Recently I’ve had the privilege of meeting several clients of good neighbour schemes. I thought I’d share a couple of insights.
I met I man, I’ll call him Danny, who had experienced mental health difficulties for many years following crushing in a crowd incident, which left him so damaged and with so many broken bones that he was assumed dead. He now can’t face people very easily, yet spoke to me with a lively, if battered, intelligence. Vulnerable to encounters on a difficult estate – he’d had an intruder a few nights previously - he lives with his dog in dismal poverty. He could do his shopping on the internet but makes himself go out to get it, between three and four in the morning.
So how does he use the internet? His next door neighbour lets him use his wifi password. Isn’t that brilliant? I’d love to know about the conversation that led to this. Talking about poverty, Danny said it’s a blessing he has no relatives, Christmas would be such a trial if he had to buy things for people.
Danny told me he’d like to go and live at the sea-side. “Even if I lock myself away I could still open the window and see people.” When was the last time you saw the sea? “I’ve never seen the sea.”
“Without the helpers from the scheme, I don’t see anyone, except once a fortnight I see my mental health worker.”
The organiser told me he had said to her – obviously reluctant to make demands of the scheme,
“I need someone to come round once a fortnight, in case I die.”
This relates to the ‘request scruple’ – the reluctance to ask for help – which I have mentioned before with reference to the research of Lilian Linders. This arises also in the second instance. One woman who uses the scheme, I’ll call her Annie, talked about her hesitation:
“Why should they have the time for me? … I grew up the old-fashioned way, ‘thou shalt not ask’. It’s not pride. It’s just not proper. You don’t beg… I’m not feeling sorry for myself, I’m just frustrated because I can’t do the things I used to do.”
Following a serious fall, Annie needed help of various kinds, and first had to overcome the misunderstanding that the scheme was just about providing transport. She takes care not to risk over-demanding: “I work out what’s important, don’t pile it up.” She spoke with delight about how a simple bathroom shelf had made so many things easier for her.
Annie says she has learned that
“If you have a problem, talk to them about it. If they can’t help then they will tell you what you can do.”
This points to the importance of information-sharing and advice that arises in the way the schemes work. The scheme organiser told me it is not uncommon for people to assume they could make only one request of the scheme. Under this misconception they could be holding back from making a modest demand for help, reserving the option for the possibility of a more serious need in due course.