In 1977 the then St Albans Council of Churches, now Churches Together, wanted to set up a local community initiative. Various ideas were considered but by 1979 they had settled on a good neighbour scheme telephone helpline.
The Council of Churches’ idea coincided with a government initiative and a national campaign to get people across the country involved in forming good neighbour schemes in their local areas. Although no funding was being offered, the initiative was being promoted with a publicity pack and help from the Volunteer Centre UK.
With the coming together of these two strands and a great deal of initial work, the Scheme was duly launched with an inaugural meeting held on October 16th, 1980. Starting with 80 volunteers, that number had increased to 150 by the end of the first year.
In those early years the Scheme operated 24 hours a day which required an enormous commitment from the volunteers. The Scheme doesn’t, however, try to provide an emergency service and today, although still running 7 days a week, 365 days a year, the phone line is in operation from 9am to 1pm only – although the help volunteers provide may well be much earlier in the morning and continue well into the evening.
The Scheme still runs today with just under 200 volunteers but certainly the client base and the number of calls handled (2,000 per annum at the last count) has increased very considerably over the years.
Generous donations and low running costs have enabled the Scheme to remain financially secure but throughout its history the St Albans Good Neighbour Scheme has had to work hard to find new volunteers to maintain the level of service offered. Our volunteers are well appreciated by those whom we help and the flexibility of the Scheme has meant that we have retained many of our volunteers for long periods.
The continuing challenge for the Scheme will be to remain responsive to the needs of clients and as imaginative as possible in the recruitment of volunteers.