Until 2008 most individuals and families who were experiencing hard times because of unemployment, relationship breakdown or other, very often sad, circumstances came to their Parish Connetable to seek short-term relief under the old Parish Welfare system. Whilst longer term relief such as pensions, invalidity benefit and mobility allowance had always been managed centrally by Social Services, unemployment benefit, single parent families and those who had fallen on hard times were dealt with and paid by the Parish.
Each Parish had a full or part-time welfare officer on the staff and she or he dealt with each case as it arose and in this way, over a period of time, got to know – quite intimately – many of the families who were struggling to make ends meet.
In 2008 with the introduction of the Income Support system, the management of ALL benefits and allowances was centralised and administered by Social Security. Parish welfare officers were discontinued and this took away much of the regular contact that Parish constables had with their parishioners. Although this centralisation meant more equitable distribution of allowances and benefits and perhaps made the whole system much fairer to both claimants and rate payers, the loss of Parish welfare officers also meant the loss of personal and direct contact with many of the most vulnerable people.
So in an attempt to re-kindle some of this personal contact, the Connetable decided to a form a Team of volunteers who would be able to reach out to those that had previously been supported by the Parish - not to provide financial support, but more moral support by way of counselling, befriending and practical help such as minor DIY projects in the home.
In January 2009 the Connetable called a meeting of those he thought might like to support his idea and of the 20 people who attended, all but one agreed to be members of what we now call the St Clement's Community Support Team.
We immediately set about promoting ourselves amongst those organisations who might be in a position to refer people to us, such as Family Nursing and Home Care, Social Services, Police (both Honorary and States) and many other organisations who might be aware of disadvantaged parishioners who could do with our help. We also ran a publicity campaign within the Parish with a view to encouraging people to 'self-refer', if they felt they could do with some help or advice – and this has actually turned out to be the most common means for people to get in touch with us.
Since those early days, the team has grown to 48 members, mostly retired people, both men and women, from a variety of backgrounds – so between them provide a wealth of experience and local knowledge.
We have set as our mission as 'Helping People to live independently in their own Homes for as Long as Possible'
In addition to contacting those organisations who might make referrals to us, we also had to establish a few ground rules. We had to make sure we were compliant with Health and Safety, Data Protection and Insurance requirements. We established that when entering people's homes on an initial visit, we would show an identity card, would always be in pairs, and never alone.
Since our formation, we have dealt with approximately 470 referrals. Some of these have been requests for short-term support where we have perhaps put people in touch with more appropriate agencies for the kind of help they need or been able to help out with transport for a one-off medical appointment, or even something as trivial as changing a light bulb for an elderly person living alone who has no one else to call on. Other referrals have resulted in much longer-term support – typically stroke victims, unable to drive or use public transport who need to be taken shopping, or have it done for them, or need transport to regular physio treatment centres such as Springfield or Fort Regent. One of our current weekly commitments is to help an elderly gentleman with transport to visit his wife who is in care with dementia, but on the other side of the island.
This summarises what we are doing on a day-to-day basis and I think it is true to say that one of our team members is doing something within the community virtually every day of the working week.
It will not have escaped your attention that the activities I have described so far are heavily biased towards the elderly, and usually people living alone. We are very conscious that it is often younger families who need support and yet we get very few referrals – perhaps because younger families are less inclined to ask for help, or maybe for other reasons. So in an attempt to engage more with younger families we have been in contact with the local schools and youth club. Several of our team members have become 'reading monitors and befrienders' and go into the schools on a regular basis to listen to the kids read and generally chat with them on a one-to-one basis. We have established a particularly good relationship with Samares School and on 2 occasions their school choir have entertained some of our senior citizens at Coffee Mornings at the Parish Hall which we organise each month.
Another activity which brings us into contact with younger families is through the Grace Trust. As I'm sure you know, the Grace Trust, amongst other things, distributes food parcels to needy families on a monthly basis. These parcels are prepared and packaged at the Samares Methodist Centre and volunteers from our team help with the packing and distribution within the Parish. Beneficiaries of this scheme are identified by the Grace Trust staff, or through our own sources and many of them are younger families with children.
We organise social functions for our senior citizens - sometimes a bingo afternoon, a summer BBQ, or a quiz and always include a raffle with prizes donated by team members or local businesses. We have raised as much as several hundred pounds in this way on occasions and have been able to help children nominated by the schools or youth club to take part in various worth-while organised activities and who, without this support, would not have been able to take part. We have also been able to help, for instance, with purchasing uniform items for a young member of the Rainbows, who would otherwise have had to go without.
One other activity I would like to mention and this once again is orientated almost exclusively towards our pensioners, rather than young families. We are fortunate to have on the team a couple of 'IT' experts who are happy to go into people's homes to help them with Skype or e-mailing or social networking. We see this as an important element of keeping people living independently in their own homes by giving them the means to maintain contact with family and friends around the world, but also giving them access to on-line shopping, social media and retrospective TV viewing. In practise, this activity has evolved more into a 'trouble-shooting' service in which our IT experts are called upon to sort out computer problems - and I'm probably one of their most regular customers!
So that, ladies and gentlemen, summarises the activities of the St Clement Community Support Team. You may wonder if any other Parishes have followed our lead. I'm happy to say that they have. We know that St Martin, St Lawrence, Trinity and Grouville and most recently, St Ouen all now have Community Support Teams and we have been consulted by other parishes too, who are also keen to get started.
If you would like assistance please contact me at the Parish Hall on 854724.
Community Support Team Co-ordinator