Category Archives: Helping the community

Local care for local carers: Wickham Market finds a solution

More and more of the UK’s care problems are being picked up by family carers, but who cares for them? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The government and the media and all the other movers and shakers may move shiftily and shake their heads despondently, but they come up with precious few answers.  I can tell them exactly how to move forward. Government and the media and all the other movers and shakers – you  just need to come and look at what’s happening in Wickham Market!

In this small Suffolk village the Wickham Market and District  Family Carers group  (a wonderful group of which I am proud to be a member) has created a trail-blazing solution to Britain’s growing care problem. In March, 13 volunteers from Wickham Market became  the first people in the country to qualify in an innovative scheme to provide local free trained respite care to local family carers!

Why? When the villages ‘s parish council saw local services struggling to meet the care needs of an ever-increasing older population, they recognised that it would be most practical to support the people who look after this population – the family carers. They also recognised that the single most important way of supporting these people was by giving them worry-free respite from their caring role. Their unique scheme ‘Local Care for Local People’ provides a pool of trained, accredited, insured – and most importantly LOCAL – volunteer carers, to respond to the present and future needs of people looking after loved ones fulltime.

After qualification, the volunteers carry on receiving  training, development and supervision. The knock-on effect is an improvement to employment opportunities for local people in our rural area . The scheme is therefore not only helping our local family carers, its contributing to the economic health of the community,” says the dynamic and diminutive Pam Bell, too modest ever to admit she is the brains behind this idea (she is). “Each volunteer has undertaken 56 hours of training by accredited trainers, 10 hours of assessed placements in residential care homes, plus course work. It a huge investment of time and effort for them to make  even before they start their volunteering role in the community. This is real commitment. From Easter 2012 we’ve been able to provide up to 100 hours per month of free support for family carers so they can take a break.  Our Volunteers are qualified, insured, CRB checked and supervised and each individual Family Carer can contact the volunteer they choose directly, no agency, no waiting, no cost!”

Family Carers are unsung heroes who, out of love, compassion, friendship, voluntarily care for another adult 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, with little or no support or opportunity to take a break. They find it hard to do all sorts of things non-carers take for granted – to go shopping, to go for a walk, to meet a friend for a coffee – even get to the doctors or cope with an unexpected injury. The idea of doing something really positive to help them – training local people to become Local Volunteer Carers – was born from their plight says Sarah Owen Williams who is Wickham Market and District’s  Carers Support Group leader.

“Almost all support groups for carers are centred on the illness of the person they are caring for. Yet the problems that all carers face are very similar. Once we’d set up a group in Wickham Market to help any local family carer, we realised that respite was the key issue for all of them. And that we could make a real difference to their lives by training a bank of local people to provide short term respite care when emergency strikes. Or just when somebody wants a little time off from it all. Why should their love and public-spiritedness give them no private time? Pam adds.

When employed people talk about the stress of  their long working weeks, they need to remember that a full-time family carer is working a 168 hour week without pay, overtime, sick leave, holiday pay or an occupational pension. You can be called on any time of the day or night.  Indeed, I spent a terrifying and upsetting night in A&E ten days ago – unsure as to whether the relative I care for would survive the night (she did).  It may be  stressful running counties, countries or big companies  – I wonder if it is any less stressful being on call for years as the permanent link between life and death for just one single other person. You certainly don’t get paid at the same rate.

And on top of everything carers are always worrying about what will happen to their loved one if they have an accident or became seriously ill. I was knocked off my bicycle three years back by a man driving on the wrong side of the road.  He jumped out of the car to see if I was badly hurt.

And grazed and bruised I might be, but I had my priorities. I burst into tears and said If you had killed me, there’d be no-one to look after my daughter!

Nor was there. There are no carers for carers.

But now Wickham Market has made sure there are!

And if you don’t live in Wickham Market, or district? This scheme is unique – but we would be delighted to help other communities to replicate it in other parts of the country says Pam.

So  that’s all there is to it. Go thou and do likewise, why don’t you?

Clearing pavements: True Grit!

OK, folks. Snowtime has finally arrived.

When the weather  is like it is now, with thick snow covering the pavements and turning to icy lumps, please don’t wait for ‘someone to do something.’  Get out your shovels and clear any bits of pavement you know will be dangerous – particularly for your elderly neighbours – before the snow becomes ice. I’ve made sure there’s a grit bin anywhere anyone has asked for one (funded from my Locality budget), so grit as well as shovel and there won’t be any extra broken hips and wrists this year.

