Loneliness in lockdown 

Name: Nuala McElroy

Title: Social Prescriber County Down Rural Community Network

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

Instead of arranging home visits/face to face meetings in order to refer new clients to our programmes and activities, I am now making telephone calls to my existing list of clients old and new to check on them through lockdown to ensure they have all their needs and supplies catered for. I have always felt that the 1 or 2 hour home visit was a great opportunity to get to know the client and identify their needs and also a chance for them to build a rapport with the social prescriber and CDRCN staff. The telephone connection is certainly going some way to keep this going and a general statement by clients is how it is lovely that someone cares about them.

What have you found most difficult?

As the weeks of lockdown are now having a negative effect on a lot of people, I am having to listen to a lot of negativity and family issues that are now appearing to be causing the clients’ mental health to deteriorate. It is very difficult having to listen to some of the clients but I also know I cannot dismiss their anxieties either and I am doing my best to be a good listener.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

As I live alone, my once busy social life where I went to visit my daughters and grandchildren and friends is now non-existent and I feel that I can now relate to the issues around loneliness that a lot of my clients would be experiencing in their daily lives. I know that mine will return to normal at some stage and I have quite a few hobbies that I use to fill the time, but it has been difficult at times.

What have you learned from the crisis?

We are mostly social animals and this lockdown I feel will contribute to a substantial rise in numbers of clients with mental health issues as well as a fear of the return of lockdown if a second wave strikes which is what a lot of clients talk about. However, I have also felt great pride in our local communities as some lovely stories from my clients about the support and kindness from neighbours and friends they are receiving has really lifted them.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope to be able to get some kind of safe programmes in place. Whilst social media and online communication has been a help, the very idea of meeting new people is what has made Social Prescribing the success that it has become. I would also hope that the great community spirit will continue with everyone making the effort to remember to be kind, caring and supportive.


Support is important: Normal for some people will take a lot longer to achieve than for others.

Name: Lorna O’Neill

Title:  SPRING Social Prescriber at Causeway Rural and Urban Network, Coleraine

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

I keep in contact with clients, some weekly some fortnightly. I tailor activity packs inline with their hobbies/interests. I connect them to other services – food sources, counselling, etc. I source funding and then programmes through our network to help support their physical and mental health (pilates, breathing techniques, mindfulness, cooking). Most of all we offer a listening ear and a source of support and information to those who wouldn’t be able to find this otherwise. We can pick up on people’s mood and intercept with advice/coping techniques. We are, for some, the only contact in a week. The stories we hear and problems we face in dealing with a multitude of issues is very challenging and require a lot of skill and knowledge and a lot of the time we are learning on our feet and trying to stay on top of new activities and programmes.

What have you found most difficult?

The changing role of the Social Prescriber. The role is now completely flipped and instead of encouraging people out and about to groups and events, we are more of a counselling and life coaching role. The people who were referred weren’t necessarily bored but lacking social connection which can’t be substituted by online means for many.  Also, we have been working with some clients for months – very closely (weekly contact for some) and it’s hard to sustain a telephone relationship with people some of whom we haven’t met.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

Working from home is definitely challenging. I have two small children and have a lot of roles to juggle. I have found that I am working very differently and adapting to new modes of connecting has taken time to get to know what works and how best to help. My day is busy and setting boundaries has been difficult.

What have you learned from the crisis?

I have learned that no matter how many connections you have your family comes first. It is very heartbreaking for those on their own who have many acquaintances but no solid family connections and friendships. Unfortunately, there are so many people in this category.

What are your hopes for the future?

I really hope that some of the initiatives online and the community support can continue and won’t stop when things get back to normal. Normal for some people will take a lot longer to achieve than for others.


