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A blog by Janice Imrie, Community Navigator at The Bureau, Glossop


Janice gives people a chance to explore opportunities in their local area, helping them improve their wellbeing – she is the link between services such as GPs and community groups and activities.

I have supported many people on their journey to better health and wellbeing. Having worked as a Community Navigator (often known as a Social Prescribing Link Worker) for the last eighteen months, it feels the right time to reflect on what a difference this role makes to those individuals I have supported, and to our wider communities.

I am sure most people will agree with me about what it means to live well. Here are my thoughts based on my experience – managing health conditions, having enough money to live on, a warm and safe home, employment, social connections and remaining independent. Of course, this list is not exhaustive, as living well is down to individual priorities and choices.

However, for many of those who come to us off their own backs, or because they are referred through GPs, social services and allied professionals, the above is not their reality and they face barriers to living well.

The strength of the Community Navigation role is that takes a holistic approach. Because we are not a statutory service provided by the NHS or council, we aren’t constrained by health and social care issues. This neutrality means we always see people as people, not viewing them through the lens of their illness or diagnosis. This frees the person to explore his or her own personal goals which acts as a springboard for positive change.

Experience shows us that building relationships is key – the people we work with trust us, they know that we are an impartial source of advice and support.  Individuals are encouraged to recognise their existing strengths and to build on this resilience.  This may include accessing Citizens Advice, or carer, dementia or mental health support.

Over the last months, it has become clear; loneliness and isolation are key issues for people of all ages. Community Navigators are able to, having established a positive working relationship, support people to push themselves outside of their comfort zones. This gentle nudge helps them attend groups and activities which build relationships and a sense of belonging, allowing people to embrace new challenges and make changes to help them on their journey to living well.

I’ve often felt that our lives are like jigsaws; sometimes the pieces fit perfectly but at other times, because of circumstances such as unemployment, bereavement, ill health or depression, the pieces don’t fit together easily.  The strength of the Community Navigator role is having established a positive working relationship, people feel more comfortable to address some of the disjointed or faded pieces of the jigsaw puzzle – I like to think that we help people put themselves back together again.

Community resources are crucial for sustained change. Groups such as dementia support, shopping companions, art projects, exercise groups, befriending, community allotments, life skills, to name a few, are vital to allow people to move on, embrace new challenges and make positive changes.

One client involved with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ‘inspirations’ choir, described the difference to her pain, “I am now singing at home whenever my pain thresholds are high and it lifts the spirits”.  She has found the peer support invaluable, whilst she has been dealing with treatment for a debilitating brain tumour and other physical health conditions.

Working together across the voluntary and statutory sector, has been crucial to my role’s success. This collaboration also feels like a jigsaw, each piece being equally important and requiring support to make it sustainable.  I have seen the positives of using community resources and statutory care, to create opportunities for people to take control and make positive life choices.

The past eighteen months have flown by. Being a Community Navigator has been a positive experience for the team and from the feedback we receive for those we have supported to live better lives, whatever that means for them.

Greater Manchester is thinking differently about how our health and care services support people, focusing on the whole person – their life and circumstances – not just treating illness.

Join us in in the conversation on twitter at #GMCommunityWellbeing