Down California today, the snow was five or six inches deep. Clearing a path down one side will hopefully help people -particularly the elderly - get out and about safe

This morning I spent four hours shovelling and gritting a path up California, across the Ipswich Road and down the Ipswich Road footway to the John Grose garage (my pedometer made this 3.5km of paths shovelled).  Huge thanks is due to the three volunteers who helped me. By tomorrow morning these routes would have been ice.

Oh, and by the way – don’t listen to anyone telling you they can’t clear and grit  because they are  are ‘afraid of being sued’. This is a common story but I have yet to discover anyone who has ever been sued!

A  lawyer tells me that anyone ungrateful enough to sue someone who cleared the footway would have to prove they intended to harm people by clearing the snow!

If you are very anxious read Directgov’s formal advice here, but don’t make an excuse to stop yourself helping others. If you are fit enough to help people who are not, please do so.

(Update: in fact today, Monday, a man waiting at the bus stop by the Duke of York kindly used my spare spade to help clear the bus stop area.  The only thing that stops people helping out is a lack of will!)

Remember, one day we will be the ones relying on other people to help us out a bit.

Woodbridge Library reading stars

So our libraries are no longer important, no longer relevant, to our modern lifestyle?

Tell that to all the children who turned up at Woodbridge library today to receive their certificate and medal for finishing this summer’s Circus Stars Reading Challenge.   And there were  lots of them.

The popular library summer reading game was open to children of all ages across Suffolk . It asked them to read and report on five books over the summer holidays.   As ever, it relied hugely on the support teams of local volunteers who listened to the children reading and discussed the books with them afterwards. Twenty of these kind and dedicated people gave their services at our library over this summer.

And this year  (the year when all but 8 of Suffolk’s libraries were threatened with closure)  the library staff at Woodbridge told me that  more children had enrolled on – and finished – the challenge than ever before. In fact,  I nearly lost my voice  when presenting the certificates – I had so many names to read out .

Jonathan Allen draws Baby Owl for Woodbridge Reading Challenge Circus Stars

Today we had a special treat, as I was able to use my Locality Budget to fund children’s writer/illustrator Jonathan Allen  to come to the event.  Between the two ceremonies  he told us about how he creates his books, and ran a cartooning  class with all the  award winners.

Jonathan – who comes from outside Suffolk  – told me that he was ‘amazed’  not only that our library was open at a time when everyone could use it, but also that so many people  were prepared to come and celebrate and support  children’s reading so early on a Sunday morning!

We should be proud of ourselves.

If you’ve forgotten to visit your library recently, why not come along and remind yourself of the excitement and discovery that you once felt, and which you will see on the rapt faces of all the people of all ages you will find reading there!

Let’s never forget  that a library is a wonderful institution. It’s wonderful not only because it gives us a doorway into a world full of millions of books of all kinds, written by people from all places and all times. It is also wonderful because it allows us to hold open the door to that world for the next generation.

Big Lottery Grant for Woodbridge-based Home Start

Staff, volunteers and families at Home Start Suffolk Coastal are thrilled today to hear that they have been awarded a Big Lottery grant  totalling £362,637!  This money has been provided as part-funding for the scheme over 3 years to extend its services within Suffolk Coastal.

Home-Start recruits and trains parent volunteers to support families , struggling to cope, within  their own homes, offering non-judgmental, practical and emotional support for a wide range of issues  including domestic abuse, multiple births, isolation, depression, bereavement and lone families. Family support groups are another part of the scheme, offering a nurturing environment for families to grow together. The effect of any intervention at an early stage in childrens’ lives  is magnified – and lasts a lifetime!

Tara Somers,  the Hone-Start Suffolk Coastal Senior Co-ordinator “couldn’t be more delighted! The money is for our Empowering Families project  – and will allow us to reach more local families for whom too often life feels like an uphill struggle. In the current economic climate, this is particularly important!”

The grant will enable Tara and her team  to set up a new Family Group in Woodbridge, and increase Home Start services throughout our area, which stretches northwards  from Felixstowe , as far as Leiston and beyond.

