Helpline, guidance line, offload line, information line…lifeline?

“Hello, Torbay Community Helpline, how may I help you?” is a phrase we have used almost 80,000 times since the helpline began in March 2020.

March 2020 seems like a lifetime ago, but have things really changed in our local communities?  Or are we seeing different, but nonetheless, almost impossible challenges for local people?

The early days of the helpline provided practical support by way of shopping and prescription collections, as well as general errands.  Local volunteers collected over 2,500 prescriptions alone, during the pandemic, providing vital support to those in need.  We provided clarification about Covid guidance and regulation, we listened and we cared.

As the world began to adapt to life after lockdown, so too did the helpline.  Many volunteers returned to work, services began to deliver in different ways and calls to the helpline began to increase.  Yes, increase!

Callers were now seeking advice in greater numbers than before.  At a time when we wanted to see hope for the future, we began to see even greater frustration, and sadly in some cases sheer desperation.  We saw an increase in requests for specialist housing advice, particularly around options for help after being served notice to quit a rental property.  Many families were now facing uncertainty as many rental properties were sold.  Callers were telling us that their employers had ceased trading post Covid, and now they were searching for new work whilst waiting for new claims for benefits to be assessed.  For some the periods of lockdown had affected relationships, for others their self-confidence in being independent. Again, we listened, we cared and we linked people to the amazing local support on offer across the bay.

The helpline in 2023 is a very different place in many respects, with the issues presented being more complex, and many callers facing multiple challenges.  With the cost of basic living on the rise, and income not following suit, we are having conversations every day with people who don’t know what to do or where to turn.  The desperation for some is obvious, and sadly this has meant a rise in verbal aggression towards the helpline team.  Despite this, we listen and we care.  We understand that some who call us cannot feel hope, and that leads to uncontrollable emotion which sometimes spills over.  The helpline team support our band of volunteers who are simply amazing!  Local people giving up their time to help their communities.   They never judge, they always listen with compassion, and they genuinely do care about those who use our service.

Just this last week we had a conversation with a caller who said ‘I actually think I would be dead if I hadn’t called you’.  We don’t take that feedback lightly.  Like the many marvellous organisations, large and small, working across Torbay, to improve the lives of local people, we know what a difference one conversation can have on someone’s day.  Those organisations continue to deliver unwavering support to those who need it most.

Although some things have changed over the life of the helpline, some things remain constant.  The dedication of our team, staff and volunteers alike, is astounding.  Volunteers continue to make shopping trips, deliver food, post mail, collect prescriptions and read meters, as well as support in making homes ready to return to for those leaving hospital.  But we must not forget those who listen, who take calls and listen for 5 minutes or an hour, and in some small way provide hope that there is a way forward.  We always need more helping hands, so do get in touch if you have some time you’d like to donate. We would love to hear from you.

To get in touch, give us a call on 01803 446022 – lines are open 10am-1pm & 3-6pm Monday-Friday, and 11:30am-12:30pm Saturdays. Or complete the online form at bit.ly/torbayhelpline, and a member of the team will contact you as soon as possible.


Image by jannoon028 on Freepik

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