community, there has been so many positive stories and organisations working in partnership. We have always encouraged older people within the community to learn some IT skills for example Facetime, Whats App etc. Now more than ever we need to upskill those who would really benefit.

(I have also learned that primary school teachers deserve more holidays!  I take it all back when I have ever said they get too much time off!! Trying to maintain my 5-year-old daughter Lucy’s learning at home is hard work!)

What are your hopes for the future?

It’s ironic that my role as a social prescriber is largely about bringing people together, connecting them to group activities, hobbies and generally encouraging people to get out and about within their community. I am sure people will recognise this when the pandemic is over, social prescribing will be in demand and people will benefit more than ever!


Social Prescribing co-ordinator Amanda McAuley says people are more resilient than they give themselves credit for

Name: Amanda McAuley

Title: Spring Social Prescribing Coordinator at Northern Area Community Network

Tell us a little bit about what you do and how it has changed during lockdown?
My role as Spring Social Prescribing Coordinator meant I was meeting with clients regularly, attending meetings, and interacting with other organisations to refer my clients into various activities and services.  
My role is now staying in touch with clients over the phone and by messages.  I was lucky to be able to deliver wellness packs out to my clients which meant we could have a conversation face to face (social distancing rules apply). 

What have you found most difficult?  
Trying to keep clients as upbeat and active as possible.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?  
Having to hold down a full-time job, homeschooling two children, run a home, and look after family members who are shielding.

What have you learned from the crisis?  
We can survive on less and people are stronger and more resilient than they give themselves credit for.  

What are your hopes for the future?  
I hope life doesn’t go back to the fast pace it was before.


Missing face-to-face chats, Aine O’Hagan describes how lockdown restrictions have changed her role

Name: Aine O’Hagan      

Title: SPRING Social Prescriber for Loughgiel Community Association

Tell us a little bit about what you do and how it has changed during a lockdown? 

My role normally includes meeting with clients who have been referred from various healthcare professionals. I would meet up for a chat assess what each individual’s needs are, and then fill out the well-being outcome star. We work together to see what they would enjoy doing. Meeting face to face builds good relationships with each client. Watching each client grow within themselves makes all the phone calls, meeting up and the no-shows worthwhile; when you see them taking part in activities, leaving the house after months not coming out, making new friends for life. During lockdown I have tried my best to keep as many of my client’s upbeat with a phone call, lifting prescriptions, making well-being packs up, making up food parcels from the food we have been donated from Fare share NI. This time has been really tough on everyone in our communities just trying to do anything to make these uncertain times better I will try my best to do.

What have you found most difficult?

The most difficult part of Covid-19 is having no face to face communication. The hardest part for me is building trust over the phone. It has been quite difficult when people see you in person, they open up more. The mental health team referrals, I find, have been the hardest to try provide the best care I can.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?  

Covid-19 was hard the first few weeks to adapt to but after that, I have adjusted into different ways of life and learn different ways of support through online forums.

What have you learned from the crisis?

Covid -19 has taught me we have a lot of people who are really struggling with mental health. Even before lockdown!

What are your hopes for the future?

I can’t wait to get all the new clients referred to activities where they can enjoy social activities again. Get people out again within our communities and see what way we can help as many as we can.


Janice Fountain explains how her role has changed during Covid-19

Name: Janice Fountain

Title: Transforming Lives Worker, Healthy n Happy


Tell us a little bit about what you do and how it has changed during lockdown?

I support local residents to get involved in their community. To do this I begin with one to one support to set personal goals and plan how Healthy n Happy can help them to achieve these goals. This normally begins with facilitating small group sessions addressing emotional, physical, and mental health and wellbeing. This helps them to learn how to manage their own health and build their confidence to be able to participate in community activities, events and volunteering. One of the main benefits of these workshops is to help individuals to connect with others in their community and encourage peer support. Due to the lockdown, all our workshops and support are now done online and over the phone.


How have you adapted to lockdown?

I have had to become more knowledgeable about technology and different ways of engaging with people that is not face to face.


What have you learned from the crisis?

Most people I have had telephone discussions with are actively using the tools they have learned in our workshops to help them take care of their health and wellbeing throughout this time. People I had assumed would be very distressed throughout this time have actually been thriving and stepped up to support each other through discussion and support online. However, everyone has commented on how much the groups and interaction they were having before the crisis had helped them massively and they are missing it.


