Community Agents Essex recognition

The County’s Community Agents scheme has been nominated for a national accolade after empowering more than 8,000 frail and vulnerable older people to continue enjoying independent lives and combat loneliness.

The Essex County Council funded project, run in partnership with the Rural Community Council of Essex, British Red Cross, Age UK Essex and Neighbourhood Watch, has helped 8,084 people since its launch in July 2014.

The county’s 32 Community Agents have helped solve problems from mobility issues, home and personal safety, welfare benefits and managing bills, to practical skills like computer training, and signposting older people to social groups, so they can build new friendships and support networks in their communities.

More than 95% of clients have remained living independently in the comfort of their own homes as a result of the help they received, lifting the burden on GPs, hospitals and the social care system, whilst saving £830,000 in the past year alone.

Now the scheme has been nominated for Most Innovative Service Delivery Model in the annual Local Government Chronicle (LGC) awards.

More than 95% of residents supported by the scheme feel safer and secure thanks to the help they received, while 91% say they now have improved social networks and friendships.

Brenda Gillett, 79, of Tiptree, struggled to keep up with her finances and paperwork after the unexpected death of her husband David, but Community Agents helped her avoid falling into debt and even negotiated better tariffs on her household bills.

“Mail was coming through the letterbox like a river but I just couldn’t cope with it all, so I shoved it all on the table before I couldn’t see the table anymore. I felt like I could just scream,” said the mother-of-one and former carer.

“David used to take care of all the bills so I just didn’t have any idea what to do, until a Community Agent came over and started to sort through it for me. Without them, who knows what I would have done – the mail would probably still be there.”

Community Agent Terri Sparks sifted through the mountain of letters and fielded calls to banks, insurers and energy providers, to name only a few, and constantly reassuring Brenda with her motto “We’ll sort it.”

As well has helping to restore Brenda’s confidence so she could begin to make new friends, she even directed her to a voluntary organisation where she has registered as a volunteer to give something back to the community for the help she received when she needed it most.

“I was very lonely after David’s death,” said Brenda. “The evenings especially were the worst time. I would try and go to bed early but then I couldn’t sleep anyway.

“Terri put me in touch with a lady round the corner whose husband needed a scooter. The next thing I knew she wanted to meet up again and now we’re good friends and meet up for coffee, so that’s really helped and wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Terri.”

Next on Terri’s list is to help Brenda settle a funeral directors bill so she can retrieve her husband’s ashes.

Terri, 41 said: “Brenda found all the paperwork around her husband’s death confusing. She also needed help with energy bills and things like renewing her driving licence, so she could get out and about again.

“I helped her buy some screening for her garden so she felt more secure and more importantly helped find a buyer for her husband’s mobility scooter -  a woman who she now meets regularly for coffee and they have become good friends. We’ve had many long chats and a giggle or two, and Brenda seems so much happier.”

LGC award nominees will now present their schemes to a panel of judges in January, before the winners are announced at a ceremony at Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s Park Lane in March.

Cllr Anne Brown, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Corporate and Communities, said: “I am delighted that the Community Agents service has been recognised as the forward-thinking service it is.

“Thousands of our residents use this scheme regularly to make their daily lives that bit more comfortable, and because they are able to stay at home, it also helps to relieve pressure on our social care services.

“I want to congratulate all of our agents on the fantastic work they do, and wish them luck ahead of the winner being confirmed.”


Date posted: 05 December 2016