One of Newcastle’s oldest voluntary projects has extended and enhanced its services during the pandemic thanks to a four-figure grant from the region’s biggest building society.

Search, which was first established in the 1970s, provides a wide range of information, advice and social activities for older people living in the communities in the inner and outer western areas of the city, as well as in Throckley and Lemington.

With many of its services having had to stop due to coronavirus, and many of its service users shielding in their homes, the charity had to quickly find new ways to reach dozens of people who might not otherwise have any ongoing contact with the outside world.

Having secured a £3,000 grant through Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund at the Community Foundation, Search developed a newsletter which is now being delivered regularly to hundreds of older people around the city.

The newsletter contains details of all the support, activities and advice that the charity is providing, as well as different activities that recipients can undertake to help them keep busy while they can’t get out as easily as usual.

A regular ‘lunch at home club’ has been instigated to replicate Search’s usual offering, while a telephone and tech buddy scheme has been set up to make sure everyone who needs someone to talk to gets the chance for a chat.

Search is one of the oldest voluntary projects in the west of Newcastle and has gradually expanded its size and services to meet the community’s changing needs.

 

Its activities range from coffee mornings, craft sessions and walking groups through to lunch clubs and quarterly evening social gatherings.

It also offers regular information and advice sessions on topics such as benefits, pensions and consumer rights and runs a West End Friends group that specifically supports older people in the city’s south Asian and Chinese communities.

Simon Luddington, chief officer at Search, says: “Losing access to their regular events and activities has had a big impact on the lives of our service users, and because not all of them have access to the internet, we knew we couldn’t just look to take everything we offer online.

“Producing the newsletter means that we know we’re keeping properly in touch with everyone on our books and that they’re aware of all the different kinds of help and support we can provide.

“Alongside the practical advice, we’ve included competitions, puzzles and exercises in the newsletter to help keep people busy and the feedback we’ve had has been absolutely fantastic.

“When everything’s been so strange lately, the feeling of still being connected with their communities has been more important than ever to everyone that accesses our services and the support we’ve had from Newcastle Building Society has been invaluable in making sure that that connection has been well maintained.”

Pauline Baldwin, manager at Newcastle Building Society’s Northumberland Street branch, adds: “Search is part of the fabric of our home city and has a huge impact on the lives of many hundreds of older local residents.

“Their commitment to support the local community very much matches our own and it’s wonderful to hear how much of a difference this grant has been making.”

The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation, which was set up to offer grants to charities and community groups located in or around the communities served by the Society’s branch network.

Since its launch in 2016, Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund has also contributed over £2.1m in grants and partnerships with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Princes Trust. The grants are so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 151,000 people.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Society also made a £100,000 contribution to the £1m appeal set up by the Tyne and Wear Community Foundation for its Coronavirus Recovery and Response Fund.

The Newcastle Building Society Community Fund is run in association with the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.