Experts head into the community to show how sharing experiences can improve lives

Swansea University is championing a project to bring people together in the community to share their experiences and learn from each other.

Having a chuckle, swapping stories and exchanging memories as part of a group can all have really positive benefits according to experts at the Wales School for Social Care Research, based at the University.

Nick Andrews is the School’s Research and Practice Development Officer and co-ordinates the Developing Evidence-Enriched Practice (DEEP) approach, a project aimed at building bridges between research, policy and practice in social work and social care.

Nick explained: We work all over Wales with local authorities and community organisations and look at ways of using research to enrich people’s quality of life - whether it is staff or service users and their families and carers.

Elderly hands“We live in the real world and we want to dispel the myth that researchers just sit in their ivory towers studying. We want to share our research in interesting ways, using methods that will have an impact.”

Among the groups Nick and his team has been working with is the Me, Myself and I Dementia Club in Briton Ferry which provides emotional support, reassurance and a chance for people living with dementia and their families to socialise in a relaxed setting.

He explained: “We train people by inviting them to an exploratory talk, we produce a booklet and gather interested people together.”

This allows the team to pass on techniques aimed at encouraging people to share stories of compassionate care and good practice – what Nick describes as “magic moments”.

In turn, when these examples were discussed they inspired others to create their own magic moments.

“DEEP is very emergent.  We don’t have a big project plan, we just look at ways to create new opportunities. Innovation is really important but its little things that often make the difference.”

For example the use of laughter: “We looked at research around how to make people with dementia feel more included and one way was through laughter which is important for social bonding.

 “So we put on laughter yoga and it was a real success – so much so that the practitioner who ran the session went on to develop a toolkit for therapeutic laughter in care homes and is now working with us.”

Nick, a registered social worker who moved into research in 2013, added:“Our end game is just for people to be living a better life. It’s about kindness and appreciation.”

To help encourage others, the DEEP project invited people to donate their own stories and, with support from Welsh Government, local councils and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, they have been turned into booklets packed with Magic Moments and suggestions for others to follow.

These include the story of a one elderly care home resident who doesn’t speak being given headphones and an iPod containing old hymns. When the hymns were played she started singing – she used to be a church organist. When sitting a table she would also use the table as if it was a piano.

‌The project’s work has won the backing of Older People’s Commissioner Sarah Rochira: “It is vital that we do not lose sight of just how important even the smallest of things can be to an individual, the positive difference that a magic moment can make to their life.”

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Nick Andrews (left) is pictured being presented with The Spirit of Social Work 2019 award by social work academic and author Dr Neil Thompson.

Nick’s commitment to the project has led to him being honoured by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) Cymru. At its latest annual awards he was presented with The Spirit of Social Work 2019 in recognition of his work.

“I was delighted and humbled to receive the award – I have a lovely job bringing people together and putting our research into practice – it is research to make the world a better place.”

Any community group who would like to find out more about the DEEP project and how they can get involved should get in touch with Nick.

“We are keen to build up awareness of Wales School for Social Care Research. We already have bases at Cardiff and Bangor universities but we would like to see it not only continue its good work but also expand.

“We want to share these principles with practitioners, carers and ordinary members of the public. We are eager to hear from any other groups where communities come together. Anyone can approach us – that’s the whole point.”