Shielding – a year later

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

Another week and another few tentative steps towards normality – whatever ‘normal’ will mean in the future.

Easter has meant some freedom for many, but the streets of Torbay remained relatively quiet compared to the hordes that we normally see in our town centres on the first significant Bank Holiday of the year.

For others, as shielding officially came to an end, it was the first time they had ventured out for more than a year, other than to visit the vaccination centre to get their jabs.

For more than 12 months, they have relied upon friends, family, neighbours, and an army of volunteers to allow them to remain safely inside their homes, with food and medication delivered to their doors.

Volunteers like Bob Ward, one of more than 1,400 people who signed up at the height of the first lockdown, who have helped to keep everyone safe and prevented people from slipping into isolation as their doors remained closed to the outside world.

To Bob and the many people like him it was the least he could do: “I have seen people speechless at the kindnesses they are experiencing and I have seen tears and smiles. A lot of smiles. It is lovely to see the community coming together, and the people who are organising it all are doing a fantastic job on the logistics,” he said.

And as well as delivering food and essential meds there have been people who have ensured everyone that wants it gets a little bit of company – a friendly voice at the end of the phone. People like Lesley Bullock.

At one point Lesley was spending hours every week at the end of a phone calling people she had never, and to this day has never, met, to make sure they heard at least one other voice every week. She became an important link to the outside world, reminding them they were not alone and we were all in this together.

“I had one 90 year old who missed her friends and her church and at first the calls were difficult. It took me weeks to get her to laugh, but we got there,” said Lesley who did not underestimate the importance of her calls.

“I have one lady who I rang several times a week to give her daughter, who is her carer a bit of a break and if I don’t ring within minutes of the time I said I would she was on the phone asking me where I was.”

And the calls also helped Lesley as she, too, was confined to her home in Paignton, and because of her COPD, which she has had for ten years, she felt her own world shrinking as lockdown after lockdown took their toll.

James Arthur was one of the volunteers who helped 85-year-old Dennis and his 90-year-old wife, Sylvia, to avoid the necessity of going out at all, other than to the Riviera Centre for their all important vaccination.

James, along with supply teacher, Jane Silver, both volunteered through the Torbay Community Helpline and made regular deliveries of food and medications to the couple striking up a doorstep friendship as the weeks stretched into months and then past a year.

Dennis is clear on what those deliveries meant to him: “The Helpline and our volunteers made all the difference to us. They allowed us to shield and stay safe. It was, quite simply, a lifeline.”

These stories have been repeated in communities right across the Bay and despite everything that COVID has thrown at us, we are stronger as a result.

With the exception of a handful of spikes in infections, overall incidence of coronavirus has remained low throughout and the number of deaths has been mercifully few,although that does not help those affected directly by this dreadful virus.

For all that, and despite the easing of restrictions – next week sees the return of shopping on the High Street, the reopening of libraries, community centres and outdoor hospitality – there are still those that remain reluctant to go out again untilthey have had their second vaccination.

The Helpline remains open for those people who continue to need assistance as a result of this crisis; we are still receiving calls from as many as 50 new people every week. One call, that’s all. We are here if you need us on 01803 446022 from 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday and Saturdays from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm.

You are not alone.