Just imagine what it would be like to be fighting an internal battle consisting of past adversity and ongoing chronic illness. Add to this issues of stigma and security and you may find yourself in a very isolated place. For many of our members this is a reality that can have serious knock-on effects to mental and physical wellbeing if not addressed. As previous blog posts have shown, at Body & Soul we have many incredible in-house services effectively promoting a sense of community and wellbeing, but the story doesn’t end there. Our Beyond Boundaries programme uses remote phone support to include members living outside of London and/or suffering with poor physical or mental health in our unique community. Indeed, these tend to be some of our more isolated members.
Dispersal is a common experience for members living in destitution with uncertain immigration outcomes. For example, after being kicked out by her brother (her only source of financial support) in 2015, Esther had no choice but to move to Leeds where temporary accommodation had been found for her. Up to this point, Esther had been in regular attendance at Body & Soul’s service evenings – even walking to get here when she could not afford public transport. Just as there was no question of how highly she valued the support she received from us, there was no question of us cutting off some form of support once she had been dispersed. Beyond Boundaries recognises that being moved from the place you have called home for years, away from friends and familiar surroundings, can be frightening and lonely. As such we have stood beside Esther through this transition and beyond.
So how do we do it? Starting as we mean to go on with our person-centred approach, a member requiring remote support is carefully matched with a peer-mentor or volunteer who calls them on a regular basis (usually every fortnight). Our volunteers are trained to use a coaching style which offers members the opportunity to talk through a range of issues with someone who can actively listen and facilitate discussions that promote self-discovery. For someone like Esther, receiving calls from someone who understands has been key to reducing her isolation. In receiving calls she retained a sense of connection and caring which over time helped her to build the courage to locate and access support groups local to her. Although she likes to boost our ego by telling her mentor that she misses ‘the house’, finding somewhere local to her has been beneficial for growing her social network in Leeds. This is just one of many examples why someone may need remote support and what they can gain from it.
Having an assigned mentor and a ‘calling out’ system is a unique aspect of Beyond Boundaries in comparison to similar support lines. This way, members have the chance to build a relationship with their assigned mentor and don’t have the pressure of having to pick up the phone themselves. Reaching out to members reinforces Body & Soul’s ethos of demonstrating inclusion and love. This is an integral part of emulating the community spirit of the in-house experience and can bring such comfort to members who would otherwise feel disconnected. And like any community, Beyond Boundaries is not just a reactive service only there in dark times. We are in it for the whole journey – as Al Green put it ‘whether times are good or bad, happy or sad’. Beyond Boundaries is truly modelling how barriers to access can be overcome and just as our members are grateful for this unwavering support, our team feel extremely privileged to be on this road with them.
Beyond Boundaries is made possible by the generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer on the Beyond Boundaries programme and would like to find out more, you can contact Zoe on firstname.lastname@example.org.