Local services are under constant budgetary pressure – but a new, locally based approach pioneered by Castor Parish Council is providing direct, short-term help for new arrivals, the needy and vulnerable within the community and connecting them to support networks. The Moment talked to Cllr Neil Boyce about the scheme, and how it could help people all over Peterborough
What is the Way Wardens and Good Neighbours Scheme and how did it come about?
I’m the Chairman of Castor Parish Council and a member of the Parish Liaison Working Group, but two years ago was also co-opted onto the Adults and Communities Scrutiny Committee of Peterborough City Council. It gave me a real insight into the difficulties faced by the City Council with regard to cohesion, engagement and finance – and that led me to think, over the course of a year, what we could do as parish councils to actually help the City Council, whilst also helping our residents. So, I went away and did some homework on what was needed, and came up with a Good Neighbours scheme. Basically, this is for giving short-term assistance to elderly and vulnerable residents in our local community, but also to act as a conduit to the City Council for longer-term help. If anybody needed a handrail fitted, for example, well we couldn’t do that ourselves, but we could contact City Council to get them that help. And if somebody has come out of hospital with a broken arm and can’t do the gardening, the Good Neighbours can go there and help them do that, and run errands such as getting them to the shops or to hospital appointments. It’s any help that’s needed – and a connection between them and City Council. A lot of help is arranged online now, but a lot of older people aren’t familiar with computers, so we can help them with that, filling forms and so on. I’ve spoken to Age UK and the Dementia Trust who are all happy to help us and, give us training on what to look for. Not that we’re professionals in these areas – we don’t claim to be – but the better informed we are the quicker we can put them in touch with the right people.
How did this expand into helping new arrivals to the community?
When thinking about the Good Neighbours Scheme I went to a lot of organisations within the parish and asked them for their opinions. Something that parochial church councils used to run several years ago was a scheme called Way Wardens, which consisted of volunteers who welcomed any new arrivals. Those were church-led, but with the many different cultures and religious backgrounds coming into the community we decided it was time to relaunch it with a broader base. So, we go and welcome any new arrivals, and give them a booklet with information on all the community groups. They may well not be Church of England, but we can tell them where to find the nearest church that is relevant to them, or what other groups there are locally. If they are Polish, for example, we can tell them how to contact the nearest Polish group. So, we help them get to know the area, but also welcome them in. That was the idea.
We discussed this with the City Council, and Cllr Irene Walsh, who is the Cabinet Member for Communities, has been fully behind it with her team. Then on 7 July we had the village fete, and used that to gauge support for the scheme. In essence we launched it there, and even though it’s a small parish we got over 30 volunteers straight away, which was excellent. I’m now working closely with the City Council to make it happen, but also to make sure it’s sustainable. What we obviously don’t want is to launch it and then find after two years that it’s fading away. We’re also looking at how it can be upscaled or downscaled so they can use it as a template for other parishes to take on. So, that’s basically it: Good Neighbours is a source of practical help, and Way Wardens is a means of welcoming people into the parish. What we’re working on with the City Council now is making this something that operates not just within the parish, but in the city.
So, what is the process when someone new arrives in the community?
With the number of volunteers we’ve got, it’s worked out so we have one volunteer per street. So, if somebody moves in, one of the Way Wardens will know about it. What they then do is give them a few days to settle in, then knock on the door, just to introduce themselves, take them the booklet listing all the community groups, churches and amenities that are around. So, it’s about giving them information, but also welcoming them in and telling them about the Good Neighbours Scheme – so if they do have any issues, they can contact a Way Wardens/Good Neighbours facilitator, who can then task a Way Warden or Good Neighbour to go and meet with them. They can basically contact us for anything, even if it’s only information – something as basic as finding out where the nearest launderette is. This is not meant to replace longer term help, but is immediate, short-term help for people who need it.
Is it the small, local scale of this that makes it work so well?
Ultimately, we know our residents better than social services can, so we know if someone new has appeared in the village, or if they haven’t been seen around for a while. Are they lonely? Do they need assistance? We’ve found they are more likely to talk to us than people coming from outside the community, but if they need help or are worried about something we know who to put them in contact with. And we can represent them to the City Council and ask if there is anything that can be done. An example from the Good Neighbours Scheme here was an elderly lady who was struggling to go up and down stairs. We got her in touch with the right people and she’s had a wet room and a stair lift put in. That keeps her in her own home and better able to look after herself, so she remains part of the community – and not isolated in her home feeling lonely.
You mentioned upscaling and downscaling – how would such a scheme work elsewhere?
Even if it was an urban area with 100 streets, you should in theory get more volunteers, so it can be upscaled. But I’m also going to another parish council to help them get theirs off the ground, and that’s a very small parish, so they might only need seven or so volunteers. If the principles are right, it can be adapted to any scale and can work anywhere. Also, this scheme is for anyone of any faith or culture. A lot of community groups are for a specific faith or culture or need, but under this one scheme we can look to everyone and give them ongoing support. That’s why I’m being asked to set this up elsewhere, and Peterborough City Council understand how this can help. All parish councillors are volunteers, but they’re a big workforce at the heart of the community who can help get all the more specialised groups and organisations talking and working together for the benefit of residents.
What’s next for the scheme in Castor, Ailsworth and Upton?
Cllr Walsh welcomed a group of Syrian refugees to the city last year, and I’ve spoken to my council and we’re going to do the same this year. Castor has a lot of Roman monuments and history around it, and has Castor Hanglands Country Park, so I’ve spoken to the Friends of Castor Hanglands and others, and what we’re going to do is get Cllr Walsh to organise a trip with Jawaid Khan, Peterborough City Council’s Cohesion Manager, to bring a group to Castor. We’re going to provide them with lunch and take them on a walk to welcome these people. They could be any faith or nationality – we’re not bothered who they bring – it’s just to welcome them to the parish. In spite of what we might think, we live in a very settled world here in the UK. We can’t really imagine what some of those people have been through, having to flee their home in fear of their life. Any little thing that we can do is a plus for everybody.
● Anyone aged 18 or over with some time to spare and who is happy to undergo training and adhere to the scheme’s policies and procedures can volunteer to help.