By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
Good news has been a bit thin on the ground for the last 14 months, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been things to celebrate. Take the Torbay Community Helpline.
From nowhere, the Helpline has become a community resource to be reckoned with, due, in no small part, to the efforts of the team of volunteers who have staffed it.
It seems hard to believe now, but it did not exist until the crisis hit back in March 2020, and yet since the lines opened, initially 12 hours a day, seven days a week, it has taken in the region of 22,000 calls.
At its peak, as the first lockdown took its toll, it was dealing with more than 340 calls a day from people who suddenly found that they could no longer leave their homes because they were shielding.
So far, more than 6,200 people have contacted the Helpline – most of them needing help of some sort, but more than 1,600 of those calls have been from people offering support.
Most people do not know when they ring the Helpline number – 01803 446022 – because their call is being handled by a volunteer who is giving their time for free, working from home to provide all the support and reassurance that is needed.
They have worked tirelessly throughout the crisis to ensure that there is always a friendly voice at the end of the phone, now six days a week from 10am until 6pm from Monday to Friday and from 9:30am to 12:30pm on Saturdays.
Launched on March 16th, one week before the first full lockdown we had no idea what to expect, but with the help of our dedicated volunteers, some of whom have been with us from the beginning, we have been able to cope with everything the crisis has thrown at us.
At first, it was all about food and medications as people were forced to stay in their homes and could no longer get out and about to do their own shopping or collect their own prescriptions.
And as the crisis went from lockdown to tiered restrictions and back into lockdown, loneliness began to take its toll and to prevent people from becoming isolated, we put callers in touch with a network of telephone befrienders.
At the beginning of 2020, no one could have predicted the full impact of coronavirus, not just on those that have been unlucky enough to catch it but on others who have suffered due to its far-reaching consequences for the economy.
The Helpline has evolved to meet changing needs every step of the way, and our call handlers have managed to stay one step ahead throughout by introducing new services and providing much-needed advice.
The Helpline handled most of the requests for food parcels from people who could no longer afford to put food on the table and have helped the Torbay Food Alliance deliver an incredible 500,000 meals in a little over a year.
By the time the second lockdown came around, we had realised that the Helpline was not just a lifeline to people during the pandemic, it was something that was here to stay, and we introduced a new strapline that says everything you need to know about it – One Call That’s All.
We are now proud to say that if you have a problem and don’t know where to turn, then ring the Helpline. If we don’t have the answer instantly, we will find it for you.
It has become a gateway to a whole host of services. Not surprisingly, mental health issues, already a severe problem in the Bay, have been exacerbated and we have been able to provide support to more than 750 people.
Financial problems faced by families and individuals are also on the rise and so far, we have been able to help more than 450 of them through our network of specialists.
The Helpline also coordinated the hundreds of marshals and chaperones at the vaccination centres in the Bay who have helped ensure that more than 85,000 people have received their jabs.
None of this would have been achieved without our incredible volunteers and we all owe them a great debt of gratitude.
If you can spare a few hours and become one of the team, please do ring the Helpline on 01803 446022 or go to bit.ly/torbayhelpline. We look forward to your call.