Reflecting on Torbay Community Helpline, and your responses

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

IN this busy life, it is rare to get the chance to reflect on the effects of our actions and take the opportunity to blow our own trumpets.

However, this is one of those occasions and having just read through some of the responses we received to our survey about what people thought about our hastily set up Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline, I feel incredibly proud of my colleagues.

Never before have charities across the Bay come together in the way that they did when we first realised the severity of what was to come as COVID 19 began to wreak havoc back in March.

We knew we would need to step up and we knew we would need to be ready for anything, and as a result, we set up the Helpline with staff working seven days a week, 12 hours a day.

We set up rotas, purloining staff from Torbay Community Development Trust. Age UK Torbay, Brixham Does Care, Healthwatch Torbay and Citizens Advice Torbay and threw them in at the deep end.

We had no idea what to expect but knew as the lockdown was announced on March 23rd that we were as ready as we would ever be, which is amazing given that there was no handbook, no experience to fall back on and no prior lessons to be learned.

The calls came in thick and fast peaking at 350 in one day from people at best anxious, at worst frightened, wondering how they were going to do their shopping or collect their essential prescriptions.

We learned as we went along, concentrating on helping those in need and recruiting volunteers who were offering help and quickly set up a rapid response team to deal with the most urgent issues.

Alongside that, we joined forces with Torbay Council and the Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust to help 12 foodbanks across the Bay to work together to source and distribute much-needed food.

And as the days turned into weeks and the weeks became months, we developed a triage service that dealt with immediate food and pharmaceutical needs, alongside mental health issues and financial support.

In five months we received around 12,000 calls, and we have dealt with more than 3,750 people and our rapid response team turned out on more than 2,700 occasions. And the calls are still coming – not as frequently as they did, but none are any less important.

And that is why in our survey we asked the question do you think the Helpline should continue, and the overwhelming response was a resounding yes because respondents recognised that it had got things done.

Or in their own words: “I think it should continue. I think that most people have been very kind in this crisis. There are guardian Angels in this world, and this crisis as very much shown it. We were very grateful having help”

And another: “I think that the prompt liaison of all the groups/agencies involved in setting up such a smooth-running operation, advertising it widely and making it successful from the outset was an outstanding achievement.”

Finally of the nearly 280 favourable comments we received, the one that I liked most: “Good community connections – Support offered without tons of bureaucracy (!) Commonsense action.”

The survey also asked if people were proud of the way that Torbay had responded to the crisis and an incredible 96.27% said yes – again neatly summed up by one person: “The range of services provided was amazing, we are very lucky to be living in the Bay, many other areas in the Country had nothing like this.”

It is easy to criticise and it is not a British thing to boast, but today I make an exception because I feel here in the Bay we all have something to boast about because we got it right.

Not one hundred per cent, of course not, who possibly could, but in the main we read it right and we reacted accordingly, not just as charities and organisations but as individuals, as good neighbours and as volunteers.

No matter what this nasty virus still has to throw at us, we got this bit about as right as we could and we should allow ourselves a bit of a boast because we deserve it.

Shout it from the rooftops if you want, and as we move forward into whatever the new normal is, let’s build on it because we were #TorbayKind and we should be proud of it.