New initiative tackling loneliness and building confidence

Man and lady in a cafe smiling

How "Brewing Friendships" is combatting pandemic isolation

From small beginnings in a church hall in Epsom, an initiative to tackle pandemic isolation is helping to forge friendships in communities across Surrey.

The first Brewing Friendships course brought together eight local residents with a range of conditions including arthritis, anxiety and reduced mobility who had scarcely been outside during lockdown and struggled to access online support.

The six-week programme held in spring 2021 covered everything from digital skills and scams awareness to emotional wellbeing and hobbies, but most importantly brought vulnerable people out of their homes and helped foster friendships.

Several local organisations pitched in to help make the sessions happen. Volunteers helped out and a local councillor donated funding to provide deep cleaning before and after each session. Partners such as Surrey Coalition of Disabled People, Surrey and Borders NHS trust, trading standards, Surrey Arts and Central Surrey Health (CSH) Surrey helped in delivering the sessions.

The feedback from participants, aged between 40 and 90, told its own story.

One said: "It was fantastic. I was so happy – it's the first time I've felt safe outside my house since lockdown started. I was so pleased with the technology and teaching. I'm really looking forward to next week."

Another remarked: "I was treated royally; people were constantly looking after me and I thoroughly enjoyed it!"

What's next?

From that pilot programme, a further six Brewing Friendships courses have now taken place across Surrey, between them supporting more than 45 vulnerable residents. Future programmes will be run by community groups.

Surrey's adult social care service is building on the approach and working with community partners to offer similar skills-building sessions more widely to improve people's independence and resilience and help ensure no one is left behind. Find out about support in the community by visiting the Surrey Information Point website.

More from community matters