Answering the Call – hundreds volunteer to help their neighbours

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

HUNDREDS of people across the Bay have stepped forward to help their neighbours during the Coronavirus crisis.

A small army of volunteers is now working to ensure their neighbours are able to get through the crisis with offers of help with shopping, collecting prescriptions or simply spending time talking on the phone.

Others have said they will join our teams which we have brought together from Torbay Community Development Trust, Age UK Torbay,  Healthwatch Torbay and Brixham Does Care, as they staff our helplines from 8 am till 8 pm every day on 01803 446022 or 01803 857727.

We have already logged nearly 3,000 calls, and at its peak, we were handling up to 60 calls an hour as the reality of the lock down began to bite and some people began to realise that they were obliged to stay behind closed doors and would be unable to go out and get their own supplies.

Some have been in urgent need of support with food cupboards empty and electricity and gas already run out, others have been able to plan more than a week in advance, still safe in the knowledge that our teams or our volunteers will be there for them when the time comes.

For others who didn’t have time to prepare for the crisis  it has meant that sometimes life-saving medications have had to be rushed out to them via our dedicated (in every sense of the word) team of community builders.

We have had up to five people staffing more than ten phone lines at any one time to ensure everyone will be helped, if not immediately then in a reasonable time scale.

Some of our callers have already run out of money, having been caught out by sudden unemployment and they have struggled to get themselves onto Universal Credit because the phone lines to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) are constantly engaged.

Even those who have managed to complete the ‘paperwork’ online have then found they can’t get through to DWP to verify their identities, further delaying their claims for payment.

At the beginning of last week, DWP were inevitably overwhelmed with claims, many of them new, and despite their staff’s best efforts, who knows how long it will take to clear the backlog.

Foodbanks have stepped up several gears and again our volunteers and staff on the ground have been busy putting together essential food parcels before delivering them to those  in most urgent need.

Not everyone is coping with the lockdown as well as they might hope. For some it was a welcome break at home, a chance to catch up with lots of jobs around the garden and in the home.

However what started as an anxious time for  others has now become even more stressful, as well as a cause of depression . Partners and whole families have been thrown together 24/7 and in some households that is the root of the problem.

Calls to the helpline are changing, and we find ourselves now dealing with more complex situations , in some cases with people who do not know where to turn, and for them the friendly voice at the end of the line is all they need to hear.

Mental health issues are beginning to come to the fore and a network of online counsellors is being coordinated in an attempt to provide the essential support that is needed.

Some callers just need to know that even though they are self-isolating and have not seen anyone for more than two weeks now, that they are not alone, others are in the same position and they are prepared to reach out (virtually) to each other.

In some cases the sunshine helped – a chance to exercise gently in beautiful weather or sunbathe in the garden, for others it was just another reminder of what they were missing – wide open spaces, and beaches.

We know there is more of the same to come and more than ever we need to find ways of keeping in touch, striking up conversations, being company for and a comfort to each other even if that’s not in the physical sense we are used to.

We need to smile beneath our masks, and even if we cannot shake hands, hug or make any contact, we can still nod our heads or clasp our hands in front of our chests in a gesture of friendliness.

We need to remember that we are all in this together and together we will get through it with a bit of #TorbayKind.