By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
A FEW months ago, our current predicament would have been simply unthinkable.
Normal life went on a pace with the words Coronavirus and COVID-19 barely registering in the average lexicon. We were aware of a virus raging elsewhere in the world, but who honestly thought it would lay us low too?
And then on March 2nd it was announced that two people in South Devon were amongst the first to succumb to the virus bringing it home from a trip to northern Italy.
Authorities were quick to react and in the main, the outbreak, which spread to a handful of other people, was contained. For most, it looked like an overreaction to a relatively small problem.
How wrong we were.
Within a week, we were hoovering up as much news as we could and watched with a creeping realisation of what was to come here, the horror unfolding in communities in our near neighbours in Europe.
Pubs, cafes and restaurants were closed, sports events were called off, and we began to exercise caution around our fellow man. We became suspicious of even the smallest of changes in the health of our friends, family and colleagues.
Here at the Torbay Community Development Trust, we recognised early on that we, along with other key organisations in the Bay, were best placed to lead the response in our communities and on March 16th the Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline was established.
The Government announced a week later, on March 23rd , that the whole country was going into lock-down and families and individuals found themselves shut inside their own homes for up to 23 hours a day only being allowed for essentials like food and exercise.
For others, the most vulnerable in our society, the lock-down was absolute, and they became reliant on friends, neighbours and our helplines for all the things we take for granted – food, medicines and company.
The reaction was overwhelming. The phones started ringing, and for several weeks it did not stop, or so it seemed. The lines established on 01803 857727 and 01803 446022 were swamped – on one day our teams, who work between 8 am and 8 pm, seven days a week, took around 400 calls.
We pooled our resources with Brixham Does Care, Age UK Torbay, Healthwatch Torbay and the Citizens Advice Bureau in Torbay to cover all bases – we needed to be able to keep abreast of the latest guidance coming out of the Government and the NHS and we needed to make sure we were looking after vulnerable people in our communities.
We all needed to provide a lead in our specialist areas and work together in an unprecedented way, filling in each other’s gaps, complementing skills and delivering the very best of expertise available in the local charity and voluntary sector.
It is no wonder, that nationally a new hashtag has been coined to ensure that the work of the sector is recognised when this is all over (whenever that might be) #nevermoreneeded.
We are still working flat out alongside the NHS and Torbay Council and have recently been part of a coalition of 15 organisations and food-banks who have formed the Torbay Food Alliance to make sure no-one goes hungry during the crisis.
But we have also tapped into the very best of #TorbayKind and found hundreds of volunteers who are now helping their neighbours and watching out for them for the duration.
We have matched offers of help with those needing help on as local a basis as possible and hopefully those people will remain in touch with each other, responding where and when necessary, until the help is no longer needed.
Our wellbeing coordinators and community builders are still out on the front line responding to urgent needs such as food running out, or lifesaving medications in need of picking up.
But the community builders are now able to turn their attention to supporting the 50 plus streets or communities that have organised themselves into self-sufficient Good Neighbour support groups through our www.bit.ly/goodneighbourtorbay project.
We have also been able to put more effort into supporting communities through the www.torbayhelphub.com which provides general advice for all, along with ideas of what to do during the lock-down.
We are hearing tentative debates about when doors will begin to open again, when schools will reopen to pupils, and when we will begin to venture back to our places of work.
For the most vulnerable, however, the end is not in sight and, looking at lessons learned elsewhere, is unlikely to be for some considerable time. We will be there for them for as long as it takes.
And that’s a promise.
In light of many requests from the public for the helpline to accept donations, a JustGiving page has been created for anyone willing to donate towards the running costs of the Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline: www.justgiving.com/torbaycdt.org (or email firstname.lastname@example.org)