An article from Paul Solly, Genesis Trust’s Lifeline Manager. 

Lifeline has been running in Bath since 2003 and, although its location has changed over the years its purpose has not; Lifeline supports people in crisis. Lifeline is always a safe, warm place where anyone can come to get a shower, clothing, food parcels and support with accommodation, benefits and phone calls with different agencies.  

Before the pandemic, Lifeline was open for two hours every weekday morning and we’d get between 25-50 people visiting each day. But when the lockdown hit in March 2020 we switched to one-to-one booked appointments, seeing fewer people, but without all the hustle and bustle of another 45 people in the space. 

The slower pace of life early on in the pandemic allowed me time to reflect on what we mean by ‘supporting people in crisis’ and, in particular, how self-neglect is so often entangled within crisis. Genesis Trust had been looking at the concept of self-neglect and how it affects the people we support, but the busyness of Lifeline had allowed me little time to think it through. 

Self-neglect is particularly prevalent for many people who are newly housed or have a history of homelessness. They have a home, but their sense of self and the lack of resources to draw upon make it hard to successfully care for themselves or their home. Self-neglect is often a creeping issue which builds from not brushing your hair or washing your clothes to much bigger problems. One man who had a home to live in didn’t have any gas for many years because he couldn’t gather the confidence to liaise adequately with the landlord to sort it out. His flat had become dirty, poorly maintained and littered with rubbish. When I asked him about his need for support his response was always, ‘people need help more than me’ and, ‘I don’t want to be a nuisance’.  

Many of the people we support at Lifeline have an entrenched lack of self-worth often stemming from childhood and adult trauma. Their sense of personal identity is often poor, such that any hope of a better future is very fragile.  At Lifeline, we seek to help them work through that, but this is often a long, drawn-out process with a strong resistance to change.  Sometime there is a rare moment of insight which can result in a motivation to make change. The move from Lifeline’s open-to-all-at-once approach to a booking system means there is a more relaxed atmosphere such that these moments of clarity are more likely to emerge.  

We have also begun experimenting with ‘companionship activities’ with people such as walks in the countryside. Such walks are non-threatening, mutually enjoyable and encourage openness and sharing. This appears to be an oblique, but productive approach to entrenched self-neglect, allowing the person to engage with their feelings, interests and hopes. 

Supporting people in this way is a long-term process and that’s why improving the connection between Lifeline and Life Skills is so important.  The Life Course focuses heavily on wellbeing; caring for yourself through diet, self-care and exercise. Lifeline supports people with income and home issues and if those problems begin to get sorted, wellbeing follows. But the opposite is also true, if wellbeing improves, it’s easier to deal with issues with your home or your income. 

As Lifeline moves forward and COVID restrictions fall away our reflection on self-neglect and wellbeing will not be lost. Our focus on the wellbeing of the person must remain as we assist with the various crises that people face.  Our support for the vulnerable people of Bath will be stronger for the pause COVID created.