Caring at Christmas

Neath Port Talbot
Funding amount:

Project description:

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many older people were not only isolated and lonely, but afraid and confused.
In order to reach out and show support especially for those who faced spending the festive season alone, Age Concern Neath Port Talbot (ACNPT) needed to act quickly with a simple gesture of kindness - just a small tote bag, to include some food items, small gift, cards and decorations and messages from local school children to help lift the spirits.  This also gave ACNPT a last chance, before the holidays, for their volunteers to carry out doorstep wellness checks at the same time as giving out the tote bags.  Volunteers were then able to raise any concerns, so that, if needed, elderly residents could be referred or signposted to the appropriate service/s.  The tote bags themselves were printed with the ACNPT contact details on, in very large print, and a newsletter was also included within the bag, which had details of the services available through ACNPT.

What did the project achieve?

This project was a ‘task and finish’ idea, borne from the fear and loneliness brought on by the Covid19 pandemic and subsequent lock-down and shielding status for the vulnerable and over 70s.  The short-term benefit was to lift the spirits of residents who were spending Christmas alone and to reassure them that we were thinking of them.  Many volunteers reported residents bursting into tears or being quite emotional when they realised, they had not been forgotten.  The long-term benefit for these vulnerable residents is that they are now aware that we are easily contactable and friendly should they need our support in future.   Our telephone number was printed in a very large font on the bag so this is now clearly visible should they need to call us.  As we still do not know how long restrictions are going to be in place, this telephone number may be a lifeline for those who have no family support.

The resultant feedback from residents and community groups is that we have seen an increase in the number of new volunteers coming forward since the beginning of January.  We have not actually advertised for new volunteers, they found out about us through word of mouth as a result of this project.

What was the result of your project?  

Despite being short on time, this project achieved its objectives to visit 1000 elderly residents, deliver gift bags and carry out doorstep wellness checks before the Christmas holiday.  In hindsight we should have given ourselves more time but the support from volunteers meant that the project was a huge success.  Residents were extremely grateful and many were visibly emotional upon receiving the gift bags.  

Lots of residents have reported that the messages from the children were uplifting and made them smile.  We feel, because of this unprecedented crisis where many vulnerable and elderly residents were frightened and lonely, it was a worthwhile project and feedback has been all positive.

We were able to give bags to other voluntary groups to distribute which has generated an increase in more residents and families showing an interest in accessing the services which were listed in our newsletter (which was included in the gift bag) – things like our nail cutting service, welfare benefit checks and Will writing, as well as people still asking for support with shopping and daily errands.

Who were the Project Beneficiaries?
Residents who received the wellness visit and gift bag.
Volunteers who have benefitted from knowing their actions and hard work have supported many of our elderly, isolated residents during this difficult time.

What were the main lessons learns from the project?

  • Without doubt the biggest issue was lack of time, although all objectives were achieved.
  • Organising volunteers in terms of covid safety.
  • Despite promises of help, some organisations were not as forthcoming as we’d originally hoped.

This is the first time we have undertaken a project with such a tight timescale and it was always going to be a learning curve!  
If we undertook a project like this again, planning and preparation would need to start months in advance.  We were all happy with the outcome but the run up to Christmas, added Covid19 concerns and rush to reach 1000 residents in 3 weeks, left many staff and volunteers exhausted.  

The Government tightening restrictions even further prior to Christmas which meant we had to tell volunteers to cease delivering, although luckily most, if not all visits, had been completed by then.  Again, giving ourselves more time would have allowed for unexpected circumstances.

The community centre we used to pack and distribute the bags, was not for our sole use, so we had to move bags from room to room – if we were to run anything like this again we’d make sure that the distribution centre was for our sole use only.

We received lists from other organisations of residents who would benefit from receiving a bag and some of these residents had already received a bag from us.  The lack of sufficient time meant we were not able to check all the lists coming in against our own, resulting in some duplication.

Gathering evidence for PIs: most of the three weeks went by in such a hive of non-stop activity with the priority being distribution of the bags, we acknowledge that we should have had a tighter rein on the PI element of the project because we could have easily over-achieved but the pressure to accomplish filling and delivering 1000 bags in 3 weeks was just too great.

What’s next for your project?

Our volunteers have been trained to listen to and support older people, they can give advice on a wide range of issues or just listen, chat and be a friend to those most vulnerable elderly people in our rural wards.   
ACNPT can signpost or refer residents to other organisations, including Social Services should the need arise.  All our volunteers will continue to be active in the community and, post covid, help those individuals overcome their anxiety about venturing outside.

Further project information:

Dean Richards
Telephone number:
01639 617333
Email project contact
Project website:
Social media: