When It Happens Panel Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
Why everybody needs these good neighbours
Buy this photo » Peter Flynn and Marion Ramsey have become good friends. Picture: OX62667 Marc West
IN July, the county’s director of public health, Dr Jonathan McWilliam, revealed the stark reality of the growing number of elderly people living longer across Oxfordshire.
The number of over 85s set to increase by 168 per cent between 2011 and 2035. But with adult social care and health funding both being threatened, Dr McWilliam, below, said council and health bosses must make the elderly their number one priority.
Oxfordshire County Council’s ‘Community Networks’ scheme starts next April and spearheaded by Age UK Oxfordshire, it should make it easier for older people to get the information and services they need to live independently.
But a vital component to its success will be the Good Neighbours service.
In recent years the county council has provided start-up grants for dozens of new Good Neighbour schemes and there are now 45 of varying sizes across the county with about 21 of them solely offering transport services, while 24 also offer other services such as shopping and companionship.
But Pat Chirgwin, manager of Volunteer Link-Up West Oxfordshire, which will steer Community Networks alongside Age UK Oxfordshire, has a plan to double the current number of schemes in just five years, enlisting a whole ‘army’ of good neighbours to watch out for the elderly in their communities.
She explained: “More women working and people generally being more busy, has meant that looking out for our neighbours is something we as a society have lost.
“But the Good Neighbour schemes already operating across the county are doing excellent work and that’s something we want to build upon because we believe that Good Neighbour schemes could become a vital ‘backbone’ of help and support for the elderly in the future.”
The volunteers offer as little as an hour a week to visit an elderly person, perhaps doing their shopping, picking up their prescriptions or even just offering then what might be their only human contact each week.
People are referred to the schemes via day centres, GP surgeries and Age UK.
And there are schemes in towns including Didcot, Bicester and Abingdon. But there are also large ‘black holes’ around Banbury, Faringdon, in parts of the Vale and surprisingly Oxford city itself, which have no Good Neighbour schemes, but have large numbers of elderly people living in isolation.
Mrs Chirgwin said: “The need is out there – the people are out there to volunteer and it’s just a case of organising the troops.
My aim is to see 75 to 100 schemes in place in the next five years.”
David Harmsworth had the idea of setting up the Abingdon Good Neighbour Scheme when he and his wife Sue found themselves needing help.
Now chairman of the group he explained: “About three years ago, my wife was in the JR. I was in the Nuffield Orthopaedic and we were amazed as our friends rallied around, visiting us, supporting us and even looking after our other commitments.
“We decided we would start a scheme that would do that for other people.
“The council helped us set up – bought us a computer, a phone and paid for some CRB checks to be done – and three years on we have 40-plus volunteers, a committee of eight and 20 people in our community we help regularly.”
He continued: “The people we help are not charged, but they can offer donations if they wish and we are now spreading out across Abingdon as we know there are many people out there who need our help but may not now about us yet.”
Who can’t spare an hour to help someone?
Widow Joan Kingston-Ford, 88, left, from Bicester, fell last May leaving her with a badly damaged back, while her family lives out of the area.
But mother-of-two, Sonia Simpson, right, has been lending a helping hand for about a year now, visiting and doing her shopping under the Good Neighbour Scheme.
Mrs Kingston-Ford said: “Recently Sonia hired a wheelchair and took me into Bicester to see all the changes that have been made in the town centre. I don’t know what I would do without her now. The Good Neighbour Scheme is a godsend for people like me.
“I don’t go out anywhere and so Sonia’s visits are so important to me, not only for the help she gives me, but also for the company.”
Ms Simpson, 40, from Langford Village in Bicester, is a self-employed personal trainer and mother to two young boys.
She said: “When my youngest son started school full-time I had spare time in the afternoons around my work so I looked around for some way of volunteering.
“I’ve always enjoyed spending time and being around elderly people and the Good Neighbour Scheme asks for as a little as an hour, and who can’t spare an hour?
“Joan is a wonderful lady, very independent and good company, but she had not been out for two years and I was happy to do what I could to help her.
“I enjoy hearing her stories and about her family and I do her shopping and put it away while we have a cuppa and a nice chat. Being a Good Neighbour takes very little time, but is a great thing to so for everyone involved.”
The Bicester Good Neighbour Scheme was set up four years ago and has 28 volunteers and 25 clients. It is holding a coffee morning on Monday, November 11 at the Bicester Resource and Wellbeing Centre, in Launton Road from 10.30am, for people to go along and find out more.
She’s become a good friend
Peter Flynn, 58, left, from Abingdon, is a Good Neighbour to two elderly women in his community and says he feels lucky to be able to help people who are less fortunate.
The retired financial advisor said: “I’ve always been a sociable person so the idea of offering friendship, a chat and practical help to elderly people is something I welcomed and really enjoy.
“When I first met Marion (Ramsey) she had some tax work that needed doing that I was able to sort out for her for no charge. We go to the pub for a drink and a chat and she has now met my family and my partner and been around for dinner – she’s become a friend.”
Marion Ramsey, 86, right, also from Abingdon, said: “I heard about the scheme through Age UK and someone put me in touch with Peter. We met, talked and got along well. Now I look forward to seeing him each week and have met his lovely family too.”
Keeping depression and isolation at bay
Oxfordshire Older Chinese People Centre – or the Happy Place – is based at West Oxford Community Centre in Botley, Oxford.
Since setting up in 2003, its membership has soared to 108 people who enjoy a programme of meetings, social gatherings, trips and educational workshops twice a week.
Co-ordinator Derek Ng explained: “We aim to reduce isolation and depression caused by language and cultural barriers and to promote health and independence among older people and carers by increased participation in community life.
“Our Committee set up the Oi-Sum (Caring with Love) Good Neighbours scheme in July 2011 because we had a list of around 50 people we knew would benefit from help by volunteers.
“Nine very hard-working volunteers help people by visiting, getting their shopping and prescriptions etc, but we know there are other people out there who would benefit from this.”
Mr Ng continued: “We set up Oi-Sum with the help of a £3,500 Oxfordshire County Council grant, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to fund the scheme and while I think setting up other Good Neighbour schemes across the county is a good idea, I hope there will be sufficient funding to support them as they grow.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
- FOR information on your nearest Good Neighbour Scheme or help in setting up your own, call Volunteer Link-Upon on 01993 772677.
- The county council has said the Community Networks would be “of huge benefit to a significant number of people in Oxfordshire”.
- It will help people to get information such as safety in their home, refer people for support where appropriate, and offer improved information about social care and support.
- To become a volunteer you have have a CRB check and the commitment is a minimum of one hour a week. It is unpaid.
Comments are closed on this article.