Home-Start Suffolk Coastal is part of the UK’s leading family support charity, Home-Start UK which supports nearly 35,000 families and almost 73,000 children each year.  More than 16,000 volunteers visit families in their own homes – parents supporting other parents in a variety of situations including isolation, bereavement, multiple births, illness or disability.

Since opening in Woodbridge in 1999, Home-Start Suffolk Coastal has supported 530 families, many in very challlenging circumstances. In the last year alone, their 45 volunteers spent a massive 17,000 hours supporting 84 families and 181 children.

Home-Start Suffolk Coastal  has already been part of a pilot, “Maximising Income”, helping families who already supported by Home-Start, to access necessary financial support  (And let me tell you, this is very very necessary: it took me and my daughter and my husband three full weeks of headscratching and together to  complete a Disability Living Allowance form). With the help of the Lottery grant, 60 more Home-Start families will be supported in accessing benefits and grants they are entitled to. Major reform to the welfare system means that there has never been a more vital need to offer support to families in navigating the system

“I really don’t know what I would have done without Home-Start, my volunteer was exactly what I needed, a friend, someone to talk to, someone that’s been there. My volunteer has given me the confidence to go out, and do what a ‘normal’ mum can do”

Woodbridge Town Council Report March 2011

This month’s report deals with the legitimisation of  various appalling cuts by the administration (who at the same time are letting money flow through their fingers on such essential front line services as extremely expensive consultants training them to ‘listen’ (hah!) and ‘gagging’ payments – £520,000 last year alone) to stop the mouths of ex-staff members

SCC  2011-12 Budget

The end of February saw Suffolk County Council’s  final budget setting meeting. Here the budget of cuts, already approved by the Cabinet, was voted through by the Conservatives on the County Council.  The cuts will affect many people in rural and urban areas throughout the county.  I strongly opposed, in particular,  decisions taken to reduce vital frontline services, including the scrapping of school crossing patrols, local buses and the eXplore card.

At the meeting my group put forward an amendment to the budget which would have saved many frontline services.

I feel that the people of Woodbridge NEEDc to k now what there WERE fully-costed options to these cuts, although the Conservatives would have us believe there were none.

We believed it would be possible to provide funding for all these services if we looked at savings from the centre of the organisation and used a small proportion of the £108m which the council holds in reserves.  Our amendment would have saved the following services:

  • Libraries
  • Youth Clubs /Youth provision
  • Subsidies to public transport services for Sundays, evenings and Bank Holidays
  • Park and Ride Service from the Bury Road, Ipswich site
  • Funding for the eXplore student card, which gives half price travel on buses up to age 19
  • School Crossing Patrol Service
  • Retain all Household Waste Recycling Centres, instead of reducing them from 18 to 11
  • Continue checking lorries to see if they are overloaded.
  • Stop the divestment of the Fire Control Function to Huntingdon
  • Keep Felixstowe as a Day Crewed fire station, instead of reducing it to retained
  • Retain full time crewing of the Ipswich Aerial Appliance

By using these funds;

  • Re-open Bury Road Park and Ride by reviewing revenue streams for Park and Ride to increase income, including from concessionary fares, creating a cost neutral service
  • Reduction in Road Maintenance Revenue Budget – not affecting emergency repairs
  • Business Mileage reduction of 10% – saving nearly £1m a year
  • Reduction of hours, to enable the continuation of all Household Waste sites
  • Reduction of one Director and 2 Assistant Director posts
  • Reduction of 2 Cabinet posts
  • Reduce back office staff in Fire Service & review the number of appliances attending incidents (at present, for example, they send 5 appliances to a cat up a tree)
  • Reduce External Room Hire by 30%
  • Felixstowe Fire Station to 5 day weekday manning
  • Use of Service reserves
  • Reduce Corporate Contingency reserve
  • Reduce Management of Change reserve

These savings would be heavily focused on the use of the ‘management of change’ budget, which was set up for business transformation during the year at the council, and the ‘corporate contingency’ fund, which is there to help manage risk throughout the year.  We believe with the current financial situation this is the best time to use the reserves to ensure communities will continue to receive essential services.  Even Eric Pickles agrees with us. Unfortunately the Suffolk conservatives did not, and the amendment was defeated on the day, with every Conservative voting for the cuts.  You can find all the information regarding the budget at this link

http://apps2.suffolk.gov.uk/cgi-bin/committee_xml.cgi?p=detail&id=1_15073

Libraries Update

The consultation for Libraries is still going ahead, as the County are looking to divest, or close most of of the Libraries around the County.  A meeting between SCC  officials and councillors and Suffolk library activists on 25th February  has brought forward new information (see James Hargraves and Andrew Grant Adamson’s accounts of this meeting which both attended, as supporters of Stradbroke and Debenham libraries individually)

The original classification of the 44 libraries into 15 county libraries, to be protected and divested as a group, and 29 community libraries, which would close if community groups did not take them over, has been effectively abandoned.

