This interview is part of our rapid review project, The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021.
Noah’s Art is an animal assisted wellbeing service in Tameside, Greater Manchester. They are working to reduce social isolation among vulnerable individuals by enhancing the human animal bond.
We spoke to Catherine and Tom Hall in November 2020 to learn more about how they have adjusted their services during lockdown, focusing in particular to their dog assisted befriending scheme Pet Connect. Pet Connect works mainly with older people and is aimed to reduce social isolation in Tameside. This scheme supports people who aren’t able to come to Noah’s A.R.T’s base, for example because of mobility issues or because of anxiety. Noah’s A.R.T’s volunteers and their dogs visit them at home for befriending visits.
How lockdown changed Noah’s A.R.T.’s services
As many other organisations, Noah’s A.R.T acted before the official lockdown started in UK in May 2020. Working with a client group with a lot of clinically vulnerable people meant that they decided to stop all services about a week before the lockdown.
However, because of working with people who were already lonely and socially isolated, particularly in the Pet Connect service, the team were worried about the impact of the lockdown on them:
“We knew that we had to respond to the challenge, and not just drop off all the support they’d been receiving, so we were trying to think of ways we could still communicate with them and make them feel like they weren’t forgotten about, but without actually seeing them in person.“
The connections between volunteers and Pet Connect befriending clients continued through phoning and texting. Alongside those Noah’s A.R.T set up a new postal service. They invited their volunteers as well as members of public to write letters and stories or make artwork about their pets or other animals. These were sent out each week to the clients.
Through this service Noah’s A.R.T were able to increase the number of people they were reaching out to, from about 20 people receiving in person visits in start of March, to about 45 people.
Noah’s A.R.T have also used some of their funding to develop online content to run therapy sessions and group sessions via zoom. Through the funding they were able to invest in cameras and microphones to make the remote engagement with their animals’ work. They now have plans to develop more online content, while remaining mindful that many of the people they are supporting do not have access to the internet.
These new forms of support that Noah’s A.R.T have developed during lockdown will remain a part of their work in the future too. They are developing the letter posting service into a magazine format. This has been made possible by a funder being flexible during COVID restrictions on how the funding is used.
The online sessions can also be beneficial, for some people it’s more comfortable to do the online sessions first, before coming to the sessions in person, so they get to know the therapist on zoom and then feel comfortable enough to come in person. Online sessions enable reaching people further afield too.
Learning from these experiences
The learning Noah’s A.R.T have had based on these experiences:
- Make use of the special funding available to help organisations to get through this period and adapt
- Don’t wait for it to be solved, just do what you can do now, so if you can get online, even if it’s not the same, get online.
- Don’t forget the people that don’t have access to internet, because everything’s done on zoom and everything’s online and there’s a lot of people who can’t do that.
- Remind people that you’re still here, and that we will be here afterwards.
You can find more about Noah’s A.R.T on their website.
You can read more about our project “The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021”, and interviews with other organisations here.
We want to hear from other activity providers. If you work or volunteer with an organisation that delivers activities to older people, you can fill our survey here.