Loneliness and social isolation are worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes per day, alcohol consumption, inactivity and obesity. A social prescribing programme was set up to address this in the West Midlands. Walsall Council set up Making Connections Walsall (MCW) with a central referral point from West Midlands Fire Service, four local hubs and lots of location activities and services for older people in the borough. It has connected GPs and healthcare agencies with voluntary sector-run organisations, connecting lonely and isolated people with wider contact and services.
We have carried out an evaluation of the process and outcomes, using a Social Return on Investment (SROI) approach. This accounts for and quantifies the social benefits of the programme as well as the cost of delivering it. The principles-based SROI approach focuses on change from the eyes of the older people themselves, not just strategic aims or frontline targets, although we captured those too.
Our findings come from analysis of client data, interviews with clients, family members, hubs and wider stakeholders, and extra evidence provided through online surveys with hubs and grass-roots organisations. We’ve validated findings during an MCW anniversary stakeholder event and sessions with social connectors, the resilient people speaking to these clients and linking them up with vital services.
SROI is often reduced to a single number, yet it should really be about delivering more social good. Our evaluation evidenced the need for more befriending and has sparked changes to the referral process and wider communications.
We quantified how most clients felt better connected, how it literally saved lives. Clients described MCW as “one big happy family” and how a “cloud has lifted” by being part of the programme. Hundreds of clients and families have benefited. Read the summary report at https://tinyurl.com/MCWevaluation.