Only Ipswich County Library, Bury St Edmonds and probably Lowestoft remain in a core group to be divested. This appears to mean that Chantry (Ipswich), Gainsborough (Ipswich), Beccles, Felixstowe, Hadleigh, Halesworth, Haverhill, Mildenhall, Newmarket, Stowmarket, Sudbury and Woodbridge, join the other 29 seeking community arrangements.

No libraries will be closed without a further consultation. The process of divesting all libraries is expected to take two or three years.

Those who believe libraries should continue to be run as a Suffolk County Council service should write this when filling in the consultation response form.

The consultation began on the 18th of January, and finishes on the 30th of April.  You can find the consultation on the home page of Suffolk County Council under the Consultation heading.   http://www.suffolk.gov.uk

Loss and adverse change to Woodbridge bus services

In addition to the budget cuts as specified above, the County Council has made significant reductions in the levels of subsidy provided to passenger transport, a total of £2.2m, which enable commercial services to operate in non-peak time slots.  This means that some services will cease completely, whereas others will stop operating in the evenings, and on weekends. As I alerted you last meeting, the 61a and b have closed already as ‘non-profit-making’. This was despite representations from me, and reminders to the EME Directorate and portfolio holder that all three tiers of local government in Woodbridge had  told SCC and the operators last year WHY it was non-profit making and suggested a change or route that would make it more so.

The County Council has now released information of all those buses that will now cease or change hours.

The underlying principle of most of the timetable changes has been to remove evening and Sunday services. This of course is not much of an issue  for those who are mobile by other means. It is a tragedy for others. Particularly as the SCC line that these services’will be replaced by demand responsive transport’ does NOT apply as the DRT team confirm they have no interest or intention  in extending the service beyond 7-7 Monday to Saturday. Basically this is a huge loss to people who may have few choices.

I have placed a full list of the cuts and changes elsewhere on this blog (click here for details)

Full information can be found on  http://www.suffolkonboard.com/news/changes_to_public_transport_services_april_2011

Petitioning SCC against cuts

A change in national legislation means that the SCC now has to provide online petitioning for its residents.  This means members of the public are – at last – able to create, and sign electronic  petitions to disapprove a Council decision or bring an issue to their attention.

There are currently a lot of petitions online – all of which relate to recent decisions made by the county.  Once a petition reaches 3,675 signatures, the issue then has to be debated in Full Council. The eXplore card petition  is  proving particularly popular – having got over halfway already. It is an issue particularly close to my heart as losing this card will make a huge difference

a)       to the education and employment prospects of a whole generation of Suffolk’s young people.

b)       to the provision of scheduled bus services

I have recently told that Suffolk County Council is prepared to accept  all the library petitions together as one petition.  This means they have already reached the 3,675 and so hopefully it means this will be brought back to council shortly.

Just to remind you, the epetition site is: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/News/EPetitions.htm

Ipswich Road: Clarkson Crossing and the Solar-powered 30mph Speed sign

A bit of good news to end with: two of my Quality of Life budget safety projects are now successfully finished:

On Tuesday morning a specially designed commemorative plaque will be unveiled  by Farlingaye students at the new Clarkson Crossing in Ipswich Road (named after Thomas Clarkson, Suffolk’s famous anti-slavery campaigner, and not after Jeremy!). This commemorates the work Farlingaye HS students put into this with Suffolk County Council.

I am delighted to say that the Solar-powered 30mph speed sign I proposed, negotiated and paid for out of my Quality of Life budget is now installed at the bottom of the Ipswich Road hill, just before  the John Grose garage, Sandy Lane and the blind bend.  I hope you have  NOT noticed it, because that means you would have been driving at less than 30mph.