Determination – ongoing efforts to help Torbay

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

Another week in lockdown, but there is good reason for optimism that we will come out of this sooner rather than later.

The vaccines are being rolled out across the Bay, with most still being delivered at the Riviera Centre in Torquay where there is an endless stream of visitors receiving their jabs.

Our volunteer marshals are braving freezing temperatures for anything from three to four and a quarter hours in three shifts every day from 8am until 6:30pm every day, Monday to Saturday.

But far from complaining people are asking for more shifts than we can give them and our Helpline on 01803 446022 is receiving more offers to marshal and chaperone every hour that it is open from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Friday and from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm on Saturdays.

If we haven’t called you up yet to help with vaccinations, don’t worry, we have you on our system, and we will get to you because we are all in this for the long haul until everyone in the Bay who wants a vaccination, has had one.

We have added a new layer of COVID security for all who step up to help at the Riviera Centre with lateral flow testing carried out every three or four days, or at the end of the shift depending on how often people are working.

The test gives everyone – volunteers, patients and medical staff that extra bit of reassurance that we are remaining on top of the virus as we strive to eliminate it altogether.

The Torbay Community Helpline, which is the pivot for all this activity has now been open and taking calls for more than 320 days, and it has received more than 17,000 calls from people offering help and from people needing help.

From its humble beginnings (we had no idea what to expect) it has grown to provide expertise in all sorts of areas that were never envisaged, but determination has made sure the Helpline lives up to its boast – one call, that’s all.

We like to think that if we can’t answer your question immediately, we will find the answer for you, though we now have most bases covered from food and wellbeing through to finances and mental health.

And we are still finding new people that we have never dealt before – another 125 people last week – some volunteering, others needing the help of those volunteers – meaning that we have now been contacted by more than 5,550 people.

Calls are coming in at the rate of up to 100 a day, pushing the total received to more than 17,100, and each call is a fresh challenge in the race to make sure that no-one goes hungry and no-one is left isolated.

Our call handlers – a mix of staff from our partner organisations as well as volunteers, are finding the calls longer and more complex as the requests become ever more perplexing.

No longer are the calls simply about having some shopping done or having a prescription collected as they were at the beginning of lockdown one. They now combine a need for food and medications with other more involved issues around mental health and finances.

We ask all callers to the Helpline about their mood and flag those that need further help, but in the last few months we have helped triage more than 600 people whose mental health is suffering, and we see more every day.

Hand in hand with mental health go some of the triggers, and that too is reflected in an increase in calls from people who need a food parcel, some for whom food poverty is a new reality, never faced before.

Furloughed and suddenly out of work people are way past feeling the pinch, they are facing the pain of having had no salaried income for months, and they need help sorting out their finances as they go into meltdown.

The Torbay Food Alliance, which represents all the food banks across the Bay, estimates that they are providing around 10,000 meals a week and given the economic impact of the virus, that can only get worse.

As with the vaccinations, we are on a long journey, a journey that we neither know the distance nor the duration; all we know is that we are in it for the long haul.