Shahanaz’s story

“I love my job at the Centre.  I know I’m making a big difference to people’s lives by supporting them during these challenging times”

Themes: social welfare advice; social prescribing

Shahanaz holds a specialist role as a Social Prescribing Advice Link Worker at the Centre.  She is a trained social prescriber with a qualified background in social welfare.

“For a service, it’s the best of both worlds” she explains.  “Being trained as a link worker means I can provide person-centred support and give people time to talk about their concerns. The social welfare expertise means I am able to practically help people deal with financial or housing difficulties.  This may mean help to overcome housing and debt issues, income maximisation, new sources of support, or access to financial resources they are entitled to.

“Many local people don’t have English as a first language and navigating the system is daunting” she continues. “Our work, in English and Bengali, helps them build confidence and learn so they can manage their own situation better in the future.  Once we have dealt with the immediate problem, I can then connect them with longer term support, activities and opportunities at the Centre, and in the wider community”

This specialist support is very much in demand as the cost-of-living and energy price rises cause distress and real hardship for many people living in local neighbourhoods.  Many people are in crisis when they are referred and Shahanaz is experienced in helping to lessen stress and anxiety, as well providing the practical help they need.

She explains: “People are often struggling with mental health issues. These get worse when bills mount up, and evictions are on the horizon, and the whole things becomes a downward spiral which we work hard to reverse.

“A person who suffers with mental ill health came to us recently without resources, recently homeless and couldn’t see a reason to go on living.  This is sadly all too common but, together, we were able ensure he was awarded benefits he was entitled to, medical priority for housing and continued support from community mental health services to rebuild his life. He is now in full-time employment and here is a snippet from a note he sent:

‘Thank you for the support you gave me during the darkest time of my life.  So many of us get ‘lost’ in the system when we are unwell and I couldn’t have got where I am without your help.  We need more people like you and your team!’

Shahanaz continues: “It is challenging to work with people in crisis which may involve, domestic violence, destitution, immigration issues and homelessness.  However, being part of the wider social prescribing team at the Centre means I get excellent supervision and peer support and have a good relationship with health care professionals who value and refer in to the service.  We make a difference to people’s lives and I am passionate about supporting clients.” she concludes.

Social prescribing began at the Centre over 25 years ago, in collaboration with NHS health care professionals, to help develop a way to address social and economic issues that make people unwell.  Today, social prescribing operates throughout the country, augmenting the health and social care system. GPs can refer or individuals can self-refer.

It is clear, to manage growing demand, communities need many more people in Social Prescribing Advice Link Worker roles like Shahanaz. The National Academy for Social Prescribing is creating a guide for NHS Primary Care Networks to showcase how to recruit and train similar roles so that more communities can have access to this vital support.

Find out how to access our social prescribing services

Read our report on the collaboration between social prescribing and social welfare advice

See more stories.