We are celebrating our 30th anniversary this year by paying tribute to one of our surviving early members who is now a service user too.
Without Margaret Timewell (pictured) our charity wouldn’t have got going or been able to continue supporting the city’s vulnerable and isolated.
Manager, Annie Clewlow, who started working with the charity in 2008, says: “Margaret, who is 90, was not only there in the early days, and is one of our remaining surviving early members, but she has been an amazing ongoing source of inspiration and support to us ever since. It took lots of people in the early days to help lay the foundations to allow us to achieve the milestone we’re celebrating this year.
“Margaret and her husband Trevor, also 90, are assisted by two of our Communicare volunteers, or Communiteers, who used to visit them before the lockdown. They now call Margaret and Trevor a couple of times a week and they also pop letters through their door for them.
“We’re indebted to Margaret and the other early members who really got Communicare going. We’re now looking at ways to officially celebrate our anniversary and hope to be able to host some events where we can all get together later in the year, when it is safe to do so.”
Margaret says: “We set up Communicare all those years ago because there was a real need – so many people needed help. We wanted to offer neighbourly assistance, but it took a long while for us to establish, as people were suspicious at first, because, originally, we were all from Shirley Baptist Church.”
The original feasibility study group to see if a neighbourhood helpline scheme could work included Margaret’s daughter, Jo Timewell, who was a social worker, Reverend Michael Banfield, Assistant Minister, Reverend Craig Millward, Muriel Ennals, a retired social worker and Betty Knox OBE, a retired midwife.
“The original Communicare committee included our Director, Rev Millward, our Coordinator, Janet Sharman, myself, David and Ruth King and Betty Knox. When Rev Millward moved north, I took on the role of Director.
“I managed a small committee of around 60 to 70 helpers, and we would assist people with decorating, gardening, shopping, and so on. Through this help we provided valuable socialisation opportunities for them too.
“We had a hard job getting literature into local GP surgeries, as all the helpers were from the church and people were suspicious. People thought we were out to convert them, but that wasn’t the idea at all. We just wanted to offer neighbourly help.
“We didn’t take any money to start with, we just wanted to be neighbourly because there was a need, but after three or four years, we had a £1,000 financial award from British Gas. It was a huge amount to us then and we knew we could do a lot of good with it. We used the money for our first wheelchair and cushions for the passenger seats of cars, and also for stationery. We also had to go to find more volunteers to join us. But eventually things started to grow.
“I’m very proud of the organisation Communicare has become. It’s grown a lot and is now citywide. That’s just how we visualised it would be. So, all the hard work all those years ago has paid off, and I’m delighted.
“Of course, things have changed a lot since we started out in the early Nineties. It’s computer-friendly now, no computers back then, so we used to have lots of paperwork stored at the church office and everything was done by long hand! Initially, it was just one person taking phone calls to ensure that the requests were fulfilled, and it was hard work.
“I’ve watched it from the beginning. It’s been a huge achievement for everyone involved. Only by sticking with it, even when we got the cold shoulder and felt like giving up, have we managed to get this far and it’s wonderful the joy Communicare spreads across the city today. It’s tremendous!”
Communicare’s Good Neighbours’ Network currently supports more than 600 individuals/families through tasks including a regular newsletter, one-to-one telephone befriending, transport for essential appointments and assistance with shopping.
Normally its services are linked to hosting face-to-face social events, such as regular lunches and tea parties for service users, but understandably, we’re unable to organise these currently due to ongoing Government restrictions on gatherings. Currently more of the organisation’s work is done via the telephone, post and online.
Margaret continues: “During the lockdown I’ve been calling people from Shirley Baptist Church who might welcome a chat too as I am worried about people being stuck at home alone. When this is all over, I am looking forward to going to Christchurch to the Cliff Hanger pub, where you can look across and see the whole of the Isle of Wight and The Needles. I would love to then go for a walk along the beach and take in the sea air. Simple things make all the difference.”
The services Communicare provides are free to users, although beneficiaries are invited to make a donation if they are able to, and Communiteers are offered expenses.
Annie adds: “They act as good neighbours, generously making regular befriending telephone calls, safely driving people to urgent medical appointments and doing shopping for those unable to leave home at the moment, as well as providing other practical and emotional support.
“While we don’t require volunteers for face-to-face social events at the moment, we still have lots of people who need a check-in call. It is a lifeline and really brightens their days.”