Helping Hands in Rural Dorset

When her husband retired following the sale of their office furniture business at the end of 2019, Heather decided to follow a path making a difference within her community.  Living in rural Dorset, 12 miles from the nearest town with supermarket and garage, she reflected on how easy it is to become isolated once health no longer enables driving to be an option.

I enjoyed looking after my parents while they were alive, so I wrote a list of all the jobs and activities I used to do with them and for them.  Helping Hands in Rural Dorset was created based on this list.

Heather joined the Community Catalysts  development programme and after receiving a range of bespoke support launched her new community enterprise in November 2019. Right from the start Heather gained interest from people locally and when she started receiving additional enquiries from people just out of her own area, she recruited two members of staff she personally knew in those areas to work with her.  Although the COVID lockdown did see some customers cut back on social visits, the numbers of people wanting her support has been steadily increasing throughout the year. There are now four members of staff working with Heather. She recognises their wealth of knowledge and expertise and pays them accordingly.

We tailor our support to each person. People in rural areas find themselves isolated and alone for many reasons.  Without their own transport, people welcome an accompanied trip to appointments, shops, garden centres, tea rooms and local attractions.  Following a spell in hospital people have gained confidence again with accompanied walks, help to plan and cook meals, and having visits to friends and family members.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed with personal paperwork and bills, some people have had these aspects of life organised for them so that they now feel confident they can find what they need and feel in control.  Others have help with de-cluttering and also unpacking when moving into a new home.  Heather and her team have successfully supported a carer to have a break from their full time role- giving them the opportunity to recharge and gain some independent living.

Many people living in Dorset live in very small hamlets with a handful of houses, or in completely isolated locations.  Some who live alone in villages may seldom have visitors, they may have lost touch with their community for many reasons. The majority of Heather’s customers are found to be lonely when they are first visited, and now really look forward to seeing Heather and her team, with some people also receiving free phone calls between weekly visits to ensure they are not feeling isolated.

Crafting and photo album projects have shown to be an invaluable way of helping our customers to positively engage during our visit.  The team have a local knowledge of groups, activities, social events and other organisations which can help to enrich the lives of those feeling alone- really helping them to live a good life and make new connections.

Many other organisations offering care and support do not or cannot provide services in rural and remote areas due to travel and staff time costs.  Being based in the middle of a large rural area of 55 villages and hamlets, Helping Hands in Rural Dorset is able to offer support to people who may not usually receive it.  Social healthcare teams, social prescribers and charities have contacted Heather and have been relieved that her new service will cover these more remote areas – they have signposted people to this innovative enterprise for support.

With support from community enterprises like Heather’s the residents of Dorset are happier and healthier and are able to remain living for longer in their own homes.  Local people working and enriching the lives of other local people will make the communities within our countryside positive and more connected places.