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Promoting social support and social networks among Irish pensioners in South London, UK

This paper explores the activities of an Irish-led voluntary sector project that sought to minimise social isolation and build social networks among Irish elderly people living in a socio-economically deprived borough in South London, UK. The study from which this paper is drawn aimed to explore the nature and extent of unmet mental health needs among Irish pensioners. Using a naturalistic and exploratory design, data were collected through 19 semi-structured interviews, observation of project activities and analysis of members’ case files. The paper presents findings in relation to the significant themes that emerged from the data analysis, which used a grounded theory approach. It discusses the social support systems within the project and examines the ways in which they maintained the mental wellbeing of the projects’ members and interconnected with other areas of the project’s activities. The study’s findings demonstrated that the project provided space for social interaction among otherwise isolated Irish pensioners, many of whom experienced multiple morbidity. The project worked successfully to overcome the sense of stigma that prevented many of its members accessing statutory services; it also identified needs among carers. There was an Irish cultural ambience at the project centre, which generated a sense of belonging among members, and assisted in the development of social networks. The project initiated other forms of social support through the use of volunteers and developed befriending and telephone support services. The project developed partnership working with other agencies, particularly community mental health services, in order to provide support to elderly people who might otherwise have been institutionalised. The project engaged with the cultural norms of this marginalised white minority ethnic community to promote both social interaction and social networks. It offered a model of good practice for agencies working with isolated elderly members of minority ethnic communities.

Author(s): Bob Cant, Ann Taket

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