Village Agents - Hampshire County Council
The Village Agent project is developing a network of local volunteers who help older people living in rural areas find the information and support they need. The Village Agents themselves are local volunteers who offer approximately six hours of their time per week. They receive training and support from the County Council and from Age Concern Hampshire. Training is also provided by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, to enable the volunteers to provide a basic home fire safety survey to older people and advice on making their homes safer.
The service was initially piloted for 15 months from March 2011 to July 2012. It was then rolled out as a three-year initiative, beginning in July 2012, and funded by Hampshire County Council Adult Services department as part of their Prevention and Early Intervention work stream. The project is managed by Age Concern Hampshire, who employ a full-time coordinator.
Who is the service for?
The service is for older people living in rural or village areas of Hampshire. These areas are defined using the ONS Rural/Urban Definition (2004) and Experian Mosaic Public Sector.
The service aims to enable older people to maintain their independence and maximise their health, safety and wellbeing at home, to delay moving into a residential care setting and avoid hospital stays. It aims to create a community resource and promote community activities. The intention is for the Village Agent to become a link for isolated individuals and to signpost them to services and activities that could benefit them.
Why is the service being developed?
The service developed following a consultation carried out in 2010 to develop an older people's wellbeing strategy. This highlighted the need for timely and accurate information, provided face-to-face, to prevent concerns escalating into a crisis. The Village Agent programme is one of a series of initiatives that has been developed to meet this need. Access to information and services can be more difficult for older people in rural areas, because of problems with transport and feelings of isolation.
Were the people who use services and carers and other key stakeholders involved in setting up this service?
A wide range of existing networks and forums were used to discuss and present ideas about the proposed service, and to obtain feedback - in particular the Joint Older People's Wellbeing steering group and the Hampshire Association of Older People's Forums. The Village Agent steering group comprises a range of key stakeholders, including the county council, the Fire and Rescue Service, the Hampshire Association of Local Councils, the borough councils and Age Concern Hampshire.
Has the service met the intended outcomes?
The service is meeting its intended outcomes. This is evidenced through the information provided monthly by each village agent, identifying which services are being asked for and signposted to. These are recorded against the priorities identified by older people to see if the same trends are being picked up or if there are new and specific requirements in different parts of the county. Outcome stories of how Village Agents have assisted individuals and families are also collected on a monthly basis, and these are providing a wealth of information.
A wellbeing assessment tool has been developed with the New Economic Foundation to provided qualitative feedback on the project. This is showing the project having a positive impact on different areas of people's lives, including socialising, coping and emotional wellbeing.
Feedback from people who use the service has been consistently positive across the county.
Do you have information on costs or savings?
There has been a set budget for three years to run the project, but information is not yet available on savings. Costs include the full-time coordinator salary and volunteers' travel expenses.
What were the learning points in setting up this service?
- If the project is located within a county-wide voluntary organisation rather than within the county council, it is easier for the wider community to access.
- The volunteers' role must be clear
- Resources are necessary to support volunteers in their signposting role. This includes training them to access the county websites in order to provide information quickly and easily when they are in contact with an older person. Volunteers are also supported by Age Concern Hampshire's Information and Advice line, which can provide further support and relevant information to answer specific queries.
- Time must be spent briefing existing voluntary groups, to ensure they see agents as part of the local 'jigsaw' and as an opportunity for more referrals to their specific group or service
- It is important to establish Village Agents with the support and encouragement of the local parish councils.
Head of Older People's Well-Being Team, Hampshire County Council
Telephone: 01962 847279