Caversham Good Neighbours – A Brief History

Caversham Good Neighbours (CGN) started life in 1965. The initial motivation came on the one hand from a local G.P., Dr Beale, and on the other hand from a local priest, Rev. Derek Eastman .

Dr Beale had become aware that some of his patients found difficulty in attending his surgery, collecting prescriptions and getting to hospital. Rev Eastman had experienced in his previous parish an innovative scheme to help housebound people – a scheme which enabled them to put the Christian symbol of the Fish in their window if they were in need of help from a team of committed and trained local volunteers.

These ideas were among several that were being discussed between the Caversham churches at this time as part of a drive, led by the Rector, Canon John Grimwade, to develop services in and for the local community. A May Day conference at the parish church, addressed by Lord Carrington, provided the momentum, which, through meetings and discussions, led to the creation of the Caversham Bridge - a monthly newspaper for all the churches in Caversham, the Link Group - providing services for isolated elderly people, an annual parish holiday and Caversham Good Neighbours.

The proposals for Caversham Good Neighbours were adopted in 1965 by the Caversham Parochial Church Council, of whom Dr Beale was Vice Chairman at that time. They were for an independent voluntary organisation to provide transport for older or disabled people in Caversham to enable them to attend surgeries, clinics or hospitals, and to assist with the collection of prescriptions.

It was always intended that the scheme should be broadly based and to that end, one of the Lay Readers at St Andrews, Bill Vincent, was charged by the Rector with the task of seeking the co-operation of all the churches in Caversham. Among many others who assisted in these negotiations was Mrs Besley, an influential figure in the Girl Guides. As a result of these talks, named volunteers were found in each of the churches who co-ordinated volunteers and linked them to those in need. Bill Vincent became the first Chairman of Caversham Good Neighbours. Over time, those specific links to the local churches were lost but, while it is still a broadly based secular organisation, there remain links to some of the local churches and the service continues to be based in Church House in the centre of Caversham.

In the early days, attempts were made to broaden the range of services offered. A scheme to provide young visitors from a local school to older people in their own homes, was received with a little scepticism. A scheme to provide help with gardening for those who could no longer manage their gardens, was well received but was not able to be sustained. For a while a baby-sitting service for young parents was attempted but not sustained. The prescription collecting service was similarly not sustained.

In more recent years, CGN has been providing a befriending service to housebound or lonely people in their own homes, albeit in limited numbers. Volunteers have also been helping existing users of the service in related ways, such as taking people shopping or to the hairdresser or to attend social clubs.  CGN is currently working to extend these services through publicity and volunteer recruitment.

The core service of transport to hospitals and surgeries has remained at the centre of the organisation, constituting a substantial majority of its business. The service has always been funded solely from donations given by those who use the service.

(These notes were prepared with the help of Bill Vincent and Jean Sawyer and with reference to the minutes of the Caversham Parochial Church Council. RH 10.11.2012)

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