Support group launches to help people deal with difficult situations

Volunteers and staff from the By Your Side project pictured looking at an application form.

A project aimed at helping people change their lives one step at a time by boosting their confidence has been launched in Richmondshire.

The By Your Side service, run by Hambleton Community Action and backed by the Community Mental Health Transformation Programme, aims to help people overcome barriers.

“This is literally about being by the side of people who need that little bit of help to make sure they get the best out of a situation,” said project officer Paula Haigh.

“The aim is to support people when they are dealing with situations such as medical appointments, benefits issues or housing problems, so they don’t get fazed by professionals.

“The more confidence people get from our support, the more they want to deal with other issues in their lives. They get braver and want to face things – which is fantastic.”

Internal, external and self-referrals can be made to By Your Side. The group is run by a small number of volunteers who have already helped more than 40 people in just the past few months.

Success stories so far include sorting out benefit issues for several residents, supporting one through a complicated medical assessment and enabling another to get through the debt recovery process.

“The service is here for when people who are facing a particular challenge and need us most. We don’t want to just do stuff for people – we want to foster their independence,” said Paula.

“Our volunteers are not support workers – we are here to empower and enable people. We want to make sure that the right questions are asked and answered, and that the right actions are taken.”

Retail worker Michelle Couchman, from Catterick, is among those to have sought help from By Your Side since its launch. She credits the service for helping to improve the lives of her whole family.

“A volunteer visits my mother each Saturday, when I’m at work, which has made a huge difference to her life. My mother has dementia, but really opens up with the volunteer,” said Michelle.

“The service has also supported me during a long-running claim for back benefits. It is providing some help for my son as well, who has autism, in his search for a job. It is an amazing service.

“There are a lot of people who are crying out for some assistance, and By Your Side offers that support. They can, and do, make a big difference to people’s lives with the help they provide.”

The By Your Side project was launched in the wake of HCA’s successful Let’s Get Connected project – which offers one-to-one and group social support.

Both projects take the same collaborative approach to offering help to stay healthy, connected and protected – with each dedicated to ensuring people get the advice and support they need.

The By Your Side volunteers also work closely with The Living Well Project – offering on-going help to those who have finished their 12 sessions, but who may still need further community support.

“What we do is very person-centred,” said Liz Lockey, chief officer of HCA. “If people want some support during official appointments, or to talk through an issue, we are here to help out.

“You never know what we will get through the doors. Some cases may be anxiety-led, like difficulties in speaking to utility companies or opening the post. Other times practical advice is needed.

“Some of the people who are referred to us have clearly slipped through the net for a very long time. The sense of just being completely overwhelmed is just debilitating for some – it really is.

“We are coming across people who, with all the will in the world, just can’t do everything for themselves. We want to work with them to change this. That is what we are here for.

“What makes us a little bit different is that we are not telling people what to do. Instead, we are making sure people have their own voice, to get them what they need from a situation.”

The success of By Your Side was today welcomed by David Kerr, the Community Mental Health Transformation and programme delivery lead at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

He said: “This project is an exciting example of the newly transforming mental health services across North Yorkshire and York.

“It aims to increase access to mental health services in the community, closer to where people live, using local links.

“By Your Side will form part of new mental health community services spanning voluntary, community, primary care and specialist mental health, based and provided in the communities where people live.”