Pioneering community helpline celebrates its third anniversary

A PIONEERING community Helpline which has helped 8,500 people in Torbay, is celebrating its third birthday.

The Torbay Community Helpline has handled more than 75,000 calls since it launched one week before the first lockdown as a response to the impending COVID crisis in March 2020.

Initially, staff and volunteers from charity and voluntary organisations across the Bay were on hand to advise worried residents and mobilise an army of shoppers and prescription collectors.

Led by the Torbay Community Development Trust, Healthwatch Torbay, AgeUK Torbay, Citizens Advice Torbay and Brixham Foes Care at the peak of the crisis, it handled thousands of calls from people in Torbay at a peak rate of 60 an hour.

It also helped mobilise more than 1,700 people who wanted to step up to help friends, relatives, neighbours and even strangers when they were unable to leave their homes for long months at a time.

The Torbay Food Alliance, which continues to run the Bay’s foodbanks, community larders and fridges, used the Helpline as a focus to make sure no one in the Bay went hungry.

But the Helpline also provided the focus for lonely people who were at risk of becoming isolated because they were not leaving their homes and befrienders were recruited to ring others to provide a friendly voice in a quiet world.

And as the crisis limped from weeks into months and into years with relatively short breaks between lockdowns, services provided by the Helpline were constantly expanding to meet changing needs.

Financial advice became a key feature as jobs were lost and families struggled to make ends meet and around the same time, mental health became a serious issue and specialist befrienders with a background in counselling were recruited to support those who were suffering.

By the beginning of 2021, there was light at the end of the tunnel with the announcement of a nationwide vaccination programme which was centred in the Bay around the Riviera Centre in Torquay and the Rugby Club in Brixham and once again the Helpline mobilised volunteers to marshal arrivals and chaperone people inside.

The Helpline proved such a valuable resource that as we finally came out of the coronavirus crisis, it was decided to keep it going and it remains a unique service that is now attracting the attention of other statutory authorities around the country.

Boasting the strapline “One Call That’s All”, it is still the only number (01803 446022) needed to access an ever-expanding range of services, advice and support, provided by our combined team of volunteer and paid call handlers or via referral agencies.

The cost-of-living crisis, which came on the back of the COVID crisis, has meant that Helpline has remained busy, just the emphasis has changed with more calls regarding financial advice and mental health referrals.

The Helpline continues to receive in excess of 500 calls a week. Recently, more services have been added to complement existing ones including housing support, adult social care referrals and home from hospital, which means there is an ongoing need for more volunteers.

In particular, the Helpline continues to need specialist befrienders, drivers, shoppers and more call handlers, because according to TCDT director, Tracey Cabache, the long-term impact of the COVID crisis is only being seen now.

“People have lost confidence or simply do not have the support networks they had before the crisis. They stopped seeing each other at the bus stop, the hairdressers, or their local shop and became lonelier and isolated.

“Waits for treatments have grown longer and people’s mental health is under increasing pressure. We threw everything at COVID, but help is needed now, more than ever.

“The Helpline has been a fantastic way of supporting people in the Bay, not just those that need help, but those that offer help. We should all be very proud of what the community has achieved.”

If you can help and would like more details of the volunteering opportunities on offer, call the Helpline on 01803 446022 or fill in the form at bit.ly/torbayHelpline

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