Take time to yourself and look after your own health and well-being

Name: Lisa Stewart

Title: Spring Social Prescriber for West & North Belfast

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

I am very new to the role, with only starting the week before lockdown. What I had anticipated the role to be, changed due to the Covid-19. I cannot dismiss it was a challenging time for the first few months until I found a consistent approach to the new role. I was lucky I had a client list from the previous worker, that I could work on, as there were not too many referrals coming through. The role changed to working from home rather than a setting based. Interactions changed from face to face to telephone-based weekly calls. A focus on maintaining health and wellbeing for clients during Covid-19. Directing clients to exercise/new hobbies and to socialise in a new way. Providing clients with information on how to use technology to access classes and information. There was increase in posting out information and leaflets to clients. More collaborative working with the Trust, community groups, and connected community care in making sure the most in need got the support they needed. For example, medication is delivered, food parcels, meals, and emotional support. Information of support was sent through WhatsApp on a variety of health and wellbeing support. There was an increase in bringing together online resources from different organisations.  

What have you found most difficult?

What I have found the most difficult was working from home and starting a new role a few weeks before lockdown. However, as the months go on, I am more settled and getting into a routine.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

I recognise it has been a challenging time, it has affected my home life and working life. Both have had to adapt to new ways of working. There is no denying my health and well being has been impacted, however with taking time for myself, I can see my own health and wellbeing improving

What have you learned from the crisis?

How communities will come together to support each other when people are in crisis. I have learned it is important to take care of myself so I can best support others and not feel guilty for doing it.

What are your hopes for the future?

That there is a cure for Covid 19!!! For communities to keep up the great work they are doing. The government to recognise the impact of Covid 19 on people’s mental health and to provide funding to support this. 



Balancing home, work and family life is challenging during lockdown

Name: Kate Cunningham

Title: SPRING Social Prescriber at Kilkeel Development Community

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

My role involved 1-1 meetings with people to discuss their individual support needs and to help them connect to their community.  The role has changed to a connect well remote service, I now connect with people over the phone, via text message, what’s app or Zoom.

What have you found most difficult?

Not being able to meet up with people for that face to face interaction.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

I now find myself working from home with 3 young children who need encouragement and help to complete schoolwork.  COVID -19 has meant that my work-life balance is skewed and the way we have done things in the past will have to change.  Learning to adapt to the changes will take time but I’ll get there.

What have you learned from the crisis?

Family and community are so important and we can all work together to take care of the most vulnerable in our society.  

What are your hopes for the future?

My hopes for the future are that I can get an appointment at the hairdresser and to see my children enjoying their sports and hobbies once more.

People struggling today will feel the biggest impact on their mental health and economic wellbeing from this crisis.

Name: Julie Baterney

Title: Spring Social Prescriber at Oak Healthy Living Centre, Derry 

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

As a social prescriber, my aim is to be a link between health professionals, mainly GPs and their clients to non-medical activities and support which promotes social and emotional wellbeing. The role has involved team working with the Healthy Living Centre where I am based, relationship building with clients and referrers, and engagement with local communities to source what is available and what is needed.

During lockdown, my social prescribing role has continued with the same aims. I am working differently in that there is no longer face to face contact with clients but I am still taking referrals, assessing need, and referring on to services that are operating at present. This involves lots of liaison with the local community response team, befriending services, financial advice services, parenting support helplines, etc.

What have you found most difficult?

I miss the face to face contact with everyone and have never been comfortable with technology. Remote team working is particularly difficult and made more so by part-time hours.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

Covid-19 as with everyone else has had a big impact on me and my life. As well as the fear of the unknown there have been changes to negotiate around work life and family life. Separation from my children who live away from home has been particularly difficult and as I also work in the NHS visiting families in the community, getting to grips with PPE and safe working practices has been a challenge.

However, as I am lucky to have my health and a supportive family and work community, I have really valued the slow-down in life recently. It has given me time to reflect on my own values and think a little more about prioritising the important things in my life. Also on the plus side, the garden has never looked tidier and the breadmaking skills are coming on a treat!

What have you learned from the crisis?

As well as confirming my view that a strong healthy community who work together with kindness and goodwill can make a real difference, it seems clear to me that local services and collaboration are the key.

I, unfortunately, have also learned more about the inequalities that exist. There will without a doubt be many who have always struggled for various reasons and they will feel the biggest impact on their mental health and economic wellbeing from this crisis.

What are your hopes for the future?

I try to enjoy the present and not look too far ahead.  



