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How Good Neighbours Are Helping Suffolk Communities

How Good Neighbours Are Helping Suffolk Communities

Neighbours. Everybody needs good neighbours. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist shoe-horning at least one reference to the Neighbours theme tune into this post! Across Suffolk, neighbours are coming together to provide much more than a friendly wave each morning (sorry), and offering practical and emotional support through the Suffolk Good Neighbour Network.

There are 43 Good Neighbour Schemes within the network, which is hosted by Community Action Suffolk and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. People can request help from their local scheme, which matches them with a volunteer neighbour who can provide the help they need. Good Neighbours schemes can help with a wide range of tasks, from cutting the grass or walking dogs through to collecting shopping or providing a lift to a GP appointment.

Support from our neighbours has become even more important this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and a number of Good Neighbour schemes have adapted quickly to help those who are shielding or self-isolating. Last Christmas, I visited a number of schemes to find out about their impact to help with the project evaluation. Writing this one year on, it seems strange to think we were all cooped up together in a cosy pub singing carols without a mask or hand gel bottle in sight!

Anyway, here’s a little snippet from that case study to give you a sense of how Good Neighbours are doing good in their community. This one is from Snape, a small village near the Suffolk coast, not too far from Woodbridge and Aldeburgh:

How did it start?

Snape Good Neighbour scheme launched in 2019 after the Parish Council identified a need to support older and vulnerable people in this particularly isolated part of Suffolk. The scheme has a team of 16 volunteers who have already completed over 140 jobs for their neighbours. Jobs include dog- walking, DIY, lifts to health appointments and the shops, but also providing friendship and social opportunities to overcome isolation. The group also organises a “Meet Up Monday” in the Golden Key pub.

What Clients Say

“I lost my husband recently and now I’m on my own. I don’t know how I’d cope without the Good Neighbours Scheme. I’m disabled and they arrange for someone to give me a lift to Meet Up Monday and help me get up the steps.
The best thing is the company and it gets me out. My family live a long way away and can only visit once a month. Without this, I’d be at home staring at the walls.”

“I used to be a coach driver and travel all over the country. You never knew where you were going to go next we used to come to Snape on holiday and we decided to make it our home. It’s a great place when you’re young, but isolating when you’re older, especially since I lost my wife. Good Neighbours have been wonderful, it’s real companionship. I can’t get here on my own, so they arrange a lift for me. The volunteers are so helpful and friendly, I can’t fault them.”

“I drive five miles to get here from Aldeburgh because it’s a real community atmosphere. I’ve got to know everyone and I like the friendliness and the continuity of seeing the same faces each time. If I didn’t come here, I’d have nowhere else to go, there’s nothing quite like this where I live.”

What Volunteers Say

Snape Parish Council held a meeting about the Village Plan and they’d done a survey which said there was a level of isolation in the village and we could do more to help. There are only about 500 homes in Snape, so a group of us got together to set up a Good Neighbour Scheme, with support from Snape Parish Council. Now, we have a small number of people who use it very regularly and we have around two dozen volunteers who also help with lifts to the doctors and hospital. We’ve had a lot of support from Community Action Suffolk and been to some of their training, and they also arranged for us to visit Wickham Market, which is more established, to see how it all works.”

Paul, GNS Secretary

“When the Parish Council wrote our community plan, we recognised a big void in day to day support for older and vulnerable people and the level of demand was increasing. Community Action Suffolk came to visit and inspired us to set up a Good Neighbours Scheme and we were very fortunate that a number of people stepped up to join the committee. The Parish Council gave the scheme some additional funding and we’ve also raised money from other sources, such as Waitrose. We’ve got a good mix of people on the committee, including Parish Councillors and the local Reverend, which is important as it prevents people from burning out. When you get that first call from someone who needs help, you never know what to expect, but between us we know who can help out with various things and we all look out for each other.”

