Harborough charity wins £500,000 to help tackle loneliness

Joy...Maureen Weaver (volunteer), Pam Leeds (client), Maureen O'Malley (charity manager), Rohini Corfield (Community Champion co-ordinator) and Kathleen Pearce (client/penpal) celebrate �500,000 windfall to VASL.
Joy...Maureen Weaver (volunteer), Pam Leeds (client), Maureen O'Malley (charity manager), Rohini Corfield (Community Champion co-ordinator) and Kathleen Pearce (client/penpal) celebrate �500,000 windfall to VASL.

A Market Harborough based charity has been awarded a huge half a million pound Lottery grant for a pioneering project to combat loneliness across the Harborough district.

The enormous £499,198 grant from community activity funder The Big Lottery Fund has been awarded to town-based charity VASL for a five-year project called Community Champions.

The project will pair VASL workers with elderly people across the district, aiming to help them re-connect with their local communities, by going with them to events, and with the wider world via the internet.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have been awarded five years of Big Lottery funding for VASL’s Community Champions” said Rohini Corfield, Community Champions project lead.

“In these difficult times, getting long term funding is particularly hard. We’re delighted that VASL can concentrate on helping Harborough District’s isolated and lonely people over 60 build their local social networks over for the next five years.”

VASL funded the pilot project itself over the last 18 months, along with a grant from Harborough District Council.

Harborough has a higher propertion of people over 60 than anywhere else in Leicestershire, many of them living in rural communities with very limited facilities, far-flung families - and no bus service.

“Our team came across one person who used to sit on a bench in the centre of their community ever day - in the hope that someone would talk to them” said VASL’s Nickie Phlbin.

Combatting loneliness can also have a knock-on effect on the health of elderly people - and NHS costs.

“We spent a long time designing the project so that we can help not just organising volunteer visits into people’s homes but to enable people to reconnect with their neighbours, teach them how to be digitally connected and organise social events so they can mix with lots of other people.” said Rohini.

VASL charity manager Maureen O’Malley said: “Rural isolation in Harborough affects many people. We ran a befriending project for 20 years but today’s world means that a new project had to be designed that could tackle all the different ways that people are excluded.”

VASL Patron Maggie Philbin OBE, said the grant was “a ringing endorsement for VASL and I know how hard they have worked to make this happen. To have The Big Lottery Fund recognise VASL’s work in this way and to know that we are going to be able to continue this important work to help prevent isolation is just fantastic.”

“We’ve worked very hard to get this funding” said Nickie Philbin. “We have a tiny team of support staff, and funding for that is really hard to come by. Without funding for them, we can’t look for funding for other projects. But if the central team is funded properly, we can bring massive amounts to the district, as this grant shows.”

If you know of someone that you think would like to volunteer for the Community Champions project or who could benefit from its help, ring 01858 439262 or email champions@vasl.org.uk