'Kindness must never be forgotten' as helpline became lifeline for thousands

Torbay Weekly

The Torbay Community Helpline - the lifeline for thousands of people in the Bay including some of most vulnerable, lonely and isolated residents – has just celebrated its first anniversary.

The Torbay Community Development Trust launched the helpline on March 16, 2020, and took its first calls from people worried about the impending lockdown that followed exactly a week later, on March 23.

David Gledhill, Marketing and Communications Lead for the Trust said: “We had no idea what to expect, and from that very first call, we have been running, thankfully successfully, to keep up with the needs of the people of Torbay, thousands of whom were obliged to stay in their own homes.

“Initially, it was all about shopping and prescription pick up from pharmacies. Who can forget the empty shelves in supermarkets as tinned, dried and frozen food became premium goods along with, bizarrely, toilet rolls?

“Our rapid response team initially made up mainly of our Community Builders joined queues that snaked around the block and waited patiently for hours outside chemist shops.”

He revealed: “Fortunately, we had taken the precaution of consulting with our partners; initially, Brixham Does Care, Age UK Torbay, Citizens Advice Torbay and Healthwatch Torbay and we were able to stay on top of spiralling demand.

“But we were also able to mobilise an army of volunteers, all keen to help their friends, relatives, and neighbours. It was a mobilisation the likes of which we have not seen in the Bay outside World Wars.

It wasn’t long before we recognised that the needs of people isolated in their own homes went way beyond food and medications and the Helpline evolved accordingly.”

New partners joined the helpline and David said: “We were soon able to offer services, such as telephone befriending for people who just needed to hear a friendly voice, perhaps the only other person they had spoken to that week,

“We also developed a mental health triage service for those really struggling and as the economic consequences began to bite hard, we also added financial assistance for those people who suddenly found themselves up against it.

“The Torbay Food Alliance pulled together more than ten foodbanks from across Torbay to source food on an enormous scale, which was no mean feat in the early days when cheap and bulk food became ever scarcer.

And yet, due in no part to the strength and resilience of our communities in the Bay, we won out. We didn’t just help each other, but we also took the coronavirus threat seriously and with a couple of exceptions – spikes in Brixham and parts of Torquay -our figures remained relatively low throughout.

To date, just three per cent of the Torbay population (4,100 people) that have been tested have had the virus and sadly 3.8 per cent of those died. However, for the most part our figures have been consistently well below the national average.

That has to be because we, the people of Torbay, genuinely believed that we were all in this together and our stats over the last year reflect that.”

The Helpline has taken just short of 19,000 calls. “We have been contacted by 5,800 people – around 4,500 requesting help and an incredible 1,300 people offering their help to others,” said David.

“More than 470,000 meals have been delivered, at the rate of around 10,000 a week, to individuals and whole families – many of whom have never struggled to put food on the table before.

“We have been there for nearly 700 people whose mental health has suffered through the crisis and have provided a way out of isolation with our telephone befriending service for hundreds more.”

He added: “Everything we have done has been in partnership, whether that be with the other charities and organisations already mentioned, Torbay Council and the Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust, and many, many more.

“But most of all, the effort has ultimately relied on our volunteers and as well as celebrating one year, we would like to find a way of commemorating it so that the kindness is never forgotten.”