Cash boost for befriending services covering Harlow

Communities / Thu 15th Sep 2016 am30 11:02am

Essex County Council’s £200,000 pledge for befriending services will help 2,000 of the county’s loneliest people

A life-saving friendship scheme that combats loneliness among the county’s most isolated people is set to reach more than 2,000 residents thanks to a £200,000 pledge from Essex County Council.

Grants have been awarded to Age UK Essex, Colchester Community Voluntary Services, Royal Association for Deaf People, working with Support4Sight, Age Concern Southend, West Essex Mind and Action For Family Carers, to ensure this vital volunteer-led support continues for 18 months beyond the end of the current contract with Age UK Essex in October.

The revamped befriending services will help 2,000 lonely people – up from 500 under the current scheme – and will clear a 100-strong waiting list in the process, with the chosen providers better placed to reflect local demand across the county.

The service will continue to offer traditional telephone calls and home visits, but be more tailor-made with providers offering a bigger network of support to combat isolation, such as supporting people to meet friends at lunch or friendship clubs and go on day trips.

For the first time, the improved service will provide specialist sensory support, to help older people who have become increasingly isolated due to hearing or sight loss, and also offer specialist provision for family carers in need of support.

Volunteers offer friendship either on the phone or at a client’s home; they train people to use computers and other gadgets to help them stay connected with family and friends; coordinate and run groups, activities and clubs; escort people on shopping trips or doctor and hospital appointments, often using their own cars; and provide much-needed respite for volunteer carers.

They will also direct clients to helplines and services to make their day-to-day lives more comfortable and worry free, whilst providing advice on issues such as preventing falls, nutrition, fuel poverty and how to avoid falling victim to a scam or rogue trader.

Several of the successful providers work in partnership to run a scheme that helps volunteers maximise their time, whilst being flexible so volunteers can ‘job swap’ to either try something different or more closely match their skills to an older person’s needs.

The new 18-month funding will allow ECC to work with the public and providers to design an enhanced model for the future, whilst continuing to deliver value for money for the taxpayer.

We will also be testing innovative solutions. For example, West Essex Mind, experts in addressing isolation and depression in older people, will help to upskill other groups to increase the network of support available throughout Essex.

The successful providers will be championing and training older people, including deaf or visually impaired users, to utilise social media to stay connected with family and friends, while one provider will give 20 tablets to customers and recruit young volunteers from local schools to train them to use video telephone apps such as Skype.

Cllr Anne Brown, Cabinet Member for Corporate, Communities and Customers, said: “We are delighted to not only continue supporting people who are isolated, lonely and vulnerable with this funding pledge, but to drastically improve the service so it reaches an extra 1,500 people, including 100-plus residents on the current waiting list for help.

“Together with Age UK Essex, we have been exploring the introduction of a befriending service model fit for the future since autumn last year.

“Due to the unprecedented financial challenges we are facing, we were unable to make a long term commitment for funding at that point and in April, Age UK Essex informed us they would be ending their befriending services.

“We were not expecting this and acted swiftly to open the funding applications to other voluntary sector organisations. Now, with six organisations countywide, including Age UK Essex, the service is better placed to meet demand countywide and reach more people than ever before.

“We want to support and empower the county’s older people to remain independent for as long as possible. We’re delighted to get this funding back into communities which is a priority for us.”

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