A NEIGHBOURHOOD-Watch-style project to return dementia sufferers to their homes has kicked-off – and now needs volunteers.

The Neighbourhood Return scheme will help carers find patients who go missing by creating a network of Good Samaritans to help with a search.

The project, believed to be first of its kind in the world, was developed in Oxfordshire by Neighbourhood Watch, health and police bosses thanks to a £191,000 National Lottery grant.

Now after a six-week trial, organisers say it is time for the project to go live and are calling for people from every corner of the county to join the 400 who have already signed up.

The system uses a database on which carers can register a person’s details, location, appearance and a photo.

If someone is found to have gone missing, their information can instantly be texted to all the volunteers with a mile of their last location, giving them the option to take part in a search or not.

It was devised with the help of Wallingford man Roger Stammers, of Shillingford Road, whose wife Isobel began to wander off after the onset of Alzheimer’s in 2004.

The 63-year-old, whose wife went to live in a care home last year, told the Oxford Mail that four or five helpers would have been a huge help when he had to hunt for her on his own.

He said: “I wish this scheme had existed when my wife was wandering. She went missing on a number of occasions and I was so worried about where she had gone and if she was all right. Trying to find her on my own was really difficult and stressful.

I was driving backwards and forwards between places I thought she might have gone, and going home each time in between to check whether she had come back by herself.

“I didn’t want to involve the police, and felt a sense of guilt every time she went missing even though I took her out to a local town or village each morning.”

Deborah Ginns, the Neighbourhood Watch manager who runs the project, said all volunteers needed was a regularly charged mobile phone.

She said: “We are appealing to everyone everywhere in Oxfordshire to sign up this Christmas, no matter how little time they think they may have.

“We know that everyone is very busy, but the commitment is very small.

“You may never get a call, but if you do and you are free you might just help to save someone’s life.”

She added that so far the project had run 12 practice searches around Oxfordshire, but now it needed to enlist volunteers and test how it works with a real missing person.

The programme makes use of the Neighbourhood Watch’s existing community messaging system, which connects to more than 7,000 people across Oxfordshire. Organisers said in the future the volunteer network could be used for other purposes, such as hunting for missing children.

At present it is only being funded to look for dementia sufferers.

  • Both volunteers and carers can join through the website ourturn.org.uk, or by ringing the Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network National Office on 0116 229 3118.