Help is available to the most needy and vulnerable in our communities
By Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council.
Published 05 May 2020.
We may all by weathering the same storm, but our experiences and journey through this storm may be very different. For some people they face acute daily challenges, including loneliness, money worries and health concerns. Since the start of this pandemic our key priority has been the care and support of vulnerable people in our communities.
One way in which we are providing help is through the Home, But Not Alone emergency phoneline (0800 876 6926). Many of you will have already received a postcard through your letterbox this week with details of the phoneline, and other helpful contact details on the back. This postcard has been sent to every household in Suffolk to ensure that all vulnerable people know where they can access help. We know lots of people aren’t online or have access to a computer, so it is incredibly important that we continue to reach out to everyone. Sadly, we know that people’s circumstances will change and the number of people, and the types of people, who need help will grow and evolve as the pandemic continues. This support will exist throughout the longer term phases of the pandemic – it is not a temporary solution.
Of course, it is important to reiterate that this helpline is only for those who are in urgent need of help and support. It is not a general helpline for any Coronavirus enquiry – if our call handlers spend time answering unnecessary calls about business enquiries or the opening times of the nearest Co-op they will not be able to prioritise help to those who really need it. I ask that you think twice before calling. For those who can get online, there is lots of helpful information at suffolk.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/home-but-not-alone/
To date we have taken more than 5,000 calls on the helpline since its inception from those who need urgent help. The biggest need we’ve found is help with food and medicine deliveries, but we also receive calls relating to loneliness and poor mental health. This week we were contacted by an elderly lady who needed help with her medicine collection and we were able to source a nearby volunteer network who arranged for regular deliveries to her home. However in addition, the call handler also discovered that the lady had recently lost her husband and was struggling with grief, so we gave her options for bereavement support available near her. It is this extra care and support that can make such a difference to people’s lives. I know of another example in which, while we helped arrange a food delivery for a woman in her 70s, who was usually self-sufficient but was having to self-isolate, we also pointed her in the right direction of volunteer dog walkers so she no longer had to worry about her dog not getting his regular exercise as well. These are just two of dozens of examples I know where staff at the call centres have gone one, or two, steps beyond.
These phone calls are answered and cases managed by staff at each district, borough or county council depending on the type of enquiry. This work is overseen by the Collaborative Communities Covid-19 Board, with partners from councils, health, police and the voluntary and community sector. Once these calls are answered we to link people with local groups, town and parish councils and businesses. It is estimated that there are 1,500 community groups across Suffolk helping those in need. Some of these groups already existed and were doing invaluable work on the ground, but others were created with a very specific aim of helping those in this time of need.
There are many wonderful examples of the work being done by groups and community heroes in our neighbourhoods. In Halesworth, for example, a local group of volunteers have helped more than 350 people self-isolating in their community. They do over 70 shops a week, deliver prescriptions and medicines to nearly 90 people a week with around 50 volunteers. Last week, Woottens of Wenhaston, delivered 100 plants to the most vulnerable people in the communities. In Needham Market, a support group has coordinated 400 volunteers who help with food shopping and picking up prescriptions. I am incredibly proud of this effort, generosity and resilience in towns and villages as we all work together to do what we can to help those most in need across Suffolk.
It is timely that this community spirit chimes with the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday. Although we cannot commemorate as we would like, I would encourage you to take part in the 2 minute silence at 11am. I hope people continue to share their stories and experiences of Suffolk in wartime. To some extent, it feels especially relevant at the moment. Our journey through this storm will fill the pages of history books.