A BRIEF HISTORY OF "HELP" of Denia and Marina Alta
THE EARLY DAYS
The "HELP" organization was first started in Javea in 1977 by Barbara Bridgen, who discussed with a group of fellow Britons at her Javea home the best way of offering assistance to any British person throughout illness, disability, old age, loneliness, or merely acting as interpreters. This was the extension of an idea that had already occurred to Mrs Bridgen during her stay in Tokyo.
She soon discovered that most people who retire to Spain arrive as a couple, but once a partner dies, the other can experience difficulties, In contrast, the Spanish family unit is so strong that many of the Social Services that are available in Britain are not required here, with the Spanish families sharing nursing and other tasks when a relative is either hospitalised or becomes ill at home.
At that time few, if any, of the Spanish services spoke anything but Spanish and there were no translation services available. As expatriates began to settle in the area, a need for general help and support grew, and for support in medical emergencies particularly.
It took twelve months to get the group started. Manned entirely by volunteers, "HELP" was formally launched by Charles Thompson, the first chairman, in 1978. At that time, Javea was a sleepy fishing village, and not the vast sprawling town of today, having two doctors who only spoke Spanish. Equally, there was no local hospital, and very few people had telephones. Much of the equipment in those early years was of the 'make and mend’ variety, with a large number of "HELP" blinds starting to appear. These were pieces of canvas attached to a broom handle that were hung in a window, being pulled open with a piece of string if the person was in need.
Money was also a problem, but a Christmas bazaar and regular bring-and-buy sales soon managed to help the group out. From the outset, the Javea Charity Shop and the Teulada Lions Club have been a constant source of support.
Over the years, the concept has altered somewhat. Demands now made on the volunteers range from requests for a Zimmer frame after a hip operation, to help with repatriation for those unable to cope alone. Translation services are always in demand and several of the group are fluent Spanish speakers.
GROWTH OF “HELP” OF DENIA
The Denia group wanted to organize a formal network and so they set up a committee. The first AGM was held in March 1985 and at that time they had 49 volunteers with current member Anne Macletchie elected as one of the first chairmen. A small handbook was compiled, and a few items of equipment were bought. From these small beginnings the organization grew.
Within a year the number of volunteers in the Denia area had grown to 75, and a luncheon club had been established. This was set up to help those who had no transport and to provide some social support to the elderly.
In the early 90's a 'support in bereavement' group was suggested and it was felt that more information was needed to support the volunteers.
Calling on our own members, and those of groups farther a field, "HELP" manages to cover most European languages. On one occasion; we even had to call in the manager of a local Chinese restaurant to help out.
However, the setting up of these services was by no means an easy task, with Spanish resistance to what they saw as Foreign Intervention having to be overcome before the volunteers were even allowed into any hospital. Today the "HELP" organization and its members are welcomed into both of the Denia hospitals, and our services valued very highly.
In the early 1990's, when Denia opened the Marina Alta hospital, "HELP" began to change, as it was no longer merely a support service on a neighbourly basis. There were calls for interpreting services from almost everyone attending the hospital no matter from which area they came. This resulted in a team of interpreters being established over the next few years.
In 1991, as funds grew, we made donations to local organisations. For example, in 1993 we presented to the Red Cross in Denia, 3 ship-to-shore phones, a defibrillator and a special lifting chair.
In 1998 a charity shop was opened in La Xara with the specific remit of raising money to buy essential equipment for the hospital, and to pay for the services of an interpreter at weekends, and equipment for loan and general running costs.
The success of the shop led to the rental of larger premises. This in turn increased sales and revenue to provide funding for more equipment for loan to the general public, e.g. stair lifts and electric beds. The shop is welcoming, large and a pleasant shopping experience assisted by cheerful volunteer staff.
Jill Porter-Smith joined the Denia “HELP” organisation shortly after its inauguration in 1984, with her husband serving as chairman for six years. The opening of the Marina Alta Hospital in Denia in 1987 resulted in even more requests for assistance, and a hospital visiting service was organized that is still in place today, with members of the organization visiting all foreign in-patients twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Jill Porter-Smith was at Buckingham Palace in 1999 to receive the MBE awarded to her in that years New Years' Honours List. Jill earned her award, one of the first to be awarded to someone living in Spain, for her services to the British Community on the Costa Blanca. Jill says that she is pleased to accept the award on behalf of all her co-workers in the "HELP" organization.
Subsequently, in the Queen’s Birthday honours list of 2009, another of the “HELP” volunteers was honoured with an MBE. Long serving member of “HELP”, Joy Goodricke, who has been involved in many ways over the years. Joy was particularly involved with the reform of the Charity Shop, cajoling Spanish businesses into donating materials free; and has worked tirelessly on the “HELP” care team.
The early problems over funding have long since disappeared, with donations from grateful patients, support from clubs, theatre groups and businesses, and even the local town halls. All of the equipment offered is on free loan, although a deposit is requested until its return. Surplus money is always passed back into the community in the form of new equipment. The Spanish health service is as short of funds as the NHS of Britain, but over the years "HELP" has been able to provide assistance in many ways, over the years providing two Holter machines for heart monitoring, a defibrillator, and even a miniature EGG unit for use on home visits, which can be plugged into a telephone line for instant diagnosis. In addition we have been able to provide two large hoists and a DVD player for the children’s ward. The equipment bought recently includes over 40 special beds, which are allocated by the hospital to be used in private homes for terminally ill patients. Other beds are kept in local Health Centres, and are in such constant use that further purchases will be made when the need becomes apparent.
In December 2008, we took another step forward in the opening of our HELP Centre in La Xara, with the idea of providing a couple of days respite for carers and social contact for people living alone. It is also our call and information centre and store for our equipment for loan. We hope in the future to develop further activities at the Centre. Care at the moment is provided on Mondays and Thursdays.
From the early days “HELP” has grown in the number of people who offer their time as volunteers. As at July 2009 we have over 200 members spread from Pego in the north to Calpe in the south.
We are always looking for more volunteers: as interpreters, to man the hospital help desk, for home or hospital visiting, to provide transport for patients or the infirm or to assist in the new HELP Centre.
If you feel you could help, please contact the HELP Centre (details elsewhere on the web site).
Today, "HELP" has branches stretching the length of the Costa Blanca, essentially offering assistance in emergencies. Many times the organization has made contact with relatives in Britain when people have been found to be in desperate trouble, but all they can do in reality here is try to make life easier for those who decide to stay. Their latest objective is to encourage younger people with good Spanish knowledge to join the organization, for every telephone call is answered by a cheery voice. It is reassuring to know that there is someone out there when "HELP" is needed.