The pandemic has resulted in more people understanding the impact of social isolation, says Elaine.


Name: Elaine Kennedy

Title: SPRING Social Prescriber at West Armagh Consortium

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

I am a Spring Social Prescriber and I receive referrals from GP’s and Primary Health organisations.

I meet clients’ need utilising a holistic approach through assessments such as the Wellness Star and Warwick Edinburgh wellness scale. These assessments enable me as a social prescriber to look at a clients’ needs holistically (as mentioned).

Through assessment myself and the client can see where he/she could benefit ie:

  • Lifestyle
  • Family and friends
  • Looking after yourself
  • Managing symptoms
  • Work/volunteering
  • Money
  • Where you live
  • Feeling positive

The client and I utilising a collaborative approach may see that he/she has trouble managing symptoms. This will be discussed with the client as the client is autonomous in his or her decisions.

For example, a client had trouble managing symptoms and was feeling isolated; therefore, I suggested the Chronic Pain group and the client was a bit reluctant at first as he had not been out of the house in a while.

Therefore, I suggested going to the Chronic Pain group with him (meeting him there) for the first couple of times. Now, this particular client looks forward to this group and has made friends.

During this pandemic, things have changed drastically. As a social prescriber, I maintain regular contact with my clients through calls.  Although clients are grateful for the support and the connection, most of them miss the groups.

What have you found most difficult?

I have found it difficult to ring clients and not being able to meet with them face-to-face or in a group. SPRING social prescribing is about empowering the client and I would notice that a dependency could develop whereas, when a client, for example, joins a group, he/she will become more independent.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

It has left me feeling and understanding isolation more, and how you can become “comfortable” in this isolation; therefore, I find the webinars and other zoom meetings that SPRING has provided to be very beneficial and they lessen the feeling of isolation.

What have you learned from the crisis?

I have learned to be more patient and how important it can be to live in the present. This is not always something that I adhere to all the time, but I practice this when I can, and as I mentioned, the zoom and other webinars provided have been very beneficial for me on an emotional level and this has been positive for my mental health.

I also very much like clarity and thought I needed it more than I do as we are living in times where there is an immense lack of clarity.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope to go to see my new grandson in Canada and travel again.

I hope also, that as a nation we still progress in unity because this pandemic has promoted unity amongst humans on many different levels. People have become slightly more conscious.


Time spent with loved ones is more important than materialistic things

Name: Ciara Mc Elhinney

Title: SPRING Social Prescriberat Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum

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

I became part of the SPRING Social Prescribing team last year. The Social Prescribing Programme receives referrals from GP’s, Mental health practitioners and social workers within healthcare practices.  My role, as a social prescriber, is to help guide and support clients into programmes and services within the community that best suit their needs and well-being.

Since lockdown, my role has changed from connecting and supporting people face-to-face to over the phone instead. Before Lockdown my role included helping people find programmes and services that best suit their needs and well-being for them to attend, however, this isn’t possible right now. Fortunately, we have an amazing team at BBHF who have adapted our services to provide a variety of phone and online services for people to avail of during this time. We try help in any way possible for people who are self-isolating such as developing and delivering isolation packs and essential goods.

What have you found most difficult?

Adjusting to working from home. It was great at the start but once a few weeks passed I missed that face-to-face contact with clients and colleagues!

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

Thankfully, COVID 19 has not affected me too much. Fortunately, I am one of the lucky few who was able to work and adapt to life at home. The only thing that it has had a major impact on my life is seeing my family on a daily basis!

What have you learned from the crisis?

I have learned that time spent with loved ones is more important than materialistic things. It has also made me appreciate family time more. Giving a close one a hug or even having your sister over for tea! I have also learned to be more hygienic when shopping and stop touching my face, which I never realised I did so often until this!

What are your hopes for the future?

To be able to get back to ‘normal’ where we can spend time with loved ones whenever and however we like. I come from a big family so having a huge gathering would be great!

