The SCOPe Project, run by the Glasgow Association for Mental Health (GAMH), aims to increase confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing through involvement in life-enhancing social contact and thus reduce the risk of exacerbating difficulties linked to mental health. An intergenerational aspect is in-built with 40% of the volunteers aged between 16 and 25 coming from a wide range of backgrounds. The volunteers, older adults and carers build good relationships. The volunteers are supported by two part-time co-ordinators and receive monthly supervision. They undergo a training and assessment process and are matched with their partners based on mutual interests, geography and how often they want to meet. The befriending relationships typically last between a year and 18 months with meetings weekly or fortnightly. The focus is on building sustainable connections for older adults in their local communities.
Three-monthly reviews enable GAMH to evaluate the difference the project is making to people’s lives. In addition, 62 people, including service users and carers, volunteers and professionals from mental health, later life and carers projects, participated in a SCOPe Review event on 14 April 2010 to evaluate progress, identify areas of priority for the next year, and begin to plan for long-term sustainability. They are also undertaking a small pilot, with two volunteers visiting patients in a hospital ward and they are considering the possibility of group work.
The older adults like mixed age groups and some say they can relate better to a stranger than to family members and appreciate being listened to – “I can talk instead of bottling things up.’” They also look forward to regular contact with the young person – “I know that on certain days I will have something to do.” They agree the project builds self-esteem and confidence in lots of ways. The volunteers on their part enjoy making a difference and giving something back.
For some there are also practical benefits in relation to work and careers. “We have chosen to do this and people know you want to be there”. It also provides an insight into an older adult’s life ‘before you experience it for yourself’. One very successful match was between someone with an interest in folk music and a young musician. This person is now singing at a folk music group and has a whole new group of friends.
The project has been particularly successful in recruiting and working with older adults who have experienced mental health problems but recruitment of carers requires further work. This may be because carers do not define themselves as such, but as a wife, brother or daughter, for example, or it may be because carers focus on others’ needs rather than their own.
The SCOPe Project received funding from the Big Lottery for five years (2008 – 2013) and broadening the work is on-going.