Supporting older residents during severe weather

Storrington and Sullington Parish Council, at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex, has created a voluntary support scheme for its older and more vulnerable residents. This will provide them with assistance during periods of severe winter weather or in other emergency situations.

The challenge
In 2009 West Sussex County Council and Horsham District Council were looking at their own emergency planning arrangements and they encouraged local (parish and town) councils to get involved. In particular, local councils were asked to come up with their own Winter Management Plans.
Heavy snowfall in the area during the Winter of 2009/10 prompted Storrington and Sullington Parish Council to consider how best to help older and more vulnerable residents, particularly those living in isolated rural locations, who might find it difficult to access essential services.
The challenge for the Parish Council was to find a flexible and cost effective response to the problem that would reach those most in need.

The response
The Parish Council was concerned that the snow, which lay for some days, was causing considerable difficulties to local residents. Initially they compiled a list of able bodied volunteers who could group together in times of adverse weather to clear snow from selected areas, thus enabling people to move about more freely. Requests seeking volunteers were placed in the Parish Newsletter.
Recognising the particular difficulties faced by the elderly, especially those living in more isloated locations, the Parish Council then decided to see if it could get local people to provide help to each other. A letter was sent to each household within the parish asking whether they would either welcome an offer of assistance in poor weather or could offer to help someone else. It was delivered by hand at the same time as the Parish Newsletter, so the cost was minimal.
The Parish Council received a really good response to this letter. It heard back from forty-nine volunteers and from sixty-four people who considered themselves vulnerable.
Staff at the Parish Council office carefully matched up volunteers with vulnerable people who lived close by to them and, after receiving the necessary agreement from each party, they shared their contact information. In cases of severe weather, infrastructure emergency or some other disaster, the volunteers have agreed to contact their matched vulnerable person to make sure they are alright and to arrange any assistance that is required.

Benefits and outcomes
The scheme was a Parish Council initiative and both parties who exchanged details did so voluntarily. This has avoided any awkward issues or embarrassment about whether an offer of help might be regarded as an unwanted intrusion by the elderly person or, conversely, that any request for help would be “being a nuisance”.
The Parish Council has received excellent feedback about its development of this initiative, though as there has been no severe weather recently they have no examples yet of it being put into use. However, the reassurance of knowing that there is someone who will make contact, should the need arise, is itself of considerable value to the elderly and vulnerable.

Storrington and Sullington Parish Council’s Chairman, Anna Worthington-Leese, said:

“The scheme is a very simple concept based on matching those in need with those prepared to help. Quite apart from the obvious practical function, we feel that it gives those who are elderly, vulnerable or isolated the feeling that they have someone they can call on if they need help who will not consider it a nuisance. We feel that it helps to promote a ‘community’ feeling and consider it an important part of the Parish Council’s role to try and promote that feeling of involvement.”

Resources used
This simple and practical scheme was achieved at minimal cost. The Parish Council estimates that the cost of sending the initial letters was under £200 and the follow up administration was £100. The expected cost of updating the list of volunteers and assisted vulnerable people should be less than £100 per annum.
It has, of course, also required some effort from staff and Councillors at the Parish Council. However, even for a local council with modest resources the scale of costs involved should not be a significant barrier to establishing such a scheme.

This is a scheme which appears capable of being replicated almost anywhere. Moreover, if operated and owned at a community (e.g. parish) level, such a scheme should be relatively easy to set up. Its benefits would seem particularly great in rural areas, where the difficulties faced by individual elderly or vulnerable residents may easily go unnoticed.
The opt-in nature of the scheme in Storrington and Sullington has been another positive feature. Those requesting assistance do so on their own terms and can feel comfortable doing so.
Appreciating the unpredictability of demand, the Parish Council intends to make contact with all parties during the Summer months of this year (2012) to make sure that all contact details are still up to date.