Shropshire scheme aimed at reducing loneliness marks 10th anniversary
A scheme aimed at reducing loneliness and isolation in Shropshire is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Each week the county’s Compassionate Communities network of trained volunteers helps hundreds of residents out of loneliness and social isolation by the simple act of befriending them.
Founded by Severn Hospice in January 2010, the network offers companionship and social support to anyone who might need a helping hand to keep connected to their community.
The hospice helps train the volunteers who are then matched to local residents who have agreed with their GP that they would like to have this type of support.
Paul Cronin, who set up the scheme during his time as hospice chief executive, said: “It’s such a simple idea but it means so much to those it helps and to the communities where they live.
“Just talking to someone, or helping them get out to a social event, makes a huge difference to their mental and physical health."
From pilot schemes in Church Stretton and Cleobury Mortimer, the network now covers more than 20 communities across Shropshire.
Christine Richardson said she was a Mayfair Community Centre volunteer in Church Stretton before helping to set up the Co Co scheme there.
“The project is extremely powerful: the effect of a couple of hours a week on both the client and the volunteer can be life-changing,” she said.
“Being there for somebody, listening to their problems, holding their hand through difficult times, listening to their past life, sharing their joys and sorrows, suggesting things that might and do help them, developing new skills, being part of a team of like-minded people, meeting interesting people – these are the most rewarding things, for both clients and volunteers.”
Feedback from those who have been supported is also positive. “It’s changed my life,” said one Worthen resident whose support from Co Co has helped her overcome anxiety about leaving the house.
In Market Drayton, volunteer Margy Taylor has become firm friends with resident Florence Davies, who is in her 90s. They have a shared enjoyment of crafting and chat while Florence embroiders.
Dee McNeil, a practice nurse professionally, is the Co Co co-ordinator for the Brown Clee group. She said her group used social media and general advertising to let people know help was at hand.
“We want people to know they are not alone,” she said.
Martyn Cox, from Baschurch Co Co acknowledged how difficult these first steps could be: “Generally people that Co Co is aimed at, are possibly in their 80s or 90s, and have never asked for any support in their lives, as they are of a generation when they 'made do' – and proud of it too – so trying to convince them that there is help and support out there is difficult.
“Don't be embarrassed to ask for help, if we don't know that you require support, we cannot give it.”
Chrissie Jupp from the Market Drayton group added that new volunteers for Co Co were always welcomed and appreciated, especially men.
It is a theme repeated by Hannah Wass from the Worthen group: “The most challenging part I have found is having enough volunteers that have different interests and cover all parts of our practice area, not just the village that the surgery is situated in.
"I have also found that most of our volunteers have been women, in fact only two so far have been men so it would be great to see more male volunteers involved.”
To find out more about your local Co Co group, contact your local GP surgery and ask for their community care co-ordinator.
If you would like to set up your own Co Co group, contact Severn Hospice on 01743 236 565.