Supported Volunteers programme helps residents pay it forward

A scheme launched to help people with mental health problems build their confidence and make a difference to the community they live in has got off to a flying start.

The Supported Volunteers Programme, based in Epping and co-ordinated by the Voluntary Action Epping Forest (VAEF), is helping working age adults, 16 to 67, who have lower level mental health needs find meaningful voluntary position.

The project is one of many launched as a result of the Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF), providing Government funding distributed by Essex County Council to local authorities and the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus and support local public health.

It is also part of the work of the One Health and Care Partnership which brings together the NHS, councils and the voluntary sector to improve health and care services across west Essex.

Twenty five people, living with mild depression, long-term acute anxiety or social isolated caused by the pandemic, are currently being helped by the programme explains project lead Marina Dunajeva.

Eleven have already begun volunteering while four are attending community projects to help increase their confidence and be ready to start volunteering.

Paul, who lives in Epping, and Richard, from Harlow, are among those already benefiting from the scheme.

Paul was signposted to the programme by VAEF Epping Forest Volunteer Centre. Marina said: “Paul worked as a project realisation manager for more than 30 years but because of long term mental health issues, has not been able to work.

“Paul spent most of the days at home watching television but after joining the programme with the hope of getting some support he is now supporting people with learning difficulties by volunteering with VAEF ACE Activities.”

Paul, who has recently been rated 10 out of 10 by one of the young people he is supporting, said: “The programme is definitely working and the support I get from Marina is amazing.

“She is always at the end of the phone, always ready to meet me and my wife, very patient and guiding me in the right direction.

“I would never have started this volunteering without the support the project has given me – I never thought I could do something like this,” added Paul.

He is now hoping to begin driving again which will allow him to get even more involved in community projects. Paul is now making small steps to get more physically active with the help of Find Your Active community connector.

Richard had to leave his job in social care at the end of last year due to the impact it was having on his mental health.

He began volunteering with Rainbow Services in Harlow, supporting elderly members of the community including at a recent afternoon tea event for more than 160 residents.

Richard, said: “Volunteering was a good stepping stone for me to get my confidence back and be successful in getting a full time paid job which I am about to begin.”

He plans to continue with his volunteering in his free time. For media enquiries email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.