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Epping’s Helping Hands

PUBLISHED: 13:27 08 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:28 08 May 2017

'Epping Water Tower', diamond geezer, Flickr CC 2.0

'Epping Water Tower', diamond geezer, Flickr CC 2.0

Archant

Being at the end of the London Underground’s Central Line, Epping has long been popular with those looking to travel out if commuting, or travel in if visiting the capital. But Epping is much more than just a travel hub and a keen group of locals are on hand to make sure Epping’s charms are kept in top condition

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Epping is a civil parish situated in the Epping Forest District of Essex. An attractive market town with good shopping, bars and restaurants – there is much for the local resident and visitor to appreciate. The district has many attractions including, of course, Epping Forest – great for woody walks and recreation – but Copped Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge and the Epping Ongar Railway are also well worth a visit.

The district’s residents are served well by local amenities. However, like all communities, Epping and its surrounding area has its fair share of vulnerable people who perhaps find it hard to take part in all the town has to offer, not to mention finding many aspects of their daily lives a struggle.

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The good news is that there is a great resource available to help them to not only keep in touch with their community, but also in coping as much as possible with life’s little, and sometimes big, challenges.

The Epping-based Voluntary Action Epping Forest (VAEF) group has been operating since 1993 and has steadily expanded over the years in response to local need.

Jacqui Foile is the organisation’s chief officer and explains more about how the group works to help members of the community in need.

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‘Although we provide our own core service, we are in essence an umbrella organisation offering support for various charities in the district,’ says Jacqui. ‘We have a volunteer centre that recruits local volunteers who are then placed with local charities to fulfil many different roles, such as environmental work, drivers, working with older people and even helping with the region’s animal charities as well.

‘VAEF also places people with learning disabilities who are keen to volunteer – often in groups – giving them the chance to do some good and feel included at the same time. We also organise music and singing groups, furniture upcycling and allotments for those with learning disabilities.’

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Jacqui and her team are on hand to help groups and charities with funding application forms along with keeping everyone involved in local volunteering up to date with regular newsletters and bulletins about events and new projects. They also hold Voluntary Sector Forums which regularly host guest speakers.

Jacqui continues: ‘We consider it our role to look for gaps in providing help for local needs and where funding can benefit those who really need help. In particular, we look for projects to support our older population.

For example, our Gardening Project involves many of our senior citizens who are keen to stay in their own homes and live life as independently as possible, but often maintaining their gardens is hard. Seeing their gardens become untidy is upsetting for them, so our gardening volunteers are a welcome help.

It is also considered a good way to lessen crime in communities as an unkempt garden can perhaps send out a signal that someone vulnerable lives on the premises and could be a target. I am happy to say the benefits work both ways with this project, as our volunteers say that they not only enjoy what they do, but they keep fit too and it is cheaper than joining the gym!

‘We also run a befriending project, funded by the Big Lottery, which supports older citizens often in the early stages of dementia. The project mini-bus collects people weekly from key points in the district and brings them together to enjoy a game of bingo and just generally interact with people. We also organise trips out which, for many of them, provides vital and much-needed interaction as many wouldn’t otherwise have regular contact with others.’

VAEF receives funding from sources such as Epping Forest District Council, Essex County Council and local Clinical Commissioning Groups but, like every volunteer supported organisation, is always looking for more financial support in order to help extend their good work.

‘We would love more local businesses to get involved in perhaps sponsoring a project. We can in turn help promote their business and they can be confident that their money is being used in the community to good effect. It doesn’t have to be a vast sum of money – even a small amount can go a long way.’

Jacqui believes that by providing help and support to vulnerable people, the VAEF is quite possibly helping to save costs in the long-run.

‘Our Home Safety Project, which offers a Falls Prevention Service, visits people in the home and fits grab rails, stair rails, tacks down carpets and even supplies new slippers. Although there is a cost to this, if we can prevent a fall which might result in someone needing a hip replacement or any injury requiring a hospital stay and rehabilitation, then we are helping to relieve the strain on an already stretched public purse.’

VAEF has a team of around 50 volunteers, but they are very keen to have more people to join the ranks – to help make a difference to someone’s life.

One volunteer is Sophie Smith. Sophie, who helps with the administration of the Gardening Project, says: ‘Helping with VAEF is hugely rewarding and being involved in something that is so important to the community is very satisfying. I love coming into the office for my weekly stint and this is my fourth year – everyone here is so nice and friendly.

We have different people in different departments all dealing with various projects and all trying to contribute positively to something that is massively important to our community. In my department, we organise three employed gardeners to go out with the volunteers to help mainly older residents with their gardens. We get such good feedback that I keep it on file.’

Jacqui concludes: ‘We are supporting people out there in the community, especially the vulnerable, hopefully making their lives a little nicer and helping avoid some of life’s crises where we can.’

Find out more

For more information on the VAEF service or to volunteer, please visit www.vaef.org.uk

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