“I think we’ve created a really dynamic community here, with older people at the core”
Case study: The Beehive Community Centre
Tucked in a side street behind St George’s Park, the Beehive Community Centre is a thriving meeting place for the communities of east Bristol. The centre offers a wide range of activities for all ages – from parent and toddler yoga and line dancing, to arts and crafts, and a gardening club – with a particular emphasis on meeting the needs and interests of older people.
Run by the Bristol & Anchor Almshouse Charity, the centre also helps to provide lifetime accommodation to older people in Bristol through a number of one and two-bedroom almshouses nearby.
“I think we’ve created a really dynamic community here, with older people at the core” reflects Amber Williams, the centre’s community development worker. “And it’s lovely to see how it’s grown – their children, grandchildren coming too. Local people of all types, with everyone getting involved.”
A sense of belonging
Part of Amber’s role is to support the people who attend the centre: building their confidence, encouraging them to get involved and, in time, helping them to become ambassadors for the service too.
“Most of all, I want to help them feel a sense of belonging here, which I think we are achieving,” she explains. “It doesn’t matter what age you are – loneliness is something anyone can experience… We make a point of getting to know everybody who comes here.”
As well as clubs and classes, the centre also offers a range of volunteering opportunities. “We have loads of volunteers, including lots of older people,” Amber says. The volunteers get involved with all sorts of things – from taking part in the ‘Beehive buddy’ scheme to help new members settle in, to serving refreshments, baking cakes, and running the centre’s lunch club.
“Our volunteers might have lots of issues in their personal lives – bereavement, health problems, financial difficulties – but being able to come to a place like this, meet their friends, and give something back really helps them to manage all that difficult stuff,” she reflects.
The Community Navigator scheme has been really positive for the Beehive. “Our service has definitely grown since Community Navigators began.” Amber estimates that around 20 people have attended since the start of the programme – 7 or 8 of whom now come on a regular basis.
“They just wouldn’t have those social connections if it wasn’t for the Community Navigators bringing them. It’s only with their support that they have the confidence to come and get involved.”
Amber tells us about one older person, Philip*, who discovered the centre through Community Navigators and now attends three or four days a week.
“It has transformed his social life. Even the activities he can’t join in with, he’ll still watch and have a cup of tea and a chat. It shows that he feels so welcome here – that he can just come and hang out if he wants to.”
For Amber, the role of a Community Navigator is invaluable. “A ‘what’s on’ guide or a leaflet is never going to be enough for a very isolated person. They need a physical presence – a someone – to tell them about it,” she says.
The service’s work to identify these people, introduce them to the Beehive and attend with them – making sure they have the right transport or accessibility arrangements in place – has been a huge support.
“We can’t do everything ourselves. Our big challenge is getting the word out about the service – letting people know we’re here, that we’re accessible, that everyone is welcome, and having the support to break down the barriers that prevent access… These are all things the Community Navigators service has helped us overcome.”
She explains that Philip is a great example of how well this collaborative approach can work. As someone with limited mobility, the centre worked closely with his Community Navigator and other local agencies to ensure he can travel to and from the centre safely, and make sure he’s safe while he’s here. “We’ve worked together really well,” she concludes.
To help build this relationship further, Amber suggests introducing a single point of contact for the service. “With different navigators working for different services around the city, it can sometimes be difficult for us to know who to update about new services or opportunities at the centre.” She also explains that different navigators work in different ways, so having more standardisation in how they approach and refer into services would help too.
But overall, the relationship has been a big success. “Some of the navigators we work with are just fantastic,” she enthuses:
“The Community Navigators bring a really wide range of people here, and they’ve all enjoyed coming and attending the activities. I love how we’re open to a wider audience now.”
* Name changed to protect privacy