There’s a real spirit of companionship – for the good times and the bad

Darrell Xavier, Neighbourhood Outreach Worker

Darrell Xavier, Neighbourhood Outreach Worker

Darrell Xavier is a Neighbourhood Outreach Worker, working at Richmond Hill Elderly Action (RHEA). RHEA is one of 37 Neighbourhood Networks in and around Leeds who support older people within their community. We interviewed Darrell to see how they can, and have, supported their members through bereavement.

Darrell, if you could describe what a Neighbourhood Network is to a potential new member, what would you say?
A Neighbourhood Network is basically an organisation that works with and for people of retirement age and is community based so is much more localised and accessible. We do this by providing a range of daily activities and support services all of which tackle isolation, promote independence and wellbeing, raise awareness, assist people on a one to one basis who might be facing difficulties and generally be a recognisable face in the community who people know they can approach for any reason. I think the key aspect is that we balance the serious side of life (bereavement, isolation etc) with most definitely the lighter side. We have some fantastic activities for our members. There’s something fun and light-hearted to do every day, except Saturday. Arts and crafts, indoor bowls, lunch clubs, days out. We have so much fun here; there’s a real spirit of companionship; for the good times and the bad. It almost makes me want to get to retirement age early!

In summary, we’re there for our community; for the people of Richmond Hill when they need us. It really is extraordinary how places like ours and the people that not only work here, but come here as members, make a real difference to everyday life.

As a Neighbourhood Network, how many of your members have gone through bereavement?
Unfortunately bereavement is something we all have to face at some point in our lives. Most of our older members have lost someone very close to them; a life-long partner, siblings, other family members, a close friend.

In your experience, how does losing a loved one affect someone?
Losing a loved one can affect a person in many ways. The grieving process itself can take many months or years and for some there is never any real closure. Loss can take many forms, not only do older people lose loved ones, the role of husband/wife, carer, mother friend, confidante, neighbour can be lost too. For many, particularly men, their social lives can cease, their confidence can disappear and many people speak of becoming lonely and isolated.

How can you help people who are understandably stricken by such grief?
Richmond Hill Community Centre RHEA is here to offer help and support through any difficult times our members may be experiencing. This could be due to bereavement or any issue such as housing, finances, mobility, isolation, debt etc. Just being there for someone, listening to their worries and concerns, looking at other support such as a peer, building trust and being a local and reliable face can make all the difference.

Can you share any experiences where becoming a part of your NN has helped someone and how?
One lady in particular lost her husband very unexpectedly and as he was the one that took care of the household, she was suddenly very lost. While supporting her to cope with the loss we also worked with her to close her husband’s part of the estate, insurance claims, paying funeral expenses, changing names on bills, various paperwork and taking the car off the road. The lady in question did say that if it wasn’t for us she genuinely would not have known what to do.

What do you think are the biggest barriers faced by someone seeking your help?
Loneliness, social isolation, lack of confidence, loss of mobility, are some of the barriers faced by older people especially those who have suffered a loss. There are also more practical barriers such as depleted local services i.e. no local shops, no community hubs and poor local transport.

What would your response be to these barriers?
It’s vital that we keep working to ensure that everybody in the area we serve, regardless of age, knows about Richmond Hill Community Centre. If we empower the community with the knowledge of who we are and what support is available they can pass that on to someone who may not of heard of us. We are out in the community visiting people every day and we have volunteers who promote our work right across the community. If somebody can’t get to us we will certainly get to them.

How would someone get in touch with you?
A simple phone call to 0113 248 5200, email info@rhea-leeds.org.uk or call in to see us at Richmond Hill Community Centre Monday to Friday. That single phone call or visit is all you need to access everything we do, there aren’t masses of forms to fill in and it is all in complete confidence.

Any last thoughts you’d like to share?
Yes there are 37 Neighbourhood Networks across Leeds all offering incredible social opportunities and support services so if you don’t know who serves your area, look them up and give them a call whether it’s for you or someone else. Neighbourhood Networks are community led and partly run by volunteers so naturally they are people who would like to hear from you!

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