01 Mar A CONCERNING RISE IN AGGRESSION TOWARDS VOLUNTEER CALL HANDLERS
By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
HARD to believe, but the Torbay Community Helpline has been running for nearly three years and has taken just short of 80,000 calls.
Over the next few weeks, we will be celebrating the many successes that have come about due to the hard work of a handful of staff and a host of dedicated volunteers.
We will also be taking the opportunity to reflect on how things have changed since those scary days at the start of COVID when none of us knew what was to come, but all feared things would never be the same again. How right we were.
The Helpline, then called the Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline, was launched following a hastily called meeting in the backroom of our office in Temperance Street, Torquay soon after the first cases were confirmed in the Bay among a group that had returned from a skiing holiday in Italy.
We started taking calls a week before the whole country was locked down. All we knew for sure was that we were all in ‘it’ together; we just didn’t know what the ‘it’ was and most of our conversations revolved around letting people know that they were not alone.
Every single caller expressed their gratitude at being able to pick up the phone and speak to someone and to be able to get help, initially with shopping and prescription collections for those that were choosing to stay behind their firmly closed doors.
As weeks turned into months, demand on the Helpline and the army of volunteers that supported it rocketed, but whatever the issue, there remained the feeling that we were all in this together and together we would get through it.
Through nearly two years of intermittent lockdowns and restrictions, neighbours looked out for each other and volunteers flocked to help not just friends and relatives, but complete strangers.
Gratitude was constantly expressed, whether it was for a food parcel, a prescription collected, a befriending call that staved off loneliness or simply the sound of a friendly, reassuring voice at the end of the phone.
So what changed? Attitudes have changed.
Yes, times are hard and whilst most of us have come through the COVID crisis, relatively unscathed, there are those that suffered then and continue to suffer now as that crisis gives way to a cost of living crisis hitting the most vulnerable the hardest.
Perhaps it is the seemingly endless grinding down the of the human spirit that is making people angry or perhaps they have forgotten that the Helpline is still staffed in part by an incredible band of volunteers who give their time freely. Whatever it is attitudes have changed.
Gratitude has given way to anger and that is misdirected at the very people that are trying to help and it is becoming increasingly common. Some days abusive calls outnumber the others. We get it that times are hard.
We get it that some people are having to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table, We get it that some people can barely afford to do either, but this is not a crisis of our making and we are not to blame.
However, we will not put up with name-calling, bad language and unreasonable demands and will terminate a call if it gets out of hand. No one should have to endure abuse, and those staffing the Helpline are no different.
Our call handlers do not like being forced to terminate a call, but they will and will have their colleagues’ full support when they do. Our Helpline volunteers and staff can help in all sorts of ways, but they cannot perform miracles, try as they might.
Demand continues to rocket on the Helpline and the cases we deal with are becoming ever more complex, and sorting through the issues that come with complex cases takes time, compassion and energy. Abuse saps that energy and that is why we are clamping down.
We don’t want to exclude anyone from using the helpline service; after all we are here to support you. However, it saddens us that this has become a reality in recent weeks. Help us to help you.
Headset on desk photo courtesy of Freepik.com