A year like no other

By David Gledhill, Marketing and Communications Lead

A Happy New Year. Let’s hope that 2021 is a marked improvement on what 2020 had to offer.

It is difficult to believe that just 12 months ago we were looking forward excitedly to the year ahead and the virus was but just a far off problem in a far off land.

In this column, we were looking back at the year just past celebrating some of the incredible people we had been lucky enough to meet through our work at Ageing Well, noting how resilient many of them had been in the face of past adversities.

Of course, we also had one eye on the horizon or what we thought would unfold in the year ahead and we were looking forward to working with old and young alike ensuring our communities were stronger as a result.

We had no idea what was just beyond our vision and how all our lives would change as a result.

It seems like a long time ago now, but back in January 2020 the Torbay Community Helpline did not exist, and the work of Torbay Community Development Trust staff was much the same as it always had been – looking out for and working with vulnerable people across the Bay.

We still do of course, but in ways that we could not have envisaged as first news of the virus arriving in mainland Europe began to dominate media headlines and we watched as Italy and Spain were reduced to chaos.

A month later, in February, it was from Italy that some of the first cases in the country appeared in the Bay brought back by unwitting half term Winter skiers, and the alarm bells were set ringing.

Back then, the plan was to isolate anyone who showed symptoms and those first contacts were whisked away to be isolated and treated. And it initially it looked like the response had been proportionate and successful.

Sadly, optimism was shortlived and it quickly became apparent that more would need to be done to help people through this unfolding crisis. Much more.

We called a meeting in the backroom of our offices in Temperance Street to work out what, if anything, we could do fight back against the virus and to support our communities.

Frankly we had no idea what we were getting into. I don’t think anyone did, but we knew we had to do something and the Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline was born, initially using two numbers including the one that remains in use today, 01803 446022.

Initially, we were looking to provide advice, support and reassurance and we were joined by colleagues able to offer expertise from Age UK Torbay, Healthwatch Torbay, Brixham Does Care and Citizens Advice Torbay.

Soon afterwards the proverbial really did hit the fan and with a full lockdown looming, supermarket shelves were cleared and queues snaked around the block with people needing prescriptions from pharmacies.

We realised that we would have to step up a gear and we hit the ground running with an emergency response team that was on hand to shop for people that had run out of food and queue for sometimes life-saving drugs.

We were also overwhelmed by offers of help from volunteers willing to join us in whatever way was deemed necessary – staffing the phones, befriending the lonely, shopping for food, collecting prescriptions or helping with the foodbanks.

It became a huge operation, taking more than 16,000 calls through the year and touching base with nearly 5,000 people. We have learned a lot as we have gone, putting us in the best possible position  to provide further assistance as we prepare for the rules to be changed yet again.

A year ago, we were pretty confident that we had strong and resilient communities across the Bay full of resourceful, kind and caring people. Now we are certain of it, and as we go into another national lockdown alongside a roll-out of the vaccination programme, we will are calling on you again.

If you can help your neighbours, then please do get in touch on the regular number 01803 446022 any time between 10 am and 6 pm from Monday to Friday or 9.30 am to 12.30 pm on Saturdays. We look forward to hearing from you.

We are not out of the woods yet.