An independent evaluation of Age UK Doncaster’s Circles Project has shown that the project is having a positive impact on reducing social isolation and loneliness in older people (aged 50+) by increasing social engagement, independence and resilience. The most significant change we are seeing is in improved mental wellbeing. The people supported by Circles are also increasing their social connections through the project.

The report launch was delivered by our evaluation partners NDTi and was well received by an invited audience of older people supported by Circles, volunteers, Age UK Doncaster board members and representatives of partner organisations.

Circles for Independence in Later Life (CFILL) or ‘Circles’, is a five-year project from 2016 – 2021, funded by the Big Lottery under the Reaching Communities Programme. The £499,815 investment aims to reduce social isolation and loneliness experienced by older people (aged 50+) living in the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster. Based on the Community Circles4 model, the project focuses on increasing social engagement, independence and resilience for older people, particularly those at risk of hospitalisation or entry into a care home.

The project is based on the learning from the Age UK Home from Hospital service which highlighted the needs of people who are socially isolated and the over use of care and health services in the locality, even where people would prefer to remain at home.

What has happened so far?

  • Since the start of the project (up to July 2018) 112 people have been involved. 76 of these are actively engaged so have had contact with a Circles Connector at Age UK Doncaster, 40 have been matched with a volunteer.
  • The average age of a person actively engaged in the project is 81years. There are twice as many women actively engaged than men.
  • The reason or purpose people cite for seeking support from the Circles Project is either something general around getting out and meeting new people or relates to a specific activity like visiting sites of historical interest.
  • Most of the referrals for the project are from the Home from Hospital Team and self-referrals.
  • Of the data that was collected between June and July 2018 by 19 volunteers, a total of 118.5 hours have been spent with the person with a circle on 58 different occasions, participating in various activities.
  • The main activities people with a circle are engaging in are having conversations based on mutual interests and getting out of the house for example to visit local places or to go for lunch.

Below is a high level summary of the evaluation for more detail click here to read the full report.

Summary

  • The Circles project is having a positive impact on the 4 outcomes set out in the Theory of Change.
  • Whilst there is less conclusive evidence to indicate if and how people are managing their long-term health conditions there is an indication that with the support of the Circles Connectors and volunteers, people with a circle are finding ways to manage different aspects of their day to day activities.
  • WEMWBS data for 8 people, collected after 6 months has indicated that being involved with the project has significantly improved their mental wellbeing. This was supported by people with a circle describing feeling better and experiencing improvements in their emotional and mental wellbeing by being involved with the project.
  • The impact on physical health is less evident. Many people interviewed had seen no change in their physical health and were not seeing health professionals less, it was about the same.
  • The project is increasing people’s social connections and alleviating feelings of isolation for many people with a circle, giving them something to look forward to. Eradicating experiences and feelings of loneliness is proving harder to do.
  • For the data available, being involved in the Circles Project has significantly increased their ability to achieve their purpose, for many people this was about wanting to get out, meet more people, have conversations and learn a new skill/do an activity. This is also reflected in the Volunteer Activity Log.
  • People with circles are active in a range of activities in their community but people did not feel engaged in their community. This is an area that requires further exploration.
  • Volunteers are benefiting from the contribution and support of the people with circles, reporting that the friendships are two way. People with a circle are also contributing to the project in other ways.