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
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.
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