Adapting and modifying VCSE services during COVID-19

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Many of you reading this will know that at CAN we’ve been surveying the Norfolk VCSE sector to compile a measured and accurate picture of how voluntary organisations and groups across the county have been adapting and modifying approaches to working with their service users during the COVID-19 crisis. The responses have been channelled into helpful data which will ultimately help present the voice of the voluntary sector to commissioning authorities and to government itself.

Gemma Smith, Co-ordinator at West Norfolk Stroke Association, completed the survey and we asked her to offer some additional perspectives on how their specialist services have had to adapt and change. Based at the King’s Centre in Wellesley Street, King’s Lynn, Gemma has for more than ten years been managing West Norfolk Stroke Association’s volunteers who run the support groups as far afield as Downham Market, Hunstanton, Swaffham and of course King’s Lynn itself.

Commissioned by the CCG, West Norfolk Stroke Association is part of the national network of Stroke Associations that helps stroke survivors achieve independence, along with ongoing support for them and their carers and families in the west of the county; they also help those who have experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA) - often referred to as mini-strokes.

The service offers:

  • factsheets, leaflets and information about Life after Stroke Grants and other benefits
  • assistance with accessing local leisure and social activities
  • opportunities to meet others affected by stroke
  • signposting to other organisations that could help.


The emphasis is on long term support, on the basis that a stroke will generally, to one extent or another, affect the rest of a person’s life. The activity groups incorporate a range of therapeutic and stimulating series such ad hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and creative activities including arts, crafts and photography.  These are of course on hold for the present; to protect vulnerable individuals, the staff and volunteers, all home visits and group activities have been suspended for the present, but other support media have come to the fore.

Gemma explained: “A major issue for stroke sufferers can of course be impaired speech. This is where our face-to-face contact is so important and why the COVID-19 contact constraints make direct contact with our clients difficult. So we are providing support to clients via remote means – telephone support being one. But that’s why we’ve now established Zoom support groups of around an hour-and-a-half duration, to enables both sound and vision; and it allows people to type into chat if they are less able to contribute verbally.”

“It’s expanded the possibilities – one gentleman and his wife have now learned how to video their grandchildren and have started using WhatsApp.”

“We are however concerned about a noticeable drop in suspected or potential stroke sufferers attending A&E and the impact of this may emerge over time.”

With 65 clients needing support at any one time, West Norfolk Stroke Association is busy continuing to support stroke survivors and carers through the many challenges faced following a stroke. They are still most definitely there for those in need and support.

You can find out more about the work of West Norfolk Stroke Association here.

If you are unable to find a suitable service in your own area, you can contact the Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100 for advice and help. You can also search for support and services here.    

You can find CAN’s advice on contingency planning here.