Helping Hands in Thorpe

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Volunteers have been flocking to help vulnerable residents in the in Thorpe Hamlet and Thorpe St Andrew areas of Norwich. 

Thorpe Helping Hands started in the time-honoured manner of a small groups of concerned individuals seeing an urgent need, pooling their ideas, skills and experience, and getting on with the job. They describe themselves as a grassroots, volunteer-led, community action group and they have proved to be a lifeline for many vulnerable residents in the NR1 and NR7 postcodes. 

With CAN’s long-standing experience in setting up Good Neighbour Schemes across the county we have been able to help with advice and support on volunteer training, safeguarding and legal issues.  

Thorpe Helping Hands now has around 70 volunteers, and the queue keeps growing. They offer a range of support, from delivering groceries to households, collecting prescriptions to offering a friendly chat and someone to talk to and offer reassurance in these troubled times. 

Helping Hands’ basic principle is that no matter what your circumstance or financial position, nobody should be alone through this. 

Good organisation was crucial from the start. A management team, drawn from people with appropriate skills and experience – and a great deal of enthusiasm – organised a leaflet drop to 8,000 residences in the area, planned logistically to make effective use of volunteers’ time. Local press and radio have been supportive, and church newsletters have proved exceptionally effective in spreading the word. The point is that Helping Hands wants people in need to know firstly that there are people nearby who care about their welfare and secondly, they know how and where to ask for help. 

The group runs a ‘check and chat’ rota, whereby several volunteers make that invaluable phone call to residents who might otherwise not see or speak to a human being from week to week.  

Helping Hands’ members know no age barrier; nor do the people they help. It’s truly intergenerational. There are teenagers writing letters to older folk in local care homes, the letters written in such a way that whilst they offer encouragement at a personal level, they can be circulated amongst several residents to maximise the support and enjoyment drawn from them.  

Whilst grocery deliveries and prescription collections are important tasks, it quickly became apparent that food parcels are critically important to several families in the district. On one single day this month, Thorpe Helping Hands delivered 67 urgently needed food parcels. The group has linked with the Lionwood group of schools – nursery, Infant and Junior – and there are plans afoot to provide activities during the school holidays to give some respite to parents who have had to take time off work since March to care for their children. This support will also extend to the provision of meals. 

Inga Kenny is one of the managing co-ordinators of Thorpe Helping Hands. She has a professional background in the local government and health care sectors, and knows well the problems faced by individuals and families of all ages, an issue which is ever-present even in so-called normal times. She is passionate about the importance of mutual support in communities and firmly believes that no-one needs to be an island.

She said “Being part of setting up Thorpe Helping Hands has been marvellous at renewing the sense of community spirit and our hope is to cement and build on that in the future, with more of this and other kinds of joined up support.“

Mark Barrett helped set up the group with Inga and others in the organising team after hearing the call out for mutual aid community groups to be set up across the country. Mark has a background in community organising, law, teaching and educational travel. 

He said: “For me, the great thing about this work is that it has brought forward such a diverse and talented group of people, with a shared recognition that we all have needs which can only be met by the existence of a genuinely supportive community, and a kindness that is all too often lacking in modern life. These needs are not new, they have just been made more acute and visible by the crisis. The challenge now, as lockdown eases must be to consolidate, sustain and even develop further what has been achieved.”  

Whilst the volunteers freely give of their time and skills free, there has of course to be a reliance on donations. The material resources don’t come from nowhere! Local businesses have been extremely supportive in giving fresh produce and donations.

The plan is to carry on after the pandemic has eased. Many volunteers will be of course be returning to work soon, but many have affirmed their intention to continue to be involved. Find out more about Thorpe Helping Hands here.

Read more about CAN’s Good Neighbour Response Schemes. If you have started, or are thinking of starting, a community support group, Community Action Norfolk can help with advice and support of Disclosure Barring Service (DBS) checks, safeguarding and legal issues, and volunteer organisation and management.  Call us on 01362 698216 or email [email protected]