Meet the Cheshire Snow Angels - volunteers helping residents throughout winter
- Credit: Archant
Volunteers across Cheshire are helping to reduce the number of preventable deaths among older people this winter, writes Paul Mackenzie
This winter thousands of older people across the country will die avoidable deaths and many more will suffer the effects of the cold weather, long dark evenings and increased isolation.
In Cheshire the rates of preventable deaths are worryingly high but a scheme is underway to help alleviate the loneliness and difficulties.
The Snow Angels project was launched three winters ago in Northwich and is now also helping older people in other parts of the county including Chester, Ellesmere Port and Ashton Hayes. This winter a pilot scheme has also been launched in Wilmslow and scheme director Cathy Boyd hopes that everyone who needs it will soon have access to the service.
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‘The number of excess winter deaths – that’s the number of deaths above the normal rate – is higher in Cheshire than most of the North West. And according to the NHS many of those deaths are preventable.
‘There are many reasons for Cheshire having higher rates than other areas, such as that people in rural areas can find it more difficult to get to medical appointments and a lot of people are ‘off-gas’ and fuel is more expensive for them.
‘We set up a pilot scheme in Northwich, working with a lot of partner organisations, and recruited volunteers to support older people.’
In the first year they attracted 40 volunteers who helped by picking up prescriptions, doing shopping and clearing snow, as well as simply keeping people company. ‘Older people can be very lonely in the long dark evenings,’ Cathy said. ‘They might not see neighbours as much during winter and family might live hundreds of miles away. Even something as simple as a weekly phone call means they know someone will be in touch.
‘I was staggered by the number of people who wanted to help, people of all ages and from all walks of life. It shows that people do want to help but don’t always know who to offer their help to do so. We were able to match volunteers with older people in their area who needed help.’
Some people have been referred to the scheme by GPs and community nurses, while friends or neighbours of others have passed on details and, as the scheme has grown, more people are contacting the Snow Angels to register themselves for assistance.
And Cathy added: ‘The vast majority of older people want to stay in their own homes and to retain their independence for as long as possible. They are people who manage very well most of the time but just need some extra help when it is cold.
‘This is not about receiving charity, it’s just about having a bit of help to live independently.’
There are now 120 trained volunteers across the county but as the scheme grows, Cathy and her business partner Chris Hill are looking to recruit more. ‘It’s a nice scheme,’ Cathy said. ‘It gives people the opportunity to help in different ways and to make new friends.
‘I think it says something incredibly positive about modern society that so many people have been so eager to sign up to offer their help to older people. Society has changed in the last 30 or 40 years and families are more dispersed than they used to be.
‘It’s not the case that people are not prepared to help, but it can be difficult if you don’t know people in your community – people can feel nervous about knocking on someone’s door and offering help. I think it is something for Cheshire to feel proud of that so many people are willing to help and support people they do not know.’
Cathy and Chris have plans for Snow Angels to cover all of Cheshire within a few years and versions of their scheme could be rolled out in other parts of the UK.