DAVID Cameron’s vision seeks to tackle Britain’s something-for-nothing culture and encourage residents to do their bit for their community.

The Government’s latest Big Society announcement is to allow people who help the elderly or disabled to earn care credits.

Volunteers could “bank” the hours they spend helping out and use them later in life or for someone else.

But one Colchester group of volunteers is claiming to be a step ahead of the Government.

Colchester Time Bank has been running a successful “time credits” scheme for more than five years, and has 92 members from its base at Colchester Volunteer Centre.

Members earn credits by looking after people, and can also choose to spend their time with one of the other 166 Time Banks in the UK to help relatives or friends who live outside Essex.

Centre manager Jane Snowdon said: “The traditional model has been the helpers and the helpless.

“This is people of all ages with professional skills and trades with gifts they can share.

“It’s a legitimate exchange. We are not handing out favours, and nobody feels obliged.

“We are going through a period of welfare reform where we are looking very closely at what’s achieved by throwing money at everything.

“There will always be a place for some forms of state help, but can we not think a bit laterally and encourage people to help themselves by sharing their skills?

“At a time where people are aware they need to tighten their belts, they can find out how to trace family history, take art classes or learn a new language at no extra cost to themselves as a result of putting in help into the community.”

Help includes visits for elderly or disabled residents, dog-sitting, language classes or advice on diet and exercise.

Ms Snowdon added: “The most unusual help we gave was to an elderly gentleman who had become low and depressed, and needed help to complete a model of the Cutty Sark. He needed someone who had a sewing machine as he had 28 sails that needed stitching.”

Mary Stuttle, 59, of Berechurch, Colchester, who joined Time Bank more than three years ago when she retired from her engineering career, said: “I have met a lot of new people through this – some who have helped me and others who I have been able to help.

“It goes back to my childhood, where people were neighbourly to each other. We all have different areas of our lives which we need help with.

“Things crop up and there is more of a disjointed family unit these days, so it’s going to fall more on friends and acquaint-ances to help than it did before.

“I would rather put the help in now while I’m able to, than go into a nursing home when all I really needed was someone to go to the shops for me.”

The Time Bank meets on the last Saturday of the month between 10.30am and noon at Globe House, in George Street, Colchester.It is the only Time Bank in Essex, although the centre has been looking for funding to extend the scheme.

Call 01206 768930, or visit www.volunteercentrecolchester.

org.uk for more information.