Volunteers across Shropshire are celebrating a decade of friendships, and care and compassion thanks to ‘life-changing’ Compassionate Communities.
We launched Co Co in January 2010 with the aim of reducing loneliness and social isolation for older people and to decrease risks of illness or the need of additional help from medical services.
The scheme brings hundreds of people together and offers companionship and social support to anyone who might need a helping hand to keep connected to their community.
With more than 25 groups across the county, Co Co is run solely by volunteers – trained by the hospice – who are matched to local residents who have either contacted Co Co directly or else agreed with their GP that they would like this type of support.
Christine Richardson, who helped set up the Church Stretton Co Co scheme, said: “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.”
The simple acts of kindness have seen huge benefits, with some even reporting that it changed their life.
One lady said: “I look forward to our visitor, Vanessa. A fresh and friendly face is always welcome. It breaks up the monotony for us and means my mum can nip to the shops without leaving me on my own.”
Some residents have no family, so a volunteer accompanies them to hospital or doctors visits, while others enjoy a trip out in a car, or chat and a cup of coffee. Another said: “I can’t wait for the spring when we can sit in the garden together.”
Paul Cronin, who set up the scheme during his time as our Chief Executive, said: “It’s such a simple idea but it means so much to those it helps and 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.
“The hospice got involved because we see all the time how someone’s general well-being can be improved through relatively simple acts which enable people to feel they are not alone and are part of society and community.
“As soon as we started, we could see evidence that our Co Co work was preventing people slipping into a health crisis. Typically, the people we help will be advanced in years, infirm or ill and we saw an immediate impact on everything from unplanned hospital admissions to home visits by GPs, attendance at A&E, calls made to NHS Direct and use of ambulance services.
“If you have someone who loves you or someone you can talk to if you have a problem, that is a more powerful predictor of whether you will be alive in ten years’ time, more than almost any other factor, certainly more than smoking,” he added.
Dee McNeil, a practice nurse professionally, is the Co Co co-ordinator for the Brown Clee group.
“We want people to know they are not alone,” she said.
Hodent volunteer co-ordinator Mary Hardy added: “Although the thought of being visited by a complete stranger may feel daunting at first, don’t let this put you off. You and your volunteer visitor soon get to know one another, and it’s good to have something to look forward to if you’re spending a lot of time on your own and aren’t able to get out as much as you used to.
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.”
And he gave this advice: “Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help, if we don’t know that you require support, we cannot give it.”
Is there a Co Co group near you?
There are groups in the following communities: Albrighton, Alveley, Broseley, Baschurch, Bishop’s Castle, Bridgnorth, Brown Clee, Church Stretton, Cleobury Mortimer, Clive, Clun, Craven Arms, Ditton Priors, Ellesmere, Highley, Hodnet, Knockin, Ludlow, Market Drayton, Much Wenlock, Pontesbury, Priorslee, Shifnal, Shrewsbury (four groups), Wem and Worthen.
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, please contact us on 01743 236 565.