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ChetChat looks to the future – and aims to abolish loneliness

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Early identification of need was the trigger for a swift community volunteer response to COVID-19 in the Chedgrave and Loddon area.

A fast start

Jeremy Rowe, South Norfolk councillor for the Loddon & Chedgrave area, masterminded the original community hub which was set up at the very beginning of lockdown. Scheme administrator Isobel Thomas describes ChetChat aptly as its ‘permanent offspring’! 

“Our aim is to tackle loneliness in the community by offering helpful friendship, initially to the over 60s, but hopefully to anyone who needs some support from a friendly person.”

Evolving into Chet Chat

When asked to describe the volunteer response to the original scheme Jeremy describes it as ‘rather like Field of Dreams – build it and they will come.’  And they did. Sixty volunteers stepped forward straightaway, and were swiftly deployed to shopping, prescription, and grocery delivery tasks.  Several of the volunteers are retired and so have a foot in each camp - qualifying for help but ready and willing to share their kindness with strangers. 

“During lockdown the original Hub was fielding up to 40 requests a day” says Isobel “mainly shopping and prescription errands, and it’s a matter of pride that our volunteers responded to every request via an Uber-style WhatsApp group.   ChetChat is run on similar lines and, although the group is young, word is spreading, especially after our recent launch outside the Loddon Co-Op when we handed out free ChetChat mugs and fridge magnets to advertise our services.” 

Boots’ Chemist in Loddon High Street benefited from a rota of volunteers helpfully shepherding people as appropriate to avoid blockages, queueing, and unnecessary proximity.

ChetChat uses no social media other than the WhatsApp group for the volunteers. “People needing help just make a phone call” explains Jeremy. “The motto is ‘keep it simple’ and the message is spread by leaflet drop and the contact details on those mugs.”

Jeremy emphasises the importance of good management and organisation. “CAN provided advice and support, processed Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for all the members and holds Chet Chat’s banking arrangements. It all supports the volunteers in fighting the war against loneliness.”

Fundraising

There has been some novel fund-raising activity too, at a time when fundraising has been difficult because of the pandemic.  Jeremy has cycled the local equivalent of John O’Groats to Land’s End, at a rate of 15 miles a day.

Rhia Bowles has kept the momentum going by running 1,000 miles and raising £340. “Running improves my mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, so it’s very appropriate that this might help others be in a healthier, happier place with the support of ChetChat.”

And another very generous donation of almost £360 came from Sarina Abdul-Rani who spent an arduous 24 hours raising money on ChetChat’s behalf. Aikido instructors and participants from all over the world entered the Around the World in 24 Hours Aikido Challenge, donation-based and online, which went to a charity of the participant’s choice.  Sarina was 1 of just 4 people internationally who completed the seminar from start to finish!

Looking to the future

Jeremy expressed his thanks to the volunteers, many of whom are staying on, as and when they can, to help make ChetChat a permanent feature in the group of communities. Their original, successful aspiration to assist and support the vulnerable residents affected by the pandemic in the communities of Chedgrave, Hales & Heckinhgam, Langley with Hardley, Loddon, Norton Subcourse, Raveningham, Sisland and Stockton has been successful. Looking to the future, ChetChat aims to address loneliness on a long-term basis.

As Jeremy puts it “We’re looking to abolish loneliness.”

“We’re ready for the second wave of the pandemic. And our message is that no-one needs to be lonely unless they want to be alone.”

And the ‘Chet’ bit of ChetChat?  It’s the picturesque river which flows through Loddon Staithe.

If you know of anyone who could benefit from help from Chet Chat the contact details are simple – just call 07876 050110.

You can find out more about how CAN’s Good Neighbour Schemes work here.  This is part of a series of examples of the huge contribution made by local VCSE organisations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To understand more about the pivotal role played by Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise organisations in Norfolk’s Covid-19 response effort please read our Norfolk VCSE Covid-19 Story page.and read Norfolk’s VCSE Covid story here.