VOLUNTEER voices are helping to spread the word about a Sunderland service that joins up health and social care in the city, after signing up to become community-based Champions.

All Together Better, a partnership that brings together a number of health and social care services in the city, now has a dedicated team of ambassadors, who have signed up to support on a voluntary basis and talk to their friends and networks about the programme.

The Champions are given information and training about changes to Sunderland’s care delivery before heading out to various community groups and events to spread the word, as well as sharing their knowledge with their own friends and neighbours. All Together Better is geared towards people in the city who need the most help and support – typically older people and those with several complex conditions – and provides a holistic service that is designed to keep people out of hospital and as independent as possible.

Margaret Overy, 78, and Janet King, 68, are two of the ten Champions already helping more of the city understand what All Together Better means for them.

Margaret, from Chester Road, heard about the scheme through being involved with the choir group at Age UK Sunderland – the organistion charged with signing up volunteers on behalf of All Together Better – and said she’s enjoying her role as a Champion.

She said: “The volunteering immediately appealed to me because I’ve worked with older people my whole life and I love it, but I think the work we do as Champions is so important – helping people to understand what care is out there to support them.

“Everyone should think about becoming a Champion and help us spread the word.”

The Champions talk people through All Together Better, which is part of the NHS’ vanguard programme, launched in 2015 to tackle pressures on the health service, and in Sunderland’s case to reduce the impact of the three per cent of the city’s population that currently uses over 50 per cent of resources.

Mike Lowthian, patient, public and carer engagement coordinator for All Together Better, said: “All of our Champions are doing a fantastic job, especially because All Together Better can be quite complex to explain, in particular to those who are most in need of it and are often older people who are used to care being provided in a certain way.

“Having the Champions out in the community has meant a lot more people know about All Together Better and how it might be able to improve their care, but we need more Champions to help spread the word to everyone. Thanks to their dedication and support we expect to reach a further 40 local groups and speak to over 500 people by March, which is tremendous.”

He added: “Our Champions will also help us to distribute many hundreds of leaflets to the general public in busy shopping centres and local supermarkets, bringing a better level of understanding of how All Together Better works and how these more effective and efficient services can improve the quality of care offered to people in the city.”

Working closely with Mike and the team at All Together Better, Janet, 68, from Shiney Row, said she’s finding the experience of being a Champion fun, interesting, and every session is different.

She said: “The sessions are fantastic, and very varied. The people we’re talking to about the programme often aren’t in the best of health or have the best of hearing, so it can be challenging, but that’s what makes the role so great, knowing that you can help them understand the benefits.

“I’ve been volunteering for various healthcare organisations since 2000, so it’s something I knew I’d love doing, but what I think a lot of people don’t realise is that helping out as a volunteer means you’re ensuring your community and loved ones are in the know about their care, should they ever need support.”

The ladies are already seeing the difference made by the Champions scheme, and are attending sessions where some of those there already know about All Together Better thanks to their work.

Margaret added: “There are a lot of people in Sunderland who could benefit from All Together Better – some may even be cared for under the programme but not realise just how much it is helping them, so becoming a Champion means you can better a lot of lives, not just those of people who need care, but of their families when they’re going through a tough time.”

To find out more about All Together Better Champions click here.