Heyfield Senior Support Project: Community Connection in a Time of Pandemic

  Tuesday 23rd November, 2021

Heyfield Senior Support Project: Community Connection in a Time of Pandemic
By Michael Kenny

A fantastic project has emerged in Heyfield that has been supporting senior residents over the past two years. Heyfield Senior Support Project staff are now busy planning social gatherings and Christmas hampers to round out the year’s activities and looking forward to their second Christmas celebration in a row.
Heyfield Community Resource Centre forms a green oasis, central to town and backed by spacious parkland, with a veritable jumble of raised vegetable beds, shrubbery and a potted plant nursery taking pride of place in the front yard. Heyfield Community Resource Centre is also a hub of social activity and local knowledge, playing a part in the lives of many residents, young and old.

Like much of Gippsland, Heyfield has faced a few challenges over recent years with drought, fire, and more recently, COVID-19. The pandemic quickly altered the daily lives of many in the district including the way people shopped, and especially, our ability to maintain social contact with others. Older residents were particularly impacted by pandemic restrictions, being most vulnerable to COVID-19. This had dramatically reduced their level of social contact, increasing feelings of isolation for many. Recognising this, the Heyfield Community Resource Centre responded by bringing together a fantastic group of volunteers to actively support and connect with seniors in the local community.

The idea of supporting local seniors grew from modest beginnings, initially focusing on telephoning or visiting those isolating at home, to stay connected and offer support during a challenging time.
This work, on an individual level, was already invaluable and appreciated, with one senior mentioning during a phone call from a volunteer (Lee):
“If you hadn’t called today, I wouldn’t have spoken to anyone for a week”

With support available through the Connect Well community building fund, Heyfield Community Resource Centre was able to expand the range of supports and activities it could offer to older residents. In December 2020, this included taking small groups of seniors on Christmas light tours, using the local Lions Club bus, a valued community asset.
The team at Heyfield also prepared Christmas hampers containing assorted baked goods, seasonal treats, and vouchers seniors could use at local cafes. This encouraged social outing for seniors, while supporting local business as restrictions began to ease.

Since that time social activities for seniors have expanded to include regular monthly activities, accompanied by morning or afternoon tea. A series of outings including greyhound and horse racing has attracted a few more of the local men, besides trips like the Good Friday fundraiser at the local wetlands. There are now over forty people coming along to the group and contributing in their own way.

With a growing pool of volunteers who have undertaken First Aid Level 2 and community mental health training ‘Mind Your Mates’ from Lifeline Gippsland, the project is proving a valuable community asset, besides promoting positive mental health and wellbeing conversations and awareness in the local community.

The Heyfield Senior Support Project is a splendid example of local communities coming together during COVID-19. Following the successful expansion of the project with Connect Well funding, the program has now attracted ongoing funding from Wellington Shire Council, enabling it to continue to support seniors and provide social connection, conversation, and fun throughout 2021.