AS the population grows older and funding becomes more scarce, one South Somerset community has decided to take matters into its own hands and form an ‘army of helpers’.

South Petherton has a population of around 3,500, with around 30 per cent of those being over the age of 65.

Now, the parish council and a community of well-doers have joined in partnership with Somerset Hospice to respond to the growing pressures on health and social care services.

Together with the medical centre and other health and wellbeing organisations, this new partnership has created and funded a number of key job roles, including a village agent and health coaches who are working with a growing army of micro providers to help people stay well and independent in their own home.

Paull Robathan, parish council chairman and one of the masterminds of the scheme, said: “In some ways it takes us back to the traditional models of care that we experienced decades ago, when the village policeman was a familiar sight and the district nurse didn’t just know you, she probably delivered to you, and might even nurse you in your final years.

“We have a wonderful resident, Jo Goldie, who was the district nurse and has lived in the village for 60 years, and with whom we talk a lot about the sort of support people need.

“Now approaching 90, she knew almost everyone and provided the continuity and reassurance that there will be people looking out for you.

“Another example is Sarah, the lady who provides care to the gran of a young local councillor.

“The councillor had struggled through social services to find anyone his gran trusted. But when word went around the village, it turned out that Sarah was looking for this kind of work. The answer lay in the community.”

Ann Lee, chief executive of St Margaret’s, said: “We need a cultural shift that is underpinned by better use of technology, education and training and a greater reliance on the abilities of communities to deliver support, as demonstrated by South Petherton.

“Models such as this support the more vulnerable, keeping them in their own community, and reducing some of the pressure on the health services. “