Retail therapy

Age Concern Stockport’s Wellcheck project, winner of the older people’s category at the Community Care Awards, was set up as a response to changes in the eligibility criteria for social services support. It serves those older people whose vulnerability was exposed when the changes came into effect.

The idea for the Wellcheck service was conceived in 1999 by Margaret Brade, chief officer of Age Concern Stockport, and Shirley Williams, then assistant director of Stockport social services.

It launched in October 2001 with Clare Mullins as project manager. She worked alone for the first year but demand was such that the project now has two full-time and two part-time staff.

Mullins says: “The changes in the eligibility criteria of social services put emphasis more on personal care rather than practical help. We offer help to people who would previously have had help from social services. The project acts as a link and guide for people who need to use low-level services.” As one awards judge said: “This project asks what people need to feel better about themselves and says ‘OK, let’s put these services in place’.”

Mullins continues: “Wellcheck provides information about the services available and helps people to access them.”

She emphasises that choice is the most important thing. “When we get a referral we ask the person whether they would like a home visit or to have information sent to them. Most choose a home visit. We encourage people to identify their own needs and then put together some information about the services available. The client chooses how much support they want in accessing the services. Some people just want the phone numbers and are happy to call themselves, others ask to have someone with them while they make the calls and some want to have it all arranged for them.”

Wellcheck identified a lack of affordable and reliable shopping services for housebound people. It responded by setting up Easy Shop. “It’s a shopping service for people who have a disability or a health need, are over 55 and are unable to access internet shopping,” says Mullins.

In practice, Easy Shop acts as a gateway for older people to gain access to the home delivery services that supermarkets offer through their websites. Someone from Easy Shop phones the client on the agreed day and takes the order. Wellcheck processes the order through the website of the chosen supermarket, which delivers the shopping to the client.

Easy Shop is managed by Wellcheck but receives separate funding and employs three part-time staff to run the service.

Mullins says: “The feedback is that it’s more than a shopping service. Clients value the regular phone call because they say ‘it feels like someone cares’.” She points out that the feedback is supported by evidence from controlled trials which suggest that telephone outreach may help to contribute to reducing depression and isolation. In light of this Wellcheck plans to use the £5,000 prize money to develop a long-term outreach telephone call service.

“Winning the award was quite a shock,” says Mullins. “It’s fantastic to have Age Concern Stockport’s hard work recognised and it means so much to have it recognised as a best practice service.”

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