What are your hopes for the future?


I think there will be a renewed understanding for most people about how isolation, anxiety and stress can have such a negative impact on your health and wellbeing. Once things go back to normal I hope people will be more supportive of one another and eager to fully participate in their communities.



Bronagh Cooper has been appointed the Northern Ireland Champion of SPRING Social Prescribing. 

Bronagh, has worked in the community for over 10 years. For the last four years, she has been working as a SPRING Social Prescriber with Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum, changing the lives of hundreds of people within the community, helping to tackle the issues of mental health and depression.
SPRING Social prescribing is a new initiative which takes a holistic approach to clinical problems and works with individuals offering more than medicine. Social prescribing creates a link between the health service and the community. Social Prescribing enables a GP or Primary Health Care professional to refer patients who suffer from; social isolation, low mood, mild depression, chronic pain, long term conditions or physical inactivity to community support programmes and activities.

Bronagh is the SPRING Social Prescribing Co-ordinator for the Western Health and Social Care Trust Area, and in the last year alone, has enrolled 365 people in Derry on the SPRING Social Prescribing Programme. Social Prescribing is rolled out across the UK and Ireland, and Bronagh underwent a rigorous interview and skills test to be appointed Social Prescribing Link Worker Champion in Northern Ireland. 

“Becoming a Champion means my role is to raise the profile of SPRING Social Prescribing and that everyone in the community recognises it as a good model of practice. We also want to ensure that Social Prescribing is recognised as a health profession, like Social Work and other health professionals are within the health services, and funded by the Health Service.

Social Prescribing is available to anyone over 18 years-old and has been adopted as a good model of practice by GP’s across Northern Ireland. The £3.5 million SPRING Social Prescribing project is funded by the National Lottery and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).  The health project aims to reduce pressure on GPs while improving the health and wellbeing of patients across Northern Ireland.  
Social Prescribing encourages the social model of health care. “If an individual goes to their GP with symptoms, like depression or chronic pain, the GP will then give them a Social Prescription. That is where I come in as a Social Prescriber. It is my role to meet with the individual and get to the bottom of what the cause is. GP’s only give medication to treat someone with anxiety, but my role is to find out what the root cause of the anxiety is and help address that. 

“The aim is to reduce the amount of medication a person is on and to reduce the number of visits required to the GP practice,” explained Bronagh.

“I find a lot of joy in my work. My purpose is to guide people to programmes to help improve their health. For example, I had a client, a young man in his 30’s. He had no friends or family for support and was regularly visiting his GP, being treated for depression. His GP, gave him a Social Prescription and I met with him and realised the root cause of his depression was social isolation.

“We co-created a support programme of things he would enjoy. I am there to guide him and accompany him to his first few classes if need be, giving encouragement and support. He has gone from sitting at home alone all day to being out of the house 5 days a week attending his local men’s shed, cooking classes, exercise programmes and counselling. He has gone from having no interaction with anyone, to creating a community support network and is much happier. I have older clients who may have been bereaved, and lost their sense of self or clients with chronic pain or long term health conditions. 

“Social Prescribing is about looking at the needs of the individual and looking at the needs of the community and putting those support programmes in place. For example, we have set up two chronic pain support groups in Derry, where previously there had been none. We have set up a Nature’s Walking group. The idea grew from a girl in her 20’s who wanted to exercise but didn’t want to be seen. I had done the Camino and found great peace walking in nature. I wanted people to experience the same peace so we put the nature group in place and go on different walks each month and then have some tea and buns in a café afterwards,” said Bronagh.

The Nature Walking group is open to the whole community, as is all of the support programmes established by SPRING Social Prescribing. “The idea is to identify the need within the community. People tell us what they need and we put that support in place. We don’t isolate our programmes, they are open to the whole community and to anyone who feels they would benefit,” explained Bronagh.
“I have found that people know they need help, but they don’t know where or how to get it. My role, and the role of SPRING Social Prescribing is to guide them to that help,” added Bronagh.

Oak Healthy Living Centre celebrates one year of SPRING Social Prescribing

The SPRING Social Prescribing service is well established and has successfully embedded into the Lisnaskea community proving value to both G.Ps/health professionals and to those who have been referred.

Pictured L-R; Dr A McManus, Social Prescriber Patricia Mohan and Dr P McCaffrey from Maple Healthcare, Lisnaskea