Bolton Clarke’s Connect Local initiative was awarded highly commended in the Community Engagement category of the 2023 Future of Ageing Awards. The program aims to combat isolation among older individuals by linking them with community activities and bridging the medical-social care gap.
Connect Local, a co-designed social prescribing initiative aims to enhance social connections, health, and well-being for isolated older individuals in Glen Eira, Melbourne.
Launched in 2023 after a meticulous 12-month co-design process, the project is a part of Bolton Clarke’s Connecting Communities to Care initiative. It addresses the critical need to bridge the gap between medical and social care for the aging population.
Background and context
With up to 150,000 Victorians aged 65 and older experiencing chronic loneliness, the project responds to the amplified social isolation following COVID-19 restrictions.
Loneliness and social isolation have been linked to adverse health effects, including increased mortality and heightened risks of various illnesses. Social prescribing, as a method, seeks to address non-medical needs affecting well-being, but there has been a gap in understanding its beneficiaries and a need for robust evaluation.
Connect Local is implemented through intersectoral collaboration, involving trained community connectors working with stakeholders such as GPs, clinicians, service providers, and local community groups. The initiative focuses on the bio-psychosocial approach, emphasising individual goals and needs.
A 12-month co-design process involved engagement with community members, social service stakeholders, and healthcare service stakeholders. The positive framing of messages, simplicity in communication, and confidentiality were identified as crucial aspects. This collaborative effort resulted in developing a comprehensive program, including a dedicated website, service structure, and an online local services directory.
Funding and launch
Funded by the Ian Potter Foundation and supported by Perpetual Trustees, Connect Local received $455,000 and $180,000, respectively, for a four-year research and implementation period. The major expenses are attributed to the wages of community connectors. The project was officially launched on May 4, 2023, with the support of key representatives, including Federal Member Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah and Glen Eira Mayor Jim Magee.
Connect Local is led by Bolton Clarke in collaboration with the Australian Disease Management Association, Alfred Health, and the South Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network. The project involves a steering committee, a core project team, a co-design group, and an advisory group comprising academics, health services representatives, social services, and community members.
Evidence of success
Evaluation of the project is ongoing, with measures including individual outcomes, community-centred impacts, and health system measures. Early feedback from participants highlights positive changes in social connections, mental health, and overall well-being.
Participants like Loraine and John (in the video) demonstrate the transformative impact of Connect Local, illustrating the significance of social inclusion and purpose in their lives. Community partners, such as Tracey Burt (also in the video) from Caulfield Community House, express satisfaction with the collaboration, emphasising the role of Connect Local in connecting people with innovative social inclusion activities.