The Good Neighbour Service (GNSS) has been running since the 1970s. It has three elements:
· local volunteers who provide services directly to clients;
· local groups who co-ordinate and assist the volunteers in their work;
· the Good Neighbour Support Service, which provides services that help groups to provide a safe and quality service.
GNSS is sponsored by a consortium of three dioceses, Winchester, Guildford and Portsmouth led by the Diocese of Portsmouth. It provides information, guidance, development and support to about 125 Good Neighbours Groups in Hampshire (sometimes called Neighbourcare Groups or Care Groups). These are independent voluntary groups that offer neighbourly help to people in their local communities. They are not faith-based, but probably about 80% of the people involved are church members. Each group recruits volunteers from within the local community and establishes its own priorities and activities. Although the groups vary in their size and resourcing, all are keenly involved in meeting the needs of people in their local community. Some groups specialise in one activity while others offer a range of services; shopping, visiting, befriending, running lunch clubs, sitting services, collecting prescriptions, driving people to GP and hospital appointments, walking the dog, and minor repairs. An aspect that is growing at present is befriending.
· Support from a dedicated local Area Good Neighbours Groups’ Adviser;
· Information and Resources;
· Opportunities to meet other Good Neighbours Groups;
· Regular information and training days;
· Insurance offered free of charge, (covers public liability, employee liability, personal accident, loss of money);
· Free checks for volunteers, (where relevant), to protect clients;
· Free publications; Good Neighbours Groups Directory, Volunteer Handbook, publicity and recruitment leaflet;
· Free Resource Pack and Golden Rules checklist;
· Annual grants to small groups as well as start up and special grants;
· Presentations to raise awareness, campaigning and networking with other agencies;
· Help to develop new groups or services;
· A useful website with regular updates: www.goodneighbours.org.uk .
Figure 1 shows the main categories of GNSS activities.
As well as enabling groups to be more effective, GNSS tries to ensure that there are as few barriers to volunteering as possible. The nature of GNSS and the way that it works adds to its effectiveness:
· It is close to the groups and has long experience of group development and relevant issues.
· It has gained the trust not only of the groups but also of local service providers, which means that they have the confidence in the service to refer clients.
· It ‘filters’ a range of regulatory requirements in a way that is accessible for groups so that they can attain the necessary standards.
· Through its relationship with the dioceses and other stakeholders, it has access to church-based and other volunteers across all communities who are motivated to help others.
Figure 1: GNSS activities
GNSS has a contract from Hampshire County Council and Hampshire Primary Care Trust for running the Service, presently standing at £137,000 p.a. The current estimate is that the Groups carried out approximately 140,000 tasks in a year amounting to over £7 million of work. In part, this is the value of the volunteer effort, but it also captures other savings. An evaluation carried out in 2009 showed that alternative provision of this service would have cost a minimum of nearly £700,000 so that, taking into account the contract fee, it represented savings of c. £600,000. Well over half of the activity was transport to and from outpatient and GP appointments. It is estimated that the service saved £932,000 in the avoidance of missed outpatient appointments.
The evaluation noted that there is significant potential for enlarging the programme, but that any change in organisation should not jeopardise its core principles:
· The volunteering or ‘gift’ nature of provision is central: greater bureaucratisation would risk alienating volunteers and clients.
· Its very local nature needs to be protected and its coverage of a wide range of communities including small villages and peripheral estates.
· The appropriate facilitative role that GNSS plays in relation to this highly devolved service model.
Canon Nick Ralph,
Head of Mission and Society and Social Responsibility Adviser
Diocese of Portsmouth