AN army of dedicated volunteers has spent the past 20 years working in children’s centres, supporting older and vulnerable people and helping them to get about.

Castle Point Voluntary Services (Cavs) celebrates its anniversary next month, having helped thousands across the borough since it started in 1994.

It all started with a couple of part-time paid staff and a group of dedicated volunteers.

It took off, however, when Cavs merged with the borough’s volunteer bureau in 2001.

More than £100,000 of lottery funding now allows it to employ 27 paid staff and call on the services of 190 volunteers.

The service has an annual income in excess of £1million, and and works beyond the boundaries of Castle Point, even reaching out into neighbouring counties.

Deputy chief executive Michaela White said: “The most rewarding part of being involved is feeling part of the community and making a difference to somebody’s life.

“When someone turns around and says thank you for what you’ve done, that makes a huge difference.

“The organisation remains true to its original purpose of helping voluntary organisations to have access to advice and guidance on a wide range of topics .

“It also provides frontline services to residents, meeting the needs of the local community.”

Over the past 20 years, the service has been the driving force behind many schemes, including the now-independent Castle Point Social Car Scheme, which provides transport for older and disabled people.

Chief executive Janis Gibson said: “Unless you are involved in running a local charity, the chances are you won’t have heard of Cavs or have need of its core services.

“People are much more likely to be aware of our projects since they are community focused.”

Abefriending scheme is the latest addition to its long list of projects, and helps socially-isolated people in Castle Point and Rochford.

Funded by the Castle Point and Rochford Clinical Commissioning Group, the scheme has recruited and trained about 140 volunteers over the past two years.

They regularly visit people who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves in need of companionship and a friend to talk to.

Trevor Matthews’ mum, Lilian, 93, from Hadleigh, uses the scheme. He said: “The befriending scheme has been a lifeline to my mother.

“Her befriender, Lynda, comes to visit everyweek to sit and have a chat while I am able to get on with the things I need to do.

“My mother looks forward to seeing Lynda and they have become good friends.”

Thanks to Cavs, families with young children benefit from baby groups, school holiday activities, ante-natal care and family support through SureStart Children’s Centres .

Its Family Peer Mentoring Service also recruits and trains volunteers to support families through all kinds of problems in Basildon, Castle Point and Rochford.

The Be Safer Project improves the lives of adults with a learning difficulty and the Little Acts of Kindness project aims to raise community awareness of the way we should all look out for each other, especially the less able and the vulnerable.

Volunteer support and development manager Ann Gill said: “The one common theme for all Cavs services and projects is the involvement of volunteers.

“Through the support they give the paid staff, we are able to offer high-quality services.

“Volunteers are the life-blood of our services, helping us at community events, undertaking fundraising activities, working behind the scenes in our offices as well as on the front-line providing direct support to local residents.”

To celebrate its 20th anniversary Cavs officials will talk about its history, current and future projects, at a community breakfast at Runnymede Hall, Canvey, on Thursday, September 25, from 9.30am until 11.30am.

For more information about the event, or Cavs, call 01268 638416 or email office@castle