Social Connections Program helping people socially isolated in Ballarat Goldfields and Wimmera Grampians communities

A middle-aged man, recently divorced, relocated to regional Victoria from Melbourne and was experiencing loneliness. The changes in his personal life, including the divorce and move, exacerbated feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When referred to the Social Connections Program, funded by Western Victoria PHN, the gentleman mentioned his love of music. He entered the Social Connections Program seeking to join a local music group to help him follow his passion, reconnect with a lost hobby, and meet new and like-minded people.

Another individual, a retired elderly woman, also found an increased sense of connection and belonging following a referral into the Social Connections Program by a mental health clinician.

In retirement, the woman felt she had lost a sense of purpose and identity, and combined with declining physical health, she was experiencing debilitating loneliness.

Through the Social Connections Program, these two people have restored their confidence, found new friends and interests and generated an increased sense of belonging. These accounts demonstrate how the Social Connections Program and associated website are helping to combat issues of social isolation and loneliness in the Ballarat Goldfields and Wimmera Grampians regions.

A large body of research proves that people who are more socially connected and have a sense of belonging in their community, live longer and have better overall health outcomes than those who are socially isolated.

The Social Connections Program and subsequent website came about following a series of participatory workshops. Ballarat Community Health in partnership with Grampians Community Health and the City of Ballarat worked alongside health professionals and organisations to co-design the digital resource.

The Social Connections website was delivered with the aim of linking community members to GPs, clinicians, and community services providers to tackle social isolation experienced by many during the COVID-19 pandemic,

The website supports people in the Ballarat Goldfields and Wimmera Grampians communities to establish social connectedness and belonging in a number of ways. The website acts as a central point for information and resources for health providers and the community to access locally available services, groups, clubs and agencies that provide opportunities for social connection and community engagement.

In addition, the website offers a simple pathway for GPs and health professionals to make referrals into the free Peer-to-Peer Social Connections Program, linking clinical care to supportive community-based programs or activities to improve patient health and wellbeing.

Health professionals with patients who may benefit from being a part of the Social Connections Program, can find out more information about the program and make a referral via the Social Connections website.