Chorlton Good Neighbours – report for April to June 2020
From March 16th CGN ceased operating as normal due to Covid 19; all on-site activities were suspended and the group decided to offer support to its members and other local older residents through these key areas:
- Regular Telephone befriending
- Door checks and chats, socially distanced
- Shopping and prescription collection
- Odd jobs , if safe to do so
- Regular monthly newsletters to 250 CGN members containing information from MCC, Age Friendly Manchester, local health colleagues and other organisations. We also included a different sheet of exercises each month as well as some strategies and tips around various themes.
- General advice and referral to agencies
- Delivery of food parcels and donations of other items from local organisations such as Morrisons, Unicorn, Age friendly Manchester and SMRD UK.
Offering a more intense, limited range of services was certainly a big change to the way we usually operate but it did allow us to fulfil our role in the community as ‘good neighbours’. The above services kept CGN ‘alive’ for many people, and helped them still feel connected to the organisation as well as to the neighbourhood. It also offered younger volunteers, sometimes on the fringes of the organisation because they work outside the home full time, the chance to do more and help out with one off shopping jobs or collecting prescriptions.
Organisationally CGN had to be a bit more innovative, and like everyone else, has made the most of Zoom and other I.T. to keep people engaged. The History talks, the Positive Living group, the Tuesday parent & Toddler group, volunteer and trustee meetings – all have taken place through Zoom (or small what’s app groups), and look like doing so for the foreseeable future. However the down side to this progress is that our client group, mainly 65 years and older, tend to be those who are the least likely to be engaged with technology. A small snap shot survey of 50 older members found that half still only use a basic mobile or landline, and didn’t have any laptop or tablet at home. Interestingly, and maybe no surprise, was that many had no desire to learn and felt they had what they needed.
In order to maintain communication with the large number of members not on line, it became obvious that the ‘good old newsletter’ was the only way forward. With a new fancy printer installed in the office, it became easy to produce a monthly 4 page letter, with lots of information about where to get support and help, strategies to avoid boredom, get creative and how to approach the easing of restrictions, and also ideas for simple exercises to do at home. It was surprising how much this simple mail out boosted people as member Margaret says: “I found the Newsletter very good indeed and so comprehensive – a mix of information and helpful handy tips, and so supportive to older people living alone.”…
Members were also encouraged to send in examples of any creative work they have produced over the lockdown period, and we hope to hold a small exhibition of those when we resume some kind of coffee morning.
It goes without saying that the main difference our input has had is that local older residents have had practical help at a time when they couldn’t go out to shop themselves or had no family nearby or offers from neighbours. They have also received social and emotional support from volunteers and staff through the telephone calls, door chats and a boost to morale when receiving a parcel. Hopefully many have felt a bit less isolated because of our input, and have gained confidence and encouragement from knowing that they will and can get through this situation, with our support.
Telephone befriending and support
- 21 volunteers have been supporting 106 older people through a regular telephone call
- 400 phone calls made by 3 community staff to their regular clients
- 48 volunteers who normally carry out home visits, and face to face chats with an older person, have instead been keeping in touch through text , Whatsapp, Skype , and also by telephone
Challenges for volunteers
These centred around calls sometimes feeling like a ‘bit of a task’ and volunteers having to brace themselves to make the call; dealing with silences or keeping conversations going when older members don’t have much to say, and dealing with people’s low mood and anxiety, and concerns about the future. Volunteers were also reporting having to be conscious of their own mood levels and making the calls when they could be confident of feeling upbeat and positive themselves. Choosing the right time and judging the length of the call also came into play, but 3 months in and everyone is settled into their own routine.
Difference it makes
Both volunteers and older members reported how beneficial and valuable the phone calls were to them; for volunteers they felt they were doing something useful and doing their bit for the community effort, whilst the older clients commented how the calls made them feel that they hadn’t been forgotten.
86 year old Chorlton resident Betty emailed to say
“Please say “Thank you” to all the volunteers from me. I had a phone call from volunteer Andrew today and it makes a big difference just to hear another voice.”
Our older members appreciated that volunteers were ringing to check they had enough food and medicines, that they could get outside into a garden or outdoor space for some sunshine when possible, and that the aim of the call was to have a bit of a laugh, and feel boosted despite the strange and frustrating circumstances everyone was finding themselves in.
Telephone befriending though isn’t always as easy as it sounds. In a lot of cases we were asking strangers to be in contact with other strangers which meant a degree of wariness, particularly at the start. The connection through CGN, together with gentle persistence from the volunteers, was ultimately what helped cement and develop the communications. Over time, it has been these relationships which have been key in helping us find those people who needed some extra support and referral on to other colleagues. Concerns around scams, carers not wearing PPE, or those finding the isolation really tough have all predominately arisen out the phone calls.
Volunteers are happy to continue with the calls as they are for now, recognising that, over time, the older people will get out more, and may not need the calls. However, some of the older people are unlikely to go out for some time; some are shielding or protecting family members, others are very anxious and have no real intention of stepping outside, so the volunteers envisage these calls continuing for quite some time.
Door step chats and support
- 850 doorstep visits carried out by 3 community staff and volunteers April – June.
- This type of support given to 65 people.
Most of the doorstep support has been carried out by CGN’s 3 part time community staff, Moira, Diane and Phil, who look after our most vulnerable older people; those with no family, or with very little family input, those who may have low level mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, or whose personalities mean that they have been unable to forge long term friendships, so are really isolated. Door step support (socially distanced) can vary from a knock at the door a couple of times per week and chat for 10 minutes, to sitting in the garden for an hour.