Self-care is a daily activity that everyone should exercise, explains Patricia

Name: Patricia Mohan

Title: Social Prescriber at Oak Healthy Living Centre

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

Normally I take referrals from GP and primary care and support them to make changes to their lifestyle that will support their wellbeing. I would focus on moving clients along their journey to enable them to take these positive actions independently in the future. Since lockdown, although the referral rate has slowed we are still open for business and I have taken on new clients. More importantly, I have re-established contact with all my clients that have come through Spring Social Prescribing in the last year and a half and have helped support them in what appears to be standing still in their journey but for many, they have overcome immense odds and developed as individuals.

What have you found most difficult?

Ensuring the work-life balance benefits everyone. Juggling homeschooling four young children with a changing working environment has tested the limits of my ability to adapt and ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

With all the added pressure and stress of the current crisis, it has made me look at my own life and identify and prioritise my own values and goals in particular self-care and I have once again completed couch to 5 k and back up and running on a regular basis.

What have you learned from the crisis?

The importance of family and connections, if you can manage to maintain these you can live without a lot of other items. Everyone has a responsibility to take positive steps to ensure their own wellbeing. Self-care is a daily activity that should be instilled in everyone just like brushing your teeth to ensure we allow to develop a resilience that will allow us to cope with crises like the COVID-19 pandemic but also with the ever-changing life challenges we find ourselves facing when life becomes the new normal.

What are your hopes for the future?

That the human race acknowledges that we all have a role to play in ensuring the world and all parts of the environment are conserved for future generations and the improvements in carbon emissions and other forms of pollution due to the reduced access to materialistic items, the near stopping of air travel and daily commuting traffic is not short-lived.

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain”- Carmel's inspiring motto while helping others and overcoming her own adversity throughout lockdown

Name: Carmel McKenna

Title: Social Prescriber Drumcree Community Trust

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

My role is Social Prescriber with Drumcree Community Trust, covering the areas of Lurgan, Craigavon and Portadown

My role would have previously involved meeting clients referred to SPRING social prescribing at a venue suitable to them to encourage them to get out of the house, get them involved at the beginning of their programme by involving them in their journey to enriching their own health and wellbeing at their own pace and looking at the things that are important to them – via the Wellbeing Star and Warwick Edinburgh Scale and taking it step by step in the order they felt they wanted to improve in their lives.

This role dramatically changed during the lockdown with not being able to meet face to face, postpone some activities that had been identified and take on the role of telephone calls to each individual that was registered or pre-registered with the project.  In the beginning, it was difficult even following the questions we had to use as some would avoid the questions.  Some of the clients I had not already met and it was probably difficult for them and some others at the start to say exactly how they felt – at the beginning calls tended to be short, but as time went on, calls seemed to take longer, some up to an hour, especially for those who had no family living  near or close by. The calls have strengthened the relationship between Social Prescriber and the client.

I found that they were becoming more comfortable honest in saying how they felt.  

I have one lady who has said she made another friend and she cannot wait to meet me.  She looks forward to her call every week, and every week she is so uplifting she would do your own heart good.

I have been able to provide support for some of my clients, regarding food parcels, food delivery services, security, signposting to online services (Verve Network Craigavon,  Make the Call, Aware Verve Network (health trainers).

A lot of the organisations in the area that were providing weekly food parcels have now stopped due to their volunteers going back to work.  I am currently looking at sourcing other available services and trying to keep in touch with the local community and voluntary groups for services they feel they can reasonably offer.

I did another leaflet and information drop around all the GP surgeries in Lurgan, Portadown and Craigavon including in these Nurse Practitioners, Pharmacists, Health Visitors and Midwives based in the surgeries – a total of 94 individual letters sent out – to date 4 new referrals received.


What have you found most difficult?

We were unable to contact directly and do face to face with new referrals we had received.  Those that had registered just prior to Covid, some had time to look at their actions plans and goals, whilst others did not get that opportunity.     I tried to keep my calls to Wednesday to Friday, but I found I changed some of them to Mon/Tues, but of late I have had to revisit that as there maybe a possibility of return to my other job and I would prefer to get back to WED-FRI for continuity for clients.