Tim, Chair, Snape Parish Council

“However nice and affluent a a village may seem, there is always loneliness. Not many people round here are short of a bob or two, but they might be short of company and friendship. Snape is lovely, but very isolated. In days gone by, we’d pop to the local shops or meet friends, but nowadays there are no shops and no buses. Yes, you can shop online or ask your family to do it, but it’s very isolating and it stops you from being independent. The Good Neighbours Scheme, and Meet Up Mondays, enables people to come here and get to know other people. Some of the main issues are isolation and difficulties with mobility, but we also get to hear about people who are having problems and put them in touch with those who can help.”

Rev. Rachel Cornish, Rector of the Alde River Benefice

What Works?

Support from the Parish Council is key to the success of the Good Neighbour Scheme, with Councillors providing financial support, practical support and ensuring that the GNS is an intrinsic part of the local plan. It also helps that Snape is a small community and other supporters, such as the landlord of the Golden Key where Meet Up Mondays are held, are keen to get involved.

How has COVID-19 Impacted the Scheme?

Since the start of lockdown, Snape Good Neighbours has been tirelessly working to help residents with befriending, shopping, prescription collection, hospital trips, even clearing guttering! Thanks to the generosity of Snape residents, who donated both money and goods, they were able to fully stock the village larder each week for those who needed food donations.

Meet Up Monday has been temporarily suspended, but all those who used to attend the group have been spoken to every Monday, either by phone or from the doorstep. They’ve also been given a plant to nurture over the Winter months, which will all be planted around the village in the Spring, increasing biodiversity and creating a colourful display.

Find out more:

Snape Good Neighbour Scheme

Helping Homeless People Get On The Right Path

PATH is a partnership working to help those who are experiencing homelessness, or are at risk of it, across North and West Kent. Seven charities, led by Citizens Advice North & West Kent, are working together to provide a range of services including emergency hostel accommodation, housing advice, debt advice, mediation and mental health support.

I’ve been working with partners during 2020 to evaluate the impact of the project, which is funded by Help Through Crisis, a National Lottery Community Fund programme. It was a challenging time for both of us; PATH was adapting to deliver its services during the COVID-19 pandemic and I was adapting my own methods as the UK went into lockdown shortly after I was commissioned, which meant we had to quickly adapt our plans for workshops, face to face interviews, etc.

Thankfully, with good communication and careful planning, it all worked out in the end and PATH was able to continue it’s much-needed services and I was able to complete the evaluation remotely, meeting partners through Zoom, interviewing clients by phone and delivering the final presentation online.

It’s a fantastic project providing much-needed support, but one interesting aspect was that we began to see the early signs of how the pandemic might impact on vulnerable and disadvantaged people, particulalry where housing and advice is concerned. For example, emergency legislation passed by the government prevented landlords from chasing tenants for rent arrears during the pandemic. This was good news, but would it lead to a “bottleneck” of evictions and legal action further down the line?

We also heard how the extended lockdown was beginning to create more pressure at home, particularly for those experiencing domestic abuse or mental health difficulties. Unemployment seemed likely to rise as companies reduce staff to save costs and, whilst some partners reported a rise in issues concerning loans and credit cards, Citizens Advice North & West Kent had seen a 50% downturn in people requesting help with debt problems, presumably because of consumer protection measures.

However, when these temporary measures are lifted, it seems highly likely that the partnership will see a sudden increase in people facing debt, which will also impact on housing security, potentially increasing hardship for people at risk of homelessness.

The Homelessness Reduction Act supports the need for continuing support for people facing homelessness or threatened homelessness, in addition to encouraging organisations to work together to improve advice and support for those most at risk. However, some partners reported that it has not been entirely effective and, in some cases, has presented clients with alternative problems, such as downgrading their level of risk and therefore reducing the support from local authorities.

These are just some of the issues we explored as part of our evaluation, which also made recommendations as to how the project could adapt to meet these changing needs and attract further investment to continue its support to those in need.

One thing is for certain, it’s clear from this small snapshot that the pandemic has created a number of challenges for people who were already under considerable pressure and, whilst the full social and economic impact is yet to be known, the support and advice provided by PATH, and other similar projects, will be essential in getting people back on their feet and on the right path.