How Torbay communities stepped up when the call came

Torbay Weekly

At the centre of the volunteering efforts over the last 14 months has been the Torbay Community Helpline.

Set up one week before the first lockdown on March 16 2020, the hub has been contacted by more than 6,300 people – more than 4,700 needing help and more than 1,600 offering help.

More than 23,000 calls have been made to the helpline number – 01803 446022 – and it has helped ensure that no one in the Bay has gone hungry and no one has been left lonely and isolated.

When it first started – a coalition of charities from across the Bay, it concentrated on finding enough volunteers to ensure shielding residents were able to maintain supplies of food and sometimes life-saving medications.

Rapid response teams were set up that joined snaking queues outside supermarkets, local shops and pharmacies before delivering essential supplies to those advised to stay behind closed doors.

But as the lockdown continued and morphed into tiered restrictions and then more lockdowns, it became clear that some people were not seeing or talking to anyone else and were becoming lonely and isolated.

As a result the helpline – staffed by a mix of volunteers and staff from charities across the Bay – recruited a bank of telephone befrienders who would call others on a regular basis, helping relieve the loneliness and tedium of life locked down behind closed doors.

As the pandemic continued to wreak havoc in people’s day-to-day lives, the needs of helpline callers became more complex, and new services were added to cope with those needs and a new rallying cry was adopted to reflect those changes – One Call, That’s All.

Specialist befrienders were recruited to handle complex mental health issues and  triage services were set up to deal with severe cases caused by the ongoing crisis.

Almost 70 people have now volunteered as specialist befrienders.

Financial support was also added to help people whose lives had been changed overnight by furlough and job losses run through the Ageing Well Torbay sponsored FAIR project – again often staffed by volunteers.

When vaccinations were introduced at the beginning of this year, it was again volunteers that were mobilised.

They acted as marshals, driver and chaperones to ensure the smooth running of the operation, initially at the English Riviera International Conference Centre in Torquay and the Horizon Centre at Torbay Hospital.

People came forward in their hundreds to help with visitors to the RICC sometimes standing out in the wind and the rain for up to six hours at a time – but the results were astonishing.

At one stage, there were more than 200 volunteers on the rota at the RICC and another 110 at the Brixham Rugby Club which began delivering vaccinations a few months later.

To date 157,535 vaccinations have been delivered in total - 88,813 have received the first jab and 68,722, the second.

Alongside the formal volunteering, neighbours grouped together to set up neighbourhood schemes to watch out for and to support people living in their street and more than 70 such schemes are now in operation.

Twelve foodbanks, again mostly staffed by volunteers came together to provide meals for those who could no longer afford to put food on the table and more than half a million have been provided since the Torbay Food Alliance was set up at the end of March 2020.

Torbay today would be a different place without the efforts of so many who have proved that their communities are resilient and can step up when the call comes.

More than 1,600 people have been involved in volunteering through the helpline doing everything from shopping to putting the bins out, from dog walking to talking on the phone,

Many hundreds if not thousands of others have offered their services through the NHS or directly to their favourites charities to ensure we all come through this together.