Since 1878, the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board (LJWB) has been making a difference to the lives of those in the Leeds Jewish community that need it most. Over the last 70 years, it has shifted its focus towards increasing provision for the elderly, those living with disability and mental health problems as well as carers, with the aim of alleviating isolation and improving quality of life. Its Community Support Services, a division primarily dedicated to this mission, has been running in its current form for two years. Its manager, Rachel Maughan came to the role back in March tasked with directing her team of 11 to offer those existing on the fringes of the community a range of services to enable positive change, while giving them a place to come together and share their experiences.
When asked how she’s found her first six months in the role, Rachel exploded with enthusiasm: “I’ve really loved it so far. I travel 170 miles a day to come down here and back, so I obviously enjoy it!” Rachel is no stranger to the role, having managed domiciliary care and elderly support services elsewhere in the past, but feels the LJWB is unique in its contribution to the community: “It’s a really lovely organisation. I love the breadth of the services that are offered, not only within the team that I work in but the rest of the organisation. We all work together in the best interest of the people who come in the centre. It’s one of the best organisations I’ve been part of.”
From the LJWB’s community centre on Stonegate Road, the Community Support Services offers a wide range of in-house services such as one-to-one support helping the elderly and those with disabilities maintain independence, learn new skills and manage everyday tasks as well as hosting social activities to enable participants to feel part of a wider community: “It’s a buzz – people love coming in. I know it’s a cliché, but I love to see people smiling and know we’re making an impact on their life, whether they’re coming in and doing some singing or taking part in a workshop, we’re breaking that isolation and bringing them back into the community.”
It also offers those living with dementia and those loved ones who care for them help and advice, providing counselling and signposting alternative avenues of support. The Arnie & Essie Helpline was set up to provide confidential support to isolated members of the community. Manned by trained staff and volunteers every weekday from 8am to 8pm with additional out of hours support, Rachel hopes the service will become a vital facility for those suffering alone: “If anyone’s feeling a bit lonely or down, it’s a great way just to get a bit of support. We’ve also introduced our new Listening Line as part of the Arnie and Essie Helpline – so if people are isolated or vulnerable, we can arrange to phone them once or twice a week just to check up on them and make sure everything’s okay.”
Rachel recently helped the LJWB bring the seaside to Leeds as it welcomed the whole community for a day of good old-fashioned family fun. Children built sandcastles on a mini beach where the people of Leeds could feel the sand between their toes without stepping foot out of the city: “I didn’t realise how lucky I was where I used to live when I was only 10 minutes away from the sea and how much it would mean to those who find it difficult to access the beach to have it brought to them.”
The seaside-themed festivities were warmly received by over 100 local residents, who enjoyed fish and chips, ice lollies and candyfloss with musical entertainment from a live klezmer band. Partygoers dressed for the weather, sporting oversized shades, exotic flower chains and their finest sunhats to impress the judges in a competition to find the best summer hat: “We were thrilled so many people attended what was a rare opportunity for people old and young to enjoy themselves together. The kids were happy playing in the sand pit with the toys and I think the older attendees liked watching them having fun. I’m sure it evoked a lot of memories of day trips up to Scarborough and Bridlington – it was a real nostalgia trip for them.”
The event also saw Occupational Therapy Master’s students, Chris Wood and Sophie Cresswell from Leeds Beckett University working with LJWB as part of a collaborative intergenerational project. A 10-week programme focusing on a different topic each week, from holiday to employment, will see young people speaking to older members of the community to explore their experience, using photographs and other physical prompts to create a document of their life.
“While it’s a therapeutic project that aims to strengthen the identities of people living with dementia, we’re also trying to break down barriers between younger and older generations. I want to break the usual stereotypes that old people are always boring and young people are hoodie wearing thugs. We’re trying to show that they’ve had a life – as it’s all too easy to forget that old people haven’t always been old.”
If you feel lonely and would like a chat with trained staff at the LJWB, call the Arnie & Essie Helpline confidentially on 0113 218 5875.