Unlikely friendships and heaps of gratitude are the happy by-product of the Southend Coronavirus Action Helpline as it is confirmed the service will remain open.
Central Government announced they will be stopping centralised support including food parcels from 1 August. However Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has decided to continue with the helpline and supporting those residents who need it.
It is a decision helpline volunteer Sarah Carlton is particularly pleased about. Sarah is a Travel Coordinator with South Essex Active Travel, promoting sustainable travel such as cycling and walking to businesses and schools. Her role changed considerably in March when lockdown happened, so she decided to put her time to good use and volunteer for the helpline.
She said: “I have got a lot of friends who work in the NHS and I hear their stories about how they are working on the frontline. It was the least I could do, to volunteer for the helpline. I enjoy doing it and feel I’m playing my part.
“You can tell some people call just wanting a chat. Some are at their lowest ebb and they just want to feel they’re not alone. Especially the older residents. I talk to them about what TV they have watched. We had to give a lot of explanations of the guidance, and we had a lot of questions from older people about how to secure a supermarket delivery slot which we helped with as much as we could.
“The majority of people are so kind and grateful. One of the first calls I took was a lady who wanted to know if it was true that we could make arrangements for her dogs to be walked. When I told her we could, she burst into tears. I ended up crying and I don’t even like dogs! It just meant so much to her that we could help.”
The Southend Coronavirus Action helpline was set up by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, in partnership with local charities and the voluntary community in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The aim is to support vulnerable residents who have no local support and are unable to leave their homes because of shielding or isolation, to get food supplies, medication, help with shopping or even dog walking.
Relying on volunteers to make it work, the helpline has shown the amazing community spirit of the town and created some otherwise unlikely friendships.
Sarah said: “There’s one lady I speak with every week; I like to call and just make sure she’s ok. I look forward to our conversations and we’ve struck up a bit of a friendship. When she first called the helpline, she had just been discharged from hospital, had no family nearby and very little support.
“I referred her to social care, spoke to her doctor’s surgery, got her prescription filled. I think I just gave her the confidence to make some small changes, such as changing GP surgery, to make her life a little easier.
“Although we’re getting fewer calls now, the majority of people we’ve spoken to have now been stuck indoors for months and it’s been horrendous for them. Aside from learning the meaning of Tik Tok, Teams meetings and furlough, I would like to hope people will also be a little bit kinder to one another when this is all over.”
Cllr Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “The helpline has been incredibly successful in supporting our more vulnerable residents and it is testament to the hard work of the council officers, working with our partners, to create a brand new department, rally volunteers and staff.
“Although the national support is changing, we have decided that we would keep the number there for anyone who does not have a local support network and monitor the situation closely. I would rather the helpline was there and not needed, than needed and not there.”
Cllr Trevor Harp, cabinet member for health, said: “Our deepest thanks to everyone who has volunteered to help the Southend Coronavirus Action group. Please remember to check in on their vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours, who may still be shielding or isolating. We must continue to look after ourselves by washing our hands regularly and following the Government advice, and we must continue to look after one another.”
If you can’t get out and need food or prescriptions, and you have no family or friends locally, please call our helpline on 01702 212497. The helpline is available 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday.
If you think you or someone you live with has symptoms, please stay in your home and View GOV.UK for the latest Government advice and instructions
For trusted information about Coronavirus, please visit our Coronavirus information pages.