Pioneering helpline set to continue thanks to lottery funding

A PIONEERING helpline set up to deal with the coronavirus crisis is to continue with funding from the National Lottery.

The Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline launched a week before the country went into lockdown and at its peak was dealing with more than 350 calls a day from people needing or offering help.

In an unprecedented move, staff from Torbay Community Development Trust, Age UK Torbay, Healthwatch Torbay, Citizens Advice Torbay and Brixham Does Care, came together to provide support for the most vulnerable in the Bay, through the Helpline.

Initially staffed 12 hours a day, seven days a week, it provided a wide range of services including emergency responses for food and medicines, access to the foodbanks, financial support,  support for mental health,  and hospital transport services.

Soon the staff were joined by volunteers and expertise from a variety of other organisations including Torbay Council, Yes Brixham, Libraries Unlimited, What’s Your Problem CIC, the Torbay Advice Network, Disability Support Torbay, Homemaker Southwest and the Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust. Now the National Lottery Community Fund and The Office for Civil Society (part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) have stepped in with a grant of just short of £100,000 to keep the Helpline funded for the next six months.

A spokesperson for the newly formed Torbay Health and Wellbeing Voluntary Sector Network said: “We realised as the Helpline developed that it was not just about COVID, but a valuable resource for anyone seeking support and access to a variety of services, but unsure of where to go.”

“We can now point people in the right direction for a whole host of services, providing a way into the system whether the need is a simple one or one that is relatively complex.”

“We are hoping to expand so that we can live up to our boast of one call, that’s all to also deal with winter pressures and hospital discharge.” 

Since being set up the Helpline has evolved from one which initially dealt with COVID – putting people in need of help in touch with people offering help –into a one stop service dealing with often complex issues.

Volunteers staffing the Helpline can put callers in touch with mental health services, adult and social care services as well as providing a listening ear and access point to counselling, legal advice, emotional support and therapies for domestic abuse victims.

Additionally, children, young people and families can access support or raise a concern about a child or young person and older people can be put in touch with the Bay’s Staying Put handy person service for smaller jobs around the home.

It is also a way of accessing the foodbanks to ensure no-one in the Bay goes hungry as well as telephone befriending services to ensure no-one remains lonely and isolated.

Leader of the Council, Councillor Steve Darling said: “I would like to personally thank all the volunteers who work so hard to provide this invaluable service to our community. Securing a grant to keep the helpline funded for another six months is great news. This service is proving a vital and very welcome point of contact to many of our residents seeking extra support as we all continue to live with the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus.” 

Volunteers are also being urged to  continue to call the Helpline on 01803 446022 to offer their services as they have in their hundreds since the coronavirus crisis began in March.