It’s good to talk — heartfelt gratitude for helpline staff

Islanders continue to show huge appreciation for the Isle of Wight Council’s ‘check-in’ wellbeing service.

Since the start of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, community volunteers through community hubs, voluntary sector organisations and redeployed council staff, have been staying in touch with some of the Island’s most vulnerable residents.

The service ensures that those having to self-isolate or shield from the virus, and who may not have other support or contact, receive a weekly call to check whether they need any support and that they remain well.

For some, the call is their only link to the outside world. For others, it is peace of mind knowing help is on hand should their circumstances change.

But in all cases, the support is greatly appreciated as evidenced in hundreds of heartfelt messages of thanks and gratitude that inundate the service each week.

One resident wrote: “As someone who has been asked to shield, I write in praise of the council staff who are taking the time and trouble to phone me each week.

“I am fortunate enough to have weekly supermarket deliveries and also someone to collect my medications for me. However, I still appreciate the call each week. The callers’ assurance that help is at hand should my circumstances change is also very reassuring.”

More than 18,000 ‘check-in’ wellbeing calls have been made to shielded residents since March. And even as lockdown restrictions are eased, shielded Islanders continue to receive frequent calls.

In addition, there have been 556 welfare visit checks to shielded residents to confirm they are safe and well where contact by telephone was not achieved.

With the majority of council staff working from home, Steph Rickard, customer adviser supervisor at the council, is calling residents from her new ‘office’ — her dining room table.

She said: “With some of the people I call, I will be the only person they have spoken to or will speak with. There are times when I have had tears in my eyes hearing some people’s stories.

“One gentleman who I called had recently lost his wife. I listened to him talk about their life together and how heartbroken he is now.

“I made a note on the list that he should be called at least twice a week by us as he had no one.”

It is not just the shielded residents who benefit from frequent ‘check-in’ calls.

Those that have contacted the council’s Covid-19 helpline number — (01983) 823 600 — and are also vulnerable can request to receive a call, which are followed up by Community Action Isle of Wight staff and volunteers.

Michael Bulpitt, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Whether you’re managing okay at this time or are starting to struggle, talking about what’s going on and how you’re feeling, makes everyone feel that bit better.”

Across the Island, there are lots of positive and supportive discussions going on.

In the West Wight, the Covid support effort coordinated out of the West Wight Sports and Community Centre has paired up volunteers with people requesting calls, leading to regular, supportive conversations and developing friendships.

Meanwhile, a wide variety of charities have tailored their support to fit in with government guidance.

For example, Carers Isle of Wight, are using calls and online support to help carers at this challenging time, carrying out support group sessions, quizzes and meditation using Zoom, so carers have the opportunity to mix with each other.

Council leader, Dave Stewart, said: “Contact with another person, perhaps having a laugh and a joke over the phone, has helped lift people’s spirits and combat feelings of loneliness, anxiety and stress.

“It has been particularly moving and humbling to read the many comments from people saying what a difference the service has made in making them feel supported and not alone.

“There has been a tremendous effort by the council and its community partners to support the most vulnerable within the community.

“If one good thing comes from this pandemic, it will be that we have been reminded how important it is for communities to work together and look after each other.

“We will continue to provide whatever services are needed to ensure those that remain behind closed doors are not forgotten.”

Pictured: Steph Rickard, customer adviser supervisor, who has been manning the Covid-19 helpline.