In the beginning, the calls clients were keeping the calls short, but thankfully this progressed over time and trust built up which enabled me to get a better response to what was happening.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

I had to isolate at the beginning as my daughter nurses in A & E in Craigavon, she moved out.  I also have polymyalgia for which I take steroids every day, attend the GP once a month to get my bloods done to try and lower the dose.  These do affect my immune system.

I also took a reaction to a bite which I had taken strong antihistamine which made me extremely tired, then I had a gum infection, kidney infection, and then had a bad tooth abscess all requiring antibiotics.  Thankfully I was still able to carry out my telephone calls.

Due to having all the above I only was able to start helping in Drumcree Community Centre on a Friday and Saturday to help packing the food bags for this past 5 weeks or so.

Loneliness during the evening was a challenge, as I am used to having people in and out of the house all the time, but with the good weather, I would have sat in the porch and chatted to my neighbour over the hedge.    I was grateful I had good friends to do my shopping and my neighbours were great as well.  It starts to put things in perspective.


What have you learned from the crisis?

To accept help when offered.  I am usually a giver, not a taker.

Not to take things for granted and be thankful for our health, home, family, and friends, there are other people who don’t have that luxury.

Compassion is a gift; use it with wisdom

What are your hopes for the future?

To finally meet those clients, I have not already met.

That at sometime in the near future, we can get back to some normality

That programmes within the local community, voluntary groups will be able to host their health programmes to benefit our Spring clients and the wider community.

To continue to try to do my best to make life healthier and easier for those people we will continue to work for and help them achieve their goals.

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning to dance in the rain”



Being “together” again is the most important thing for Social Prescribers Becky Mitchell  and Catherine Carson post Covid-19


Names: Becky Mitchell and Catherine Carson

Title: SPRING Social Prescribers @ Shott Healthy Living Centre, North Lanarkshire 

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

We like to encourage our clients to get involved in Physical exercise where possible.  We believe that fresh air and movement is a great starting point for improving Mental Health.  Before lockdown we had weekly accompanied gym sessions at our local sports centre, where we would join our clients at the gym, so they had somebody to walk through the door with, somebody to talk to or even just to look over and offer a reassuring smile.  We also had weekly walking groups and Yoga sessions that clients could attend.  We have had to find ways to keep people active during Lockdown

How have you adapted to lockdown?

The first thing we did was join an online Virtual journey challenge to get from Lands End to John O’Groats.  We didn’t know if people would join in but they loved it, reporting their steps to us daily through the GBT Facebook page.  Some people monitored steps, others miles walked or run, some cycled.  When we completed this, the GBT staff were starting a Step count challenge, so we decided to create two Spring Teams and we are challenging them!  Again, reporting daily steps to us.  

For yoga, we looked for online classes to take part in and we were fortunate to be offered to join in with a class that runs from Glasgow (online) for Free!  The class is chair-based and suitable for everybody.  It was our first class this week – and we all loved it!

What have you learned from the crisis?

We need to keep people moving!

What are your hopes for the future?

That we can get out for walks together again, to laugh and chat together and be thankful together…. Together being the bit we hope for!



Bronagh is preparing for restrictions to ease with a list of activities in her post isolation jar!

Name: Bronagh Cooper

Title: SPRING Social Prescribing Coordinator @Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum

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

My role as a Social Prescriber had always meant meeting people face to face, at their homes or in The Gasyard, now all my work is carried out over the phone. I am constantly checking in, having a chat, and assessing their support needs on a weekly or daily basis. If I can help, I will try my best. Whether it may be organising prescription collections, food hampers/parcels, arranging mental health support, or simply being there to listen to how their day is and of course trying to put a smile on their face over the phone. My goal is to have them feeling more content, less anxious, and happy by the time our conversation is finished.

What have you found most difficult?

Not being able to meet my clients face to face. I have found working from home challenging and I definitely miss seeing my colleagues every day and the general buzz that comes from working in a community centre.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

I am missing social contact with people. I am most definitely a social person and I love being around people and having the craic. As much as I make an effort to connect with my family and friends online, I can’t wait to see them face to face and hug them all!

What have you learned from the crisis?

