Getting started

Although I am retired, I find myself busier than ever. Normally, I would be involved in a variety of groups relating to older people but since this current crisis started, I have been making triage calls to people who register with the Gosport Community Response Line.

When the crisis hit, Gosport Borough Council swiftly partnered with Gosport Voluntary Action (GVA) to set up the Response Line and put in place support for those who need it. Very quickly, we distributed information about the support and information available, had set up a referral system and had some volunteers ready to help out.

As ever, those that don’t ‘do online’ had to be considered and there was a massive effort to deliver a leaflet to every household in the borough with details about how they could register, get information and generally keep themselves as well as possible. We have a team of a dozen or so managing the whole system who are a mix of paid employees of GVA and volunteers like myself. We also have upwards of 90 volunteers doing practical tasks.

The process

It’s a simple process really:

Step 1: Register with the response team

Step 2: I, or one of my three colleagues on the triage team, will call you to see how you are and what you need. This can include shopping, medication collection, other practical help or just a chat.

Step 3: We ‘assign someone to whichever team can best meet their needs.

Once someone has been through the triage system, they will be contacted by a volunteer shopper who will ask a shopping list, including preferences for brands, and arrange for delivery and payment; a driver, who will collect details of a prescription; or you may be passed to the team managing weekly befriending calls.

We are very fortunate that we have volunteers to call on who have already been DBS checked. We are also very conscious that some people hear very upsetting stories so we make sure that staff and volunteers alike have access to someone that can talk to if needs be.

Of course, this is one of those situations where you see the swan gliding along on top with the feet going like crazy underneath. In the beginning we had to do twelve-hour days to get everything done and were adjusting things as we came across them. My younger daughter works remotely all the time and is getting used to requests for technical support – she has now realised that she has to speak slowly and clearly for her poor old Mum!

My concerns

While it is wonderful to see communities coming together to help each other, it is worrying when you think about how vulnerable some of the people self-isolating are. You could very easily imagine a situation where someone knocks on an older person’s door, offers to do shopping and keeps someone’s card and pin number. I’ve also heard of people who are handing over cash for shopping that never appears or details of prescriptions that have street value.

Maybe I am becoming cynical or maybe I am just watching too many cop shows on the box, but part of my job as Chair of the Gosport Older Persons Forum is to ensure that our members are aware of scams but not afraid of them. I think groups need to make sure that they give this advice to their volunteers and a reliable way to identify themselves.

One of the things that this crisis has highlighted is the number of small informal groups who help their neighbours in all sorts of ways. As the crisis goes on, I think it is really important to help these groups register with larger organisations such as the council or a Voluntary Action so that we can help them with all of the ‘boring’ (but important) bits like safeguarding policy, insurance and DBS checks.

Overall it has been rewarding, upsetting, tiring and enervating experience. I cannot go out due to shielding but I’m glad that I can contribute in this way.

You can read Independent Age’s information on different types of scams to be aware of here.

The work of Suzanne and others offers a tremendous amount of support to those who need it most at this time.

Independent Age believes the Government should coordinate a joined-up approach from the voluntary sector as a whole, with proper safeguarding and processes in place.