CRUCIAL funding has ended for charities that have saved people’s self-confidence by connecting them with their community, leaving people who suffer with loneliness and mental health problems ‘with nowhere to turn’. HELENA VESTY reports.

MILLIONS of pounds in funding has been axed for charities which work to combat isolation in Bolton ending ‘life-changing’ help from the end of September.

People who “feared they would spend Christmas Day alone” were astounded when they found themselves making friends, discovering their self-worth, “bursting in confidence” thanks to a charity service rescuing them from isolation.

But now the money for the service has dried up. It will come to an end and will have to stop taking on patients “who have nowhere to turn” at the end of the month.

Charity leaders are fighting to find money elsewhere for the innovative plan and ensure that the progress in local health will not be lost.

The Community Asset Navigator Programme (CANs) was marshalled by six Bolton charities, including Bolton CVS, Bolton Wanderers Community Trust, the Octagon Theatre, Bolton Age UK, the Lads and Girls Club and BAND. It was inspired by social prescribing — where doctors refer patients to supportive groups in the community.

More than £1 million in grants was given to over 300 community groups and charities to provide more activities, including Urban Outreach, the YMCA, the Over 50s Lads Club, Ring and Ride, MhIST, Mind and HeartLift.

“Navigator” workers were also financed to connect people suffering with their mental health or isolation to the activities and volunteering opportunities. The funding had a huge impact, according to a report of the CANs results.

One elderly lady, Connie, found herself saying goodbye to her “bubbly, warm, caring” personality after being isolated and alone. It was difficult for the 102-year-old to get out of the house, but workers from the CANs scheme stepped in to save her “within hours”.

The report said the navigator team supported Connie’s access to her local church and “she was welcomed with open arms by the congregation”.

After losing his job and living in isolation for years, Gary was also referred to the CANs programme, desperate for support just days before Christmas.

His personal navigator spent time “ringing around multiple organisations in an attempt to find somewhere for Gary to go”, arranging for The Ark International in Farnworth to give him a warm welcome on the day.

After a “a burst of confidence”, Gary had made new friends and community connections, according to the CANs results report. Supported by follow up appointments with the worker, he has since found a new flat to move into and found a new job.

The programme was granted two years of funding from a £29 million pot handed out by the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership.

Now the two years are up, the “decision was taken by Bolton’s health and social care leaders not to extend the funding” further, according to Bolton CVS.

Its leaders are voicing concerns that the funding may not be found again.

Louise McDade, the health and wellbeing programmes manager for Bolton CVS, said: “It was all about having a conversation around what the person needed and what they wanted to do. It was about looking at what was right for them.

“There is a massive demand on GP services and that is not always the right place for someone who is isolated. Volunteering can really build confidence and give people who feel like they having nothing to offer a purpose.

“You’re losing that service in the short-term and maybe in the long-term as well. We accept it’s a very challenging financial time and difficult decisions have to be made but we hope to make sure that we can continue to do the positive work we have been doing in the last two years. We don’t want to lose what worked so well.”

The CANs programme had great success and hundreds of users reporting that their mental health and wellbeing had improved by being introduced to people sharing the same interests through the groups.

Over 2,000 people used the service in its two-year life and the scheme had great success — 95 per cent of referrals feeling more connected, 84 per cent reporting increased physical activity and 71 per cent seeing an improvement in their mental health and wellbeing.

At least one patient was referred to the programme by 77 per cent of the GP practices across the borough.

Helen Wall, CCG Clinical Lead for Women’s and Children in Bolton, said: “As a GP it is so hard to keep up to date with the vast realms of information we get every single day and keeping up with evolving local services and support for patients is no exception.”

Ms McDade said: “I’m concerned that if you have a social prescribing offer, you can’t expect more people to be referred and not have some long-term funding. And what’s frustrating is that it worked. People really got on board with it from GPs to health care professionals in the NHS. We feel it needs to be embedded in the community from what we have seen with this partnership and we hope it continues, we want to be part of the conversation about what is best for Bolton.”