Dulwich Helpline and Southwark Churches Care: twenty years serving older people in the local community

2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of Dulwich Helpline and Southwark Churches Care (DH&SCC) as separate charities to serve older people in neighbouring parts of Southwark. This is an anniversary that we will celebrate proudly as a single organisation following our amalgamation in 2012.

The core activity remains recruiting, training and supporting volunteers to befriend isolated and vulnerable older people living in the community so that their quality of life and ability to live sustainably in and as part of the community is enhanced. Our work is underpinned by key values of respect and care for the dignity of older people and mutual support within the community.
The organisations' founders, some of whom are still actively involved, started in 1993 from the view point that the then newly implemented Community Care Act would ensure that people could have services to meet their care needs at home, but that these services could never hope to combat the loneliness and social isolation which older people experience when they are no longer able to go out or organise a social life for themselves.

Their vision for a service which was entirely voluntary has developed over the years so that there are now two full-time and five part-time staff who co-ordinate our services to over 500 older people living mainly in the middle and south of Southwark. However the face to face work is undertaken by volunteers – nearly 400 in the last year - and they are involved in all areas of the charities’ life as one to one befrienders, small group leaders, drivers, cake bakers, gardeners, and helpers in the office or at fundraising events. The time they give varies from a regular weekly commitment to occasional help at events. This activity is satisfying and enjoyable and creates a sense of community amongst all those involved.
DH&SCC counters loneliness and isolation by offering befriending, a variety of social groups and also small amounts of help in the house and garden. We also help people to access the social groups by offering them lifts with volunteer drivers. All this enables older people to enjoy social activities and make new friends. We have also very successfully involved senior school students from local schools in discussion and activity groups with older people which have proved a great source of mutual education and enjoyment.

The services DH&SCC offer are vital at a time when statutory services are increasingly constrained by lack of funding. There is a growing body of evidence that having an active social life well into the extremes of old age is very beneficial in terms of mood and the promotion of feelings of wellbeing. It seems to balance the inevitable losses and make life more enjoyable.

Southwark Council and the local NHS recognise the value of preventative services such as ours and we continue to receive grant support from them. Importantly we know this funding is secure for the next financial year and we are extremely grateful for this support. However, it only meets around 40% of our funding requirements. This funding is supplemented by the very generous support of local organisations, businesses and individuals both at our fundraising events and through regular donations.
In addition DH&SCC have just been awarded funding over three years from The City of London Corporation’s charity, City Bridge Trust, to establish a project supporting people with dementia and their carers. We are very pleased to be able to start this new work and it feels entirely appropriate that as the charity comes of age we will be looking forward to supporting older people in new and creative ways.

For more information about our services, volunteering or to donate please visit our website www.dulwich-helpline.org.uk or telephone 020 8299 2623.