FOLLOWING concerns expressed by volunteers over drastic changes planned to the meals-on-wheels service across the Observer area the introduction of the new service has been pushed back.
Last year the Observer reported the service could be heading for a volunteer crisis because of the way the service was changing.
Volunteers were told they were no longer be needed to deliver hot meals and were asked to take on different roles.
These included going to homes to microwave ready meals and conduct ‘safe and well’ checks.
But volunteers said they would quit because they did not sign to be ‘care workers.’
Now the Royal Voluntary Service has pushed back the planned start of the new service in the Midhurst and Petworth area to March and it will start in the Chichester area in April.
John Pearson, Royal Voluntary Service executive director of operations, said many hours of consultations were carried out with existing meals-on-wheels volunteers last year.
“During the consultations we paused the roll-out of the newly remodelled service to ensure it was delivered smoothly and professionally. As a result we slowed down the launch and are now slowly unrolling the new service one area at a time.”
The new service was launched in Rustington in mid-November and said Mr Pearson: “its introduction has been carefully monitored since, with daily soundings from both the volunteers and the users.
“Given the huge scale of the community meals on wheel service - 700 meals are served across West Sussex every day - it is inevitable any changes will take a while to be implemented and accepted. It is however evident, after eight weeks of trialling, that the new service works, and it works well.
“We have been greatly encouraged by the Rustington customers’ and volunteers’ reaction to the new service.
“The service users generally prefer the meals, but it is also nice to see several volunteers, who had decided to leave, change their mind and return to volunteering.
“One long-term volunteer who was not convinced the new meals-on-wheels would work, agreed to stay for the trial and is now a proud advocate helping to reassure volunteers in other areas the changeover is worthwhile and beneficial.”
However, he added, some volunteers - many of whom were in their 80s themselves and had been providing a valued service for 20 or 30 years - had decided not to continue
Recruitment was an ongoing exercise: “especially in West Sussex where there are many hundreds of older people living lonely lives who benefit greatly from meals-on-wheels and are able to maintain independence for longer due to the charity’s support.”
The Royal Voluntary Service believed, said Mr Pearson, the changes to the service would ensure its continued success in the future.
Priscilla Ayling, a meals-on-wheels volunteer from Midhurst told the Observer: “I have doubts about how the new service is going to work. But most of us feel like that in the Midhurst and Petworth area and so we have decided to give it a go because we can’t really judge the service until we see how it works.
“The most important people in all this are our clients,” added Priscilla.
“They need us and we want to support them as long as we can.”