As a child of the 1980s, I know only too well that everybody needs good neighbours, and that just a friendly wave each morning helps to make a better day.

However, whilst it’s certainly true that neighbours need to get to know each other, and that next door is only a footstep away, many of us say that we’re simply too busy with our own lives to get to know our neighbours and some of us couldn’t even name them.

If your neighbours live with family or friends or have visitors regularly popping in, it’s not so bad, but it’s a different story for those who might live alone and feel isolated, particularly for those who are elderly, disabled or bereaved.

Our neighbours may need a little help with simple things; putting up that picture-frame that’s been sat on the floor since Christmas, popping out for milk or getting to a doctor’s appointment, but asking others for help isn’t always as simple as perhaps it should be.

That’s where the Good Neighbours Scheme comes in.  The project is run by Community Action Suffolk and supported by the the National Lottery Community Fund (previously Big Lottery Fund).  There are 35 schemes in Suffolk, including an emerging scheme in my home town of Hadleigh, one of many parts of the county where rural isolation is a real issue for those who can’t drive or get out easily.

Simplicity is the beauty of the Good Neighbour Scheme model, which sees local volunteers provide their contact details to the volunteer who holds the phone so that they can be connected to other local people who call the phone to ask for help.

I had the pleasure of writing a report about the Good Neighbour Scheme at the end of last year, which focussed on the impact of the project during its first year of National Lottery Community Fund support.  Volunteers had been called upon to help their neighbours with a wide range of tasks including shopping, attending social events, collecting prescriptions, or visiting at home to help with DIY or have a cup of tea.

Furthermore, the Good Neighbour Scheme has been such a success that the project achieved 8 out of 9 targets in Year 1 alone, including increasing access to health and other essential services, increasing access to social opportunities and enabling people to live independently.  Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the evaluation:

“I enjoy helping to address loneliness and reintroducing neighbours to each other again.  Some lost touch because they could not get out or because they lost confidence after their partners died.

The GNS, by putting on social events and providing lifts, has changed this for probably 20 people in the village.  It is very rewarding. Volunteering in this way makes me feel part of the village.”

It’s a fantastic project and I’m already looking forward to evaluating the impact of it’s second year when I get out to meet with Good Neighbour Schemes later in 2019.  In the mean time, you can find a list of all Suffolk schemes on Community Action Suffolk’s website here and also follow the Good Neighbour Scheme on Facebook and Twitter.

Steve Allman is passionate about charities and communities and their potential to do good. He's a freelance consultant, trainer and facilitator, newly-elected Town Councillor and co-founder of an independent minor political party. He's also a Dad, hubby to a CF warrior and Suffolk-loving MAMIL.

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