Army of volunteers stave off loneliness for people isolated by coronavirus

Voluntary Norfolk chief executive Alan Hopley.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Voluntary Norfolk chief executive Alan Hopley.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

Loneliness and isolation in Norfolk during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond is being tackled through the creation of a new befriending service.

Some of the 3,500-strong army of volunteers who came forward offering to help vulnerable people in the county are helping people who need a bit more social contact.

Voluntary Norfolk, in partnership with Norfolk County Council, is connecting befrienders from the network of volunteers to lonely people.

And so far, volunteers have made befriending phone calls to more than 260 people through the Better Together helpline, which has a triage system to check eligibility and make sure it is the right thing to do.

Where people need extra or different support, the volunteer is keeping in touch with the person to make sure they get that additional help.

One who has recently joined the service is Maurice Oliver, 90. He said: “I try to keep moving with housework and like to use brain-power making models, otherwise you lose it, but I do still feel lonely and depressed at times.

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“I’ve come to rely on these calls. [My befriender’s] an angel and is genuinely interested in me, not just talking for the sake of it.”

Alan Hopley, chief executive of Voluntary Norfolk and Better Together, said: “Based on the success of our volunteer recruitment over the last few months, we wanted to ensure that this incredible resource would remain sustainable and make a real difference to people’s lives.

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“Going forward, the role of the volunteer is not only integral to the recovery of the current crisis but is also instrumental in providing early help and support for communities longer term.”

Ceri Sumner, a spokesperson for the Norfolk Resilience Forum, said: “We already know the devastating effects loneliness and social isolation can have on people’s mental and physical health, so we are urging people to reach out and not to feel stigmatised – essentially, it’s okay not to feel okay – we are here to help.

“We must remember that, for a number of vulnerable people in the county, they still need to take more precautionary measures. The befriending service should go some way to reaching those people who don’t have friends and family to make regular calls or visits.”

The contact number for the service is 0344 800 8020.

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