STOPPING a mother and her three-week-old baby falling into homelessness, guiding a hard-working 50-something away from alcoholism and helping an 89-year-old man pay the bills.

Those are just three of the 82 cases that Cheshire’s new community connectors have been involved with in the first few months of the pioneering scheme.

The scheme has been running in Winsford and Ellesmere Port for three months – while it will soon be launched in Macclesfield and there is interest in rolling it out to Warrington.

“It doesn’t sound very modest, but the reality is that for some people we have changed their lives,” said David Briggs, Lord-Lieutenant of Cheshire, who spearheaded the scheme after chairing the west Cheshire poverty truth commission.

In that project, he listened to the experiences of 15 people who either were living or had lived in poverty across the Cheshire West borough.

He said: “I learnt quite a lot about how the welfare state works, and one of the issues which I have tried to do something about is that many of the services that exist to help people in need seem to be rather in their own silo.

“So for example, if Mary is desperate and goes to the foodbank, the foodbank will usually just give her food and say ‘we hope this helps, farewell’.

“But Mary has loads of other problems – she may be in debt, she may be living with a violent family relationship, she may be about to be evicted from her home, she might have health problems and therefore she needs a number of different agencies to help her.”

That is the problem the community connector scheme is trying to solve.

The community connectors receive referrals from other organisations for people in Winsford and Ellesmere Port who are facing more than one problem, point them in the right direction to where they can find help and keep in touch with them to give support until they are no longer needed.

Forging a close relationship with their clients is crucial to build trust – so they are seen as a friend who ‘happens to know how to navigate the system’.

Carol King, Ellesmere Port’s community connector, said: “I’ve helped working people, pensioners and anybody else in between. It’s anybody and everybody.

“When I first started I thought it was going to be all people who were on benefits and struggling, or people who needed help finding housing.

“But it can be anything. My first customer was an 89-year-old gentleman who walked into Citizens Advice with a carrier bag full of papers because his wife was in a hospice, he had never paid a bill in his life and he was panicking about how to set his finances up.”

The pair are now getting more referrals and more complex clients after seeing early successes in the project.

No two days are the same for the community connectors, who visit foodbanks and community centres each week to get their face known and find more people who need their help.

Sean McInerney, Winsford’s community connector, said: “We haven’t based ourselves in one office. We go out and find these people as well.

“Statistics show that most people are only one or two missed paycheques away from finding themselves in a crisis, so it can affect anybody.”

Both community connectors have dealt with a string of serious cases.

Sean was put into contact with a mother who was new to the country and her three-week-old baby.

The mother visited a foodbank in Winsford which was closed, but by chance a volunteer was at the site.

She was asked to leave a property by her landlord and was facing homelessness in just two working days.

Sean said: “I was able to talk on her behalf to the housing officer in question and managed to get a case review, which led to them putting the client and baby in temporary accommodation.

“That’s now developed to the point where they have found a social landlord – so from being two days away from the unthinkable, they’re now steady.”

Meanwhile, Carol is in weekly contact with a man in his 50s who had worked all his life before leaving while suffering with alcoholism.

She said: “I rang him up, he came to meet me and I spent two hours talking to him about his life, his family, his job.

“He needed benefits, he didn’t know where to go and he was really trying to put his life back together – he’d just been to two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“I got him an interview at the Jobcentre, we got him going, got the benefits sorted out so his rent was sorted out.

“Touching a lot of wood, he seems to be really keeping himself to that path, but he says there’s me and a couple of other people keeping him on that path. That’s what he wants, and that’s what he needs.”

The pair are able to feel satisfied at their success stories – but they know that their work is never done.

Carol said: “It’s just an untapped well. There could be 15 of me and I think it would still be untapped for the number of people that we could potentially see.

“Sometimes the smallest of things that you wouldn’t see as a problem is enough to chuck somebody completely off the rails – we talk to them and sort it out quite quickly.”

Sean added: “You tend to catch people at close to the lowest they’ve been, and when you have regular contact with them you get yourself to that point when you look back and you’re a different person.

“You can pat yourself on the back but – we’ve caught one person, how many more are like that? It does bring home how easy it is for people to become lost.”

The scheme is run by Citizens Advice, and has been funded by Cheshire West and Chester Council, David Keane, Cheshire’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) and other contributors.

Both the community connectors and Lord-Lieutenant Briggs want to see the scheme expanded across the county.

They also want to see trusted people in the community become volunteers in a community connector network – keeping in touch with clients who have been helped by the scheme.

Funding is the stumbling block to expansion – but the PCC believes the project is a ‘real investment’ that could save money in the long term.

David said: “There is the preventive aspect, because if you give people hope and aspirations they are much less likely to come into the criminal justice arena, but there’s also aspect where the police are referring people into this scheme to stop them getting involved in that criminal justice arena again.

“It might be a situation where somebody is in real debt and has dealings with a loan shark. The police may be able to deal with the loan shark – but how do we deal with the problem of debt that took the person to the loan shark?

“When we’re in a crisis situation as a human, we don’t always see the solutions. The agencies aren’t joined up in such a way that we can help and refer between each other in all ways.

“So this is the link, it’s the missing glue that we need in the community, and I’m really proud to be a small part of funding it and making it happen.”

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Alternatively, in Ellesmere Port, call Carol on 07596 338067.