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Sydenham & Forest Hill Voluntary Care Centre

Garth Davidson, Chair of the management committee of Sydenham and Forest Hill Voluntary Care Centre reports on the work on this local organisation: 

The Voluntary Care Centre (VCC) was formed 41 years ago when ministers of two local churches, Baptist and Congregational, were working with their respective congregations on a scheme for partnership. What better way of achieving this unity than joining together to establish and staff an advice centre for local people in need? 

A small room was opened in the Baptist church in Dartmouth Road, where Heron House now stands. In the first year there were about 50 referrals – not very encouraging! An early entry in the log-book reads “Broken my duck. My first client in two years!” About a year later the centre moved to 55b Dartmouth Road at a rent of £750 p.a. and, as the number of clients steadily increased, the need for training and professional involvement became clear.  

By 1972, with about 1500 referrals a year, the first paid director was appointed. Local churches gave generous financial support, but a successful application for Urban Aid funding for a partnership between the Advice Centre and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) provided a firm financial base for the next 13 years. In the late 1970s the partnership with CAB ended, and the VCC found itself giving not so much advice but practical help: befriending, gardening, shopping, visiting, transporting. In particular, much good work was done at that time with the Vietnamese “boat people” who were settled by the Greater London Council on the Sydenham Hill Estate.

 As the years passed so the work expanded. About nine years ago the VCC moved to 300 Stanstead Road, where there are now three paid members of staff who manage some 150 volunteers and over 1000 clients. Volunteers receive full training and are the greatest supporters of the Centre and it was in recognition of their involvement that the VCC gained the prestigious Investment in Volunteers Award. From time to time clients have been known to become volunteers themselves andhave even joined the management committee.

 The Voluntary Care Centre is now mainly funded by Lewisham Council and local churches, but many businesses, charities and individuals help in many ways, especially at Christmas when the VCC supplies food hampers, gift vouchers, toys and presents to over 1400 families and individuals who are in need. It also runs a borough-wide voluntary driving scheme, a club at the Grove Centre in Jews Walk for those with mental health needs, and has recently been working with the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation (SLAM) in preparationfor taking over the running of their Drop-in Centre in Deptford. Social and fund-raising events, outings for the elderly and disadvantaged to places of interest, and an annual Thanksgiving Service at a local church are regular activities.

The Voluntary Care Centre has a strong Management Committee. An Annual Report and quarterly newsletters are published in which further details of the work of the VCC can be found.