Don’t take life’s small pleasures for granted.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope that the world recovers from COVID19, in all aspects. I also hope that we come out of isolation having learned something about ourselves, maybe something that we haven’t had the time to really look at and what truly makes us happy or something that we have been ignoring, and maybe now is the time to face it, real personal growth. And I really hope that we don’t take the simple things in life for granted, again. I have a post isolation jar with a list of things I want to do when I get out and about and I honestly can’t wait!



Lockdown restrictions mean Rob and his clients have adapted to online health and exercise classes

Name:  Rob Graham

Title: Social Prescriber and Senior Exercise Specialist at Healthy Options, Oban


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

I am the Social Prescriber for Lorn Healthy Options based in Oban on the West Coast of Scotland.  My role normally involves face to face consultations with clients suffering from long term health conditions and signposting them to various forms of physical activity or educational services to improve their condition.  Luckily I am also heavily involved in the delivery of those activities and services ranging from mini-lectures related to nutrition, fitness, and mental health through to group activity classes, gym sessions, outdoor walks, and one to one tailored exercise programmes.


How have you adapted to lockdown?

It was difficult at first to adjust to a more online approach after a long career based on face to face and very much hands-on contact with clients.  I feel that this face to face contact has always allowed me to build trust and rapport with clients who in many cases are nervous and anxious about their future health and how to manage it effectively.  Since lockdown we have reverted to a more online approach developing a comprehensive portfolio of educational topics, exercise classes, and demonstrational videos.  These are available via our website, a Whatsapp support group with well over 200 clients, and via our Youtube and Facebook channels.  This has taken me away from my comfort zone delivering much of our content in front of a camera, a process that I found challenging at first but have adapted to relatively quickly.  We have also spent considerable time calling past, current, and future clients to ensure they have all the support services they require and where necessary signpost to professional and volunteer organisations set up to help navigate vulnerable individuals through the crisis.


What have you learned from the crisis?

In Oban, I have witnessed a true sense of community spirit as nearly all of our clients have close family and friends who are willing to carry out important tasks related to daily living which some may have found challenging while adhering to social distancing or shielding guidelines.  As an organisation we have also learned how important our role is within this community in terms of promoting important personal health messages through a very difficult time for many and the feedback from our clients and other health professionals has been heart-warming and quite emotional at times.  In addition, I think we have all learned something about ourselves in terms of our resilience and capacity to adapt quickly under extreme circumstances and I believe this will make us stronger as we emerge from the health crisis.


What are your hopes for the future?

My personal hopes for the future revolve around returning our community to something resembling normality within a safe time frame.  We all know this will not happen overnight and we face a long and challenging road ahead in terms of how we return our clients to the services and social gatherings that once punctuated their lives and gave structure end enjoyment.  But despite the constant despair in the media and negative forecasts, I am confident that this will happen in time and it’s important for us all to have that hope as an eventual long term goal and something we can take slow and progressive steps towards in the coming days, weeks and months.





“The most important thing is human connection,” – Anja Rosler, Social Prescriber 

Name: Anja Rosler

Title: SPRING Social Prescriber at ARC Healthy Living Centre, Irvinestown

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

Normally, we get referrals from Primary Health Care Professionals (GPs, Health Visitors, Mental Health Teams etc.) and then try to connect clients with programmes, classes, debt advice, counselling etc. -  whatever might help to improve both physical and mental wellbeing.

During lockdown, our support has switched almost entirely to weekly telephone calls. We also include those clients that had been discharged from the programme. Basically, anyone who wants/ needs a weekly (or more frequently) call, will receive one. I have also collected and delivered prescription medicine, essential items and gone grocery shopping for clients.

What have you found most difficult?

Making so many phone calls every day. Some of them can be very draining. 

How has Covid-19 affected you and your life?

Change of routine, blending family and work life, missing work colleagues, friends, socialising…. My freelance work has dried up, so there’s a loss of income

What have you learned from the crisis?

More self-reliance, less need for distraction, noticing the smaller things in life. That the most important thing is human connections.

What are your hopes for the future?

That we emerge from this with new priorities and a real understanding of how fragile life is and the need to rebalance our relationship with ourselves, each other and the natural world. That we might create a fairer and kinder society, not based on rampant consumerism.


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