Bags full of kindness


whg have been thinking about ways to give their residents across Walsall, particularly those who are vulnerable and isolated, something that would make their lives a little bit easier.

Their answer is whg’s Kindness Bags initiative.

The original idea for the bags came out of whg’s work with statutory youth services during the first lockdown. They wanted to reach out to children who were being home schooled and might not have the equipment they needed.

Connie Jennings, Head of Health and Wellbeing at whg, came up with the idea of the kindness bags as a way to fill that gap and provide essential resources. The bags contained home-schooling equipment, family activities, treats, and things for the children to do over the holidays. WHG distributed 200 of them to their residents.

Then, over the summer, whg had the chance to bid for some money from Barclays and their Covid-19 support fund. They were successful and received £100,000. That money will enable them to deliver 1,000 kindness bags, significantly increasing who they can help.

This time around the bags will be themed. The digital kindness bags might include a tablet, a broadband voucher and some IT coaching. The wellbeing kindness bags might include access to therapeutic counselling, mindfulness colouring, crafts, and links to online support groups.

The family kindness bags will include items for Christmas, such as gifts for children and parents. And the food kindness bags will provide food items for the store cupboard.

With 1,000 bags to deliver, partnership working will be key to the success of this project.

“We can’t do this by ourselves”, confirms Connie. “As an anchor institution, we always work strategically with local partners. Our statutory, community and voluntary sector partners will be crucial in enabling us to identify people for referral as well as distribute the bags.”

whg have a Covid-19 campaign group from their initial work responding to the pandemic, where it worked with Walsall council and the local community and voluntary sector. It plans to use that group again, both to refer vulnerable families but also to help with their distribution.

They will also be taking referrals from partner agencies and are setting up a helpline where customers can call and refer someone for a bag anonymously. Whg have a big footprint in one area – with 21,000 homes in Walsall – and this means they can scale things up and see the impact.

whg are also planning to work with the fire service who will help distribute the bags and include in them information about personal evacuation plans.

The housing association have already distributed 300 food kindness bags in November and will also deliver the family bags before Christmas. They’re saving the mindfulness bags for January when people have fewer things to look forward to and money is tighter.

The bags could seem gimmicky, but they’ve got a serious focus.

“They’re designed to address the wider determinants of health,” says Connie. “The bags are also a good way of getting key information across to our residents, about support services, public health and other things like repairs and employment advice.”

“Even though I’ve been in this post for 12 months, I’ve worked with communities for 30 years and it’s still humbling when you see some people’s responses to what many would consider a bag of basic items,” she adds.

The bags will be delivered to people directly in their homes. whg are particularly interested in people who are lonely and isolated. Their social prescribing programme, which HACT has evaluated, shows that there are a lot of hidden lonely and isolated people amongst their residents.

Connie believes the kindness bags are an ideal “engagement hook” with those customer groups that are usually hidden, especially the ones that are living alone and isolated, in their mid to late 60s, who are starting to struggle.

“It might be the thing that encourages someone to open the door to us and allows us to develop a relationship,” she says. “The kindness bags tell them that someone has taken the time to think about them, that they’re not on their own, that there’s support available if they need it.”

There is no doubt that the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to what social housing organisations do in their communities. Projects like whg’s kindness bags demonstrate the creativity of the sector as well as its ability to support local people.

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