By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
We are fast approaching the second anniversary of the day COVID arrived in the Bay.
A group of skiers, taking advantage of the half-term break, unwittingly brought the virus back with them and were immediately quarantined, making them among the first in the country to be identified as infected.
Not that it mattered, as it turned out as we now know only too well that the virus was heading our way and it was unstoppable, but it did give us a few more weeks to prepare for the inevitable.
Whilst most people were looking to Europe to watch events unfold, here in the Bay, we were already considering what could be done not if, but when coronavirus established itself here.
Our response in March 2022 was the simply called Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline, initially a 12 hour a day, seven days a week telephone support line, staffed by people from a handful of charities in Torbay.
It was one of the few times that charities had come together, united in one fight, to do all they could to help the population of the Bay at a time of crisis. And those early efforts by Age UK Torbay, Healthwatch Torbay, Citizens Advice Torbay, and Brixham Does Care, led by Torbay Community Development Trust, made all the difference.
At a time when no one really knew what was going on nor what to expect, the charity sector, with the aid of an army of volunteers, rallied to do all that they could to ensure that no one in the Bay went without essential medications and no one went hungry.
It is now difficult to truly remember the palpable levels of fear in those early days when we were forced into Lockdown One and the word unprecedented became the word of the moment.
The calls to the Helpline, on 01803 446022 came in, at one point, at the rate of just short of 400 a day, and overworked and exhausted responders joined queues outside pharmacies and supermarkets to make sure everyone got what they needed.
And the Helpline, whilst dealing with slightly different things two years down the line, is for those that need it, as important today as it was when it was one place to call to get support through the lockdowns.
Last week, we saw a spike in calls approaching 100 a day as vulnerable families and individuals across the Bay battled with the harsh reality of choosing between heating their homes or putting food on the table.
The perfect storm of soaring food and heating bills and reduced income that we predicted last December has sadly become a reality and that is even before we get any real Winter weather.
Sixty-five people, previously unknown to us, joined the more than 7,500 others that have already used the Helpline and most of them needed advice on their failing mental health, support with their finances and access to food parcels.
Our call handlers, some volunteers, are trained to find the best help available for people who do not know where else to turn and they take pride in the Helpline’s strapline – one call, that’s all. Or put another way, if you do not know where to turn, pick up the phone and dial 01803 446022.
Much of the Helpline’s workload still revolves around the fallout from COVID and whilst we no longer have lockdowns and fewer people are choosing to isolate in their homes, problems remain and the majority have been caused by the upheaval of the last two years.
COVID may have fewer catastrophic effects in most vaccinated people these days, but it is still out there and it continues to have far-reaching effects on some, whether that is to their health – there are 27 people in Torbay Hospital this week and two of them are hooked up to ventilators – or to their financial wellbeing through being unable to work.
Last week there were also 1,334 reported cases of the virus in the Bay per one hundred thousand people, which remained above the national average of 1,019. That is one in one hundred people still suffering in one way or another.
Fortunately, the Helpline is there for them should they need it and will remain there for them in the future, ready to help with problems, whatever they may be.