As the coronavirus continues to grip Torbay, we need volunteers like David Evans as much as we ever have. David Gledhill reports:
Thousands of people have discovered in the last 18 months that volunteering is a two-way street.
So many people have found that by helping others, they also help themselves, often in ways they could not have dreamed of.
David Evans, 61, has volunteered for most of his life in one way or another, starting with a sponsored walk when he was just 11 years old and continuing on and off ever since.
When Covid-19 struck in March 2020, David was one of the first to offer his help, initially delivering food and essentials to doorsteps from his local grocery store.
But it wasn’t until March this year, that his offer to the Torbay Community Helpline was taken up and he became a telephone befriender to four, potentially lonely and isolated, people.
The married father of three, now-adult, children was over the moon when the call came as he celebrated his wife Barbara’s birthday: “I remember that call so well. It was community builder, Usha Garrattley, and I was so chuffed that I told my wife that I was the one that had received the best present, even though it was her birthday.”
David was one of more than 1,600 people that have, so far, volunteered through the helpline and he would urge others to step forward: “Anyone can do it. Most of us have mobile phones with unlimited minutes, so all it costs is your time.
“All you need is a good listening ear; you need to know how far to go and when to back off. You can, and do, make a difference, but you have to remember it is their life.
"People’s stories are so much better than fiction. I listen and they inspire me. All you need is empathy, not sympathy. The latter doesn’t help anyone.” he said.
In the last six months David has spoken regularly to one man whose wife is in a home and no longer recognises him. The rest of his family live elsewhere in the country and he just needs a friendly voice checking in.
Another was struggling in his home and David, with the help of Usha and AgeUK Torbay, found him a more suitable flat to move into.
"It's deeply satisfying to know can help in so many ways,'" says David.
"Loneliness is hideous - and it seems to be getting worse. I liken it to a mental cancer, and we need to tackle it now. Everyone can help.
"Even one phone call a week will give someone's life a massive boost-and befriending has made me feel a lot better too, as Covid has affected mental health for most of us."
David, an estate agent in Brixham, has no problem fitting in his calls and WhatsApp check-in messages around his work and family life.
“Everyone has a role to play, and you always get something out of it. Volunteering like this is two-way traffic and I am so glad I have been able to do it, and I'm very pleased I'm part of this brilliant team."
There are lots of volunteering opportunities available via the helpline, including befriending, specialist befriending which needs a background in counselling, call handling, and many more.
You can register your interest by calling 01803 446022.
In David’s own words: “Who knows what it might give you?”
The Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline is a group of organisations from the charity and voluntary sector in the Bay, including the Torbay Community Development Trust, Brixham Does Care, Age UK Torbay, Healthwatch Torbay, Ageing Well Torbay, Citizens Advice Torbay, the Torbay Advice Network, Homemaker Southwest and What’s Your Problem, all working alongside Torbay Council and the Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.
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