Staff report finding this type of communication far less satisfying than the normal sitting inside for an hour. In bad weather it is even worse as naturally the older clients do not want to stand for long at the doorstep in gale force conditions. Most of these older members have struggled even more since lockdown and especially if they have no carers- evidenced in their lack of personal hygiene, ( not bathing or washing hair) poor diet, declining mental health (expressing feelings of boredom and staying in bed,) and physical lethargy. Regular daily contact, however limited, makes all the difference.
Other issues noted have been struggles with medication, one lady with poor eyesight didn’t have her medicines put into the usual blister packs, so was struggling to do this herself. Also those whose hearing is deteriorating means communication is more frustrating and they are less likely to engage. Lack of understanding what social distancing means also presents problems for staff visiting.
Difference it makes
These calls are absolutely vital to this group of older residents and the community workers in particular have done an incredible job this past 3 months. In some of the local sheltered schemes, where managers have been working off site, it has been CGN staff and volunteers who have noticed deteriorations in people’s circumstances and this has led to follow ups for further assessment.
Apart from regular carers going in, staff report they are often the only other people to physically see these older residents, many living in their own homes or flats, so are well placed to get a feel if anything is amiss. They are definitely the ‘eyes’ if not the ‘ears’ on the ground!
The daughter of one of our older members who lives in Chorlton Park ward emailed in to say
“Thanks so much for visiting my mum (Gladys) during distancing. Although she is quite a self-contained person she has really appreciated the visits, from Moira and also the two Morrisons parcels – particularly the bread and Easter egg! She is well-stocked but it is a great comfort to me and my sister that she continues to receive local visits as we are not on the doorstep”
We hope that as soon as Government guidance permits, the face to face indoor visits can resume, with limitations of course. The older people need it and the staff and volunteers want it.
Alternatively, we are looking at whether the outside chat can move towards a small walk outside or up the road, so that we support people to get used to being outside again, with all the noises and traffic. Many of our older people will find it tiring if they have not walked far in 3 months, so will have to build up with regular small outings.
575 shopping jobs carried out by staff and 20 volunteers, as well as delivery of the parcels below
- 69 Food parcels donated by Morrisons
- 10 mini kitchen garden packs donated by Buzz,
- £300 donation given by Unicorn to buy biscuits, jams ,juices, teabags
- 50 food parcels donated by SMRD uk
In the early days of lockdown one Chorlton resident, Norman wrote –
“I am so grateful and appreciative. You might think that you are just doing a bit of shopping for someone but for that someone it is; To the world you are one person, To one person you are the world.”
It goes without saying that shopping support was absolutely vital to so many at this time. CGN does not normally offer a shopping service like this, tending to shop in emergencies when our members are ill or carers are off, so there were some steep learning curves here.
Out of the 95 residents who have received some sort of shopping support since March 2020, 30% were unknown to CGN prior to that time. Many of these clients are those who are shielding or very vulnerable and have no family nearby. For a few it has been collection of an urgent prescription, whilst many have received a regular weekly shop.
In the early days it was an anxious time weighing up the needs of local older residents for vital supplies versus asking volunteers and staff to put themselves at risk by going into the shops. Indeed a few volunteers felt they could not carry on offering to help after the first few weeks because they found it quite stressful, having to queue and worries about the lack of social distancing inside shops. Many hours were spent thinking through how it should all work safely to minimise risk; dealing with the issue of cash /cards or running out of cash, lack of some items in the shops, where to access PPE, how to handle the goods.
All seems much calmer now and staff and volunteers are in their routines, telephoning beforehand for the lists, and having a catch up chat as well.
Parcels have been really well received; people felt they were a lovely surprise as they had seen others on the TV getting them, so felt very grateful that they were thought of too.
Chorlton resident Sue wrote: “I want to thank everyone at Good Neighbours for such a lovely surprise. Moira visited armed with a lovely bag of groceries, I can never thank you all enough. Bless you. Stay safe”
We are beginning to sound out who can resume their own shopping from 1 August; a couple of people are fine about it, wanting to get back out there whilst others more reticent. We are trying to be creative with members about what would help them most to resume it themselves, especially if a new system has been set up which they haven’t experienced before. For example one couple are going to follow the volunteer in their car to watch how the ’ click and collect system’ works, so that they can be confident about doing it themselves.
Although CGN is well known locally the current situation has opened up new connections and strengthened others. We have liaised much more closely with the Audiology Dept at Withington Hospital, ensuring we have a supply of hearing aid batteries ready to take out to local people and referring residents for re tubing. We also supported them with delivering a questionnaire seeking feedback on ‘virtual hearing’ clinics.
We have been able to promote the support organisations like Chorlton Bike deliveries, Big Change, and Buzz have offered to residents, and deepened our relationships with certain colleagues in Chorlton, Didsbury and Burnage neighbourhood team, as well as our own Care Group Colleagues.
For the moment we continue as we are doing until further advice comes out from the Government. Covid 19 work place risk assessments have been carried out as well as specific risk assessments of the individual activities. We want everything to be in place ready for when we can begin a measured re opening. Every week we get calls from our members asking when coffee morning or exercise classes are re starting; it is probably still going to be a bit of a shock to some when they realise it won’t be as before, but then maybe just being in a room with other people ( even socially distanced ) will be a good enough start.
Helen Hibberd, Co ordinator