About Us

In the heart of rural Cheshire a group of volunteers, with a passion for vitality in later life, have spent more than 10 years growing OPAL Services into an organisation that offers a variety of services designed to join older people together in a zest for life. 

Our story begins in 2011 when Rural Community Services (now OPAL Services) was born.

Our initial purpose was to create a few community-based day services for older people in 5 rural locations across Cheshire West, each providing one to two days support per week.  

Existing services were due to be discontinued, by what is now known as Age UK Cheshire, allowing our small group of volunteers to successfully campaign and secure funding from Cheshire West and Chester council for us to take over responsibility for providing these services.

Rural Community Services was registered with the Charity Commission and Companies House, a Board of Trustees was formed and supported by a Steering Group, the new organisation become established, and our journey began.

In the beginning….

Our offer was simple! A day service, running once a week in Helsby, Kelsall, Tarporley, Tattenhall and two days a week in Malpas. It wasn’t long before we opened a 6th club in Frodsham.

These clubs provided a much-valued lifeline for older people in these rural locations. Helping to get people out of their houses and connecting with others for a home cooked lunch, friendship, lots of chats and activities.  

In 2012, having grown in confidence, we started to recognise a need to diversify the provision of our services to suit meet older people’s needs.

We launched BreakTime, a service designed to give carers a break and some respite from looking after a member of their family. Our program of social events and meetups brought many carers, and the people they care for, together for mutual support and friendship, as well as an opportunity to learn about services and information that might be available to help them in the rural areas.  Our Carers Services soon expanded to include a “sitter” service for people with dementia, this helped enable the carer to have some respite, knowing the person they cared for was in good hands.

Recognising that one of the best ways to keep people connected was through the internet, we created GoOnLine in 2014.  We saw this as a huge opportunity to prevent isolation and loneliness, bridging the gap that often opens when people are less mobile and living in rural areas.

GoOnLine offered older people and their carers a way to easily keep in touch with family and friends and make some practical everyday tasks such as shopping and banking easier. With the help of knowledgeable volunteers at our drop-in sessions, our members were becoming more confident and competent in using the various types of digital technology available and that are now part of everyday life. Since 2020, through our OPAL in Touch programme, we have been able to expand our support into people’s own homes, using iPads and other devices.

In 2016 we added two further services, both funded through “Brightlife“ (a research project funded by the National Lottery)

New Horizons and What’s Cooking successfully operated in Frodsham, Helsby and Farndon. With an aim to bring people together in informal and welcoming settings, we offered opportunities to become involved in local community activities. Sadly, the Brightlife funding ended in the summer of 2019,  but we have actively pursued and been successful in securing alternative funding to continue these highly successful and valued services. These services continue today, albeit under the new name of Branching Out and Food for Thought.

Building on our brand and values

Following on from a successful few years developing our services to meet the needs of our older people, in 2018, we embarked on a period that saw us focus on our brand and ensuring the values we held as a charity were embedded across our services.

We implemented a change of charity name and proudly became OPAL Services (Rural West Cheshire).

Along with a new name, we introduced a new logo, our new branding and image, and adopted “OPAL” as our everyday name.

Our values, however, remained the same from the outset! To be Friendly, Inclusive, Respectful, Stimulating and Trusted. Find out more about OPAL’s values by clicking here

We began work on our new Business Plan and made good progress until we were all overtaken by the pandemic and forced to turn our attention elsewhere.

The Covid years

In March 2020 all face-to-face contact was put on hold. Clubs, group meets, and one-to-one assessments were all paused.  We adapted our services using online, telephone and written communications to provide as much contact as we possibly could, in the safest way possible.  We held zoom sessions for our whole OPAL community – members, carers, and our volunteers, all of which were gratefully received. Our GoOnLine volunteers adapted the way they worked to provide additional remote support to anyone that needed it to stay connected to loved ones.

We produced a new weekly newsletter, OPAL Reach, with articles, quizzes and jokes.  Activity Packs were supplied to our members– either via post or in the form of doorstep deliveries. We also recognised and celebrated Volunteers’ Week, including an announcement that our amazing volunteers had indeed been awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service. We were presented our trophy via zoom; such is the power of the internet.

Eventually we were able to reopen our clubs and services, carers outings and GoOnLine sessions, but with a whole set of new rules and guidelines to help keep everyone safe! It was certainly a challenge to meet the needs of those that had spent so long during lockdown in the type of isolation our services are built on trying to reduce, but like everyone, we came out of it all stronger and hopefully our OPAL community did too.

Now that our time with Covid is effectively over, we have returned to our pre-covid services, although we have re-evaluated some of our ways of working for the better!  

Onwards and upwards

Since 2021 we have successfully expanded our internal fundraising activities by hosting several new events such as garden soirees, open garden events, soup & sandwich lunches, Christmas fairs and even a fashion show!  These larger events combined with our ongoing fundraising from our OPAL lottery, recycling schemes and smaller fundraising events, help to boost our funds. We’re incredibly grateful to our supporters that attend and support these events on a weekly basis.

In 2022 we were pleased to be funded by CWAC for two pilot projects, Telephone Friends and Good Neighbour Plus in Tarporley. Both projects focused on the home, helping people who were less able to get to our community services. Such was their success, that in 2024 we were awarded 2 grants to expand our Good Neighbour Service (incorporating Telephone Friends) across the whole of rural West Cheshire.

We are fortunate to have an active, committed, and strong group of Trustees who run the charity so our plan to expand our Board of Trustees enabled us to enhance our skills, knowledge and experience in our decision making.

Supporting the Trustees are a small team of passionate, hardworking staff organising the services, managing & recruiting volunteers, and controlling the day to day running of OPAL. Our staff team has grown steadily over the last few years, allowing us to offer more, have dedicated back-office staff and recruit our first Volunteer Coordinator. As our services have expanded, this enabled us to target volunteer recruitment specifically, allowing us to reach our target of 200 OPAL volunteers, without whom we couldn’t run any of our services. 

Our OPAL volunteers are at the heart what we do. Whether on the Board of Trustees, or in our services, it is through their valued input that we can work to achieve our mission to reduce social isolation amongst older people in rural West Cheshire. In 2020, OPAL, and their volunteers, received the Queens Award for volunteering showcasing the work of our volunteers, who are key in all our services, and our organisation.

Thank you to all our supporters

We strive to continue to provide services that benefit older people in our local rural communities. We depend on the organisations and people who provide us with financial support, whether as a contract, grant, or a simple donation and are incredibly grateful to those that support us.

It is only due to this support that we can enhance the lives of older people living in rural west Cheshire, reduce isolation and continue our OPAL journey.