Age UK Reading is a small organisation focused entirely upon trying to make life better for older people. Our experienced team of workers have been meeting online multiple times each week to ensure safe delivery of services in respond to rapidly changing local issues and demand. During the Covid crisis we have been tested by the challenges of lockdown, working from home and having to find new ways to achieve our goal. But we have never faltered from our aim of supporting older people around Reading. Lockdown has been a real challenge for older people, many of whom were already lonely and facing long term conditions, We have set up telephone befriending for all of the clients who were already engaged with our service, and many more who came to us during the crisis, feeling isolated and cut off as the lockdown was imposed. We made it our mission to track every one of these clients and stay in touch as often as they wanted. Setting up befriending calls, and check ins, sometimes several times a week, we were able to reassure this vulnerable group that they were not forgotten and that a friendly ear was always a phone call away. We were determined to do whatever it takes to keep them connected and raise their spirits.
In addition to the emotional pain of loneliness, many older people faced practical problems that they had not faced before. Primarily the need for shopping and errands to be undertaken by someone they could trust. We acted very quickly to set up a trusted shopping service as part of the One Reading Hub (A Covid Call Centre established by the local Authority). As well as shopping we have carried out errands to collect pensions and hearing aid batteries, sanitary products, and even cash from the bank. At the time of writing we have completed our 495th shop. We have charged the clients nothing for this work.
As well as the secure knowledge that people were looking out for them, this service led to many friendly doorstep conversations, which were immensely important to our clients. Many friendships have sprung up between shopper and client as the lockdown rolled on.
Many kind donations of soap, shower gel, magazines and similar came to us in the early weeks of the lockdown. A local school, Leighton Park did an appeal and made up beautiful goodie bags for our clients. These were hand delivered and left for clients with little notes to cheer them up.
As we have begun to come out of lockdown and enjoy new freedoms again, we are painfully aware that the easing of the lockdown is not happening to everyone. We are in touch with many clients who have still not left their home, either because they are in controlled environments like care homes, because they are afraid, or because the effects of being relatively immobile for so long has affected their mobility. We have tentatively re opened our footcare service in the past week and noticed an immediate change in the state of our clients’ feet. Almost all customers needing much more care than usual.
Where possible, we are adapting service to get the best results as guidelines change. For example we have developed “Garden Befriending” since guidelines shifted to allow this. Unfortunately, not all our clients are lucky enough to have a suitable garden. Those who do have been risk assessed and guidance has been produced to allow this activity to happen safely. It has meant the world to our clients to get out of the house and have a face to face conversation with someone who cares about them.
As the Covid 19 crisis continues through 2020 and 2021 Age UK will be there. We will adapt our services and develop new ones in response to the rapidly changing needs of the elderly population. We will work with partners and our army of smiling volunteers to ensure that anyone who asks for our help, gets it quickly, and safely.