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In this blog, Stephanie Tierney reflects on a meeting she had about work being undertaken in Leicester to reach and engage with older people as part of social prescribing.

In April 2024, Stephanie Tierney from the Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network, met with staff from Reaching People, a charity that aims to maximise the contribution of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. The meeting was attended by Bharti Mistry, a Community Connector, and Sangeeta Patel, joint CEO at Reaching People. They talked about work the organisation was funded to undertake by the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) in partnership with Independent Age. Initially, Reaching People was funded to pilot a social prescribing programme for older people (aged 65 years and over). The focus was on supporting older people experiencing financial hardship and from marginalised communities. This work contributed to a guide to co-designing social prescribing initiatives with older people; in this document, staff from Reaching People wrote about the importance of positive reframing - developing new narratives to challenge internalised stigma about ageing. Reaching People has been funded to continue this work and to evaluate it until the end of 2024. A lot of the work undertaken on social prescribing to date by this organisation has been with older people of South Asian heritage. 

Online and in-person provision

Before the social prescribing programme was established, Bharti had excellent connections with her local community, and was regarded as a trusted person within it. This was seen by Reaching People as essential for developing a successful social prescribing programme. As a Community Connector, Bharti’s role has involved connecting people to support/advice for problems around things like attendance allowance and other financial benefits. Her work also entails trying to expand older people’s world – which she described as being at risk of shrinking – by highlighting things they could go to in the community to meet with others. For those unable to physically get to local spaces, Bharti has created a range of online activities that are provided each week on Zoom. She noted that since the pandemic, Zoom is something that older people are willing to use, with many expressing an interest in developing more online skills.

Activities offered, in-person and online, as part of this social prescribing programme, are varied. For example, people can get involved in knitting, dancing, singing, yoga and other exercise. Festivals and milestone birthdays are celebrated. On Zoom there are ‘Chit Chat’ sessions that allow people attending to hear about and discuss issues; many different topics have been covered to date, including physical and mental health, home remedies, healthy eating and cooking demonstrations, nature plastic pollution, domestic abuse and dementia. Speakers presenting at these sessions include doctors, a psychiatrist, a dentist, opticians, local charities like the Alzheimer’s Society and South Asian Health Action. In-person, there are also walking, allotment and newspaper groups.

What is offered is shaped by older people expressing their needs and giving feedback to Bharti and volunteers working with her. This ability to shape what is offered means that older people become regular users of activities provided. Bharti mentioned that “even on rainy days people will come” to activities, giving the example of carers getting up early to prepare meals so they can be at the venue on time for an exercise class, ready to work out and socialise. 


Bharti explained that part of her job is to enable the community to become self-sufficient; this means being able to run activities without her input. This is happening through Bharti supporting volunteers to host activities. Volunteers are often older people who have engaged in activities. Bharti has helped them to develop the confidence required to step forward and take on this role.