East Sussex NHS responder calls for more volunteers

A woman who became a volunteer responder in lockdown is urging people to join up as the numbers have dropped since lockdown eased.
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Volunteers are needed in the south east of England - the recruitment process is currently open for Eastbourne, Brighton and Hove, Hastings, Rother and Wealdon.

Sarah Taylor, from Horam, was made redundant at the start of the pandemic in March this year.

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From this, she set up a Covid-19 response group on Facebook for the villages around her including Heathfield, Vines Cross and Waldron.

Sarah Taylor SUS-201020-110826001Sarah Taylor SUS-201020-110826001
Sarah Taylor SUS-201020-110826001

The group served as a mutual aid group, offering people support and help. However, the nature of the group meant it was limited to Facebook users.

Sarah said, “I’m supported very much by my 13-year-old daughter Georgia. She has helped collect shopping, making dinner and baking, helping while I do deliveries.”

The NHS message from the government briefing on March 24 focused on ‘rallying the troops’ in the fight against Covid.

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Volunteers were being asked to help vulnerable people. It was this briefing that triggered Sarah to sign up.

Lockdown meant that a lot had the same idea, and the number of people signing up was 750,000 after just two days – three times the initial target.

Sarah said how the mutual aid groups works alongside the volunteers.

She said, “It was clear the responders were not intended to replace local groups helping their vulnerable neighbours, they were an additional service provided by the NHS.”

There are a number of volunteer roles available:

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• Community response volunteers collect and deliver shopping, medication or other essential supplies.

• Check-in and chat volunteers provide telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness.

• Community response plus volunteer collect and deliver shopping, medication or other essential supplies for patients with cognitive impairments and or significant vulnerabilities who are shielding – this role requires an enhanced DBS check.

• Patient transport volunteers provide transport to patients who are medically fit to attend routine medical appointments.

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• An NHS transport volunteer transports equipment, supplies and/or medication between NHS services and sites. It may also involve assisting pharmacies with medication deliveries. This role can also help local resilience networks with transportation and delivery of items such as food parcels.

• Check-in and chat plus volunteers serve as a peer-support role. This is done by responders who are shielding themselves. Regular telephone support and a listening ear is offered to clients who are also shielding or experiencing challenges because of Covid.

Sarah was a community response volunteer, and a check-in and chat volunteer.

She said, “Some days due to the number of responders on duty, I would not get any alerts, some days I’d get five.

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“For every one of those calls I accepted, it made me feel like I was giving back into the community.”

Sarah says how her normal routine works alongside the volunteering role. There are no minimum or maximum hours expected, volunteers can turn their alert system off whenever needed.

“I’ve remained on duty constantly, 2,883 hours to the date, and I carry out my normal everyday tasks too. For me, that was the Covid-19 community group I’d founded, as well as finding and shipping PPE into hospitals for free.”

She said, “Most of the calls were to chat and give someone isolating a friendly voice to talk to - about EastEnders, gardening, cooking, and the weather – anything really.”

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Sarah said how the lockdown transition caused a lot of people to no longer need their help. People also went back to work, so the number of volunteers reduced too.

“Post removal of lockdown, a number of those who we had been supporting returned to work, came out of their homes, and returned to a level of normality allowed. Therefore, the work of several volunteering types lowered.

Sarah said how the current situation of the tiered system, and restrictions constantly changing means that the number of responders needs to rise.

“We now are needing that level of flux to be accounted for in our numbers of NHS responders.”

She said how rewarding she has found the role.

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“We are that light at the end of the tunnel for others. That light can’t be measured by words, but the feeling you get from knowing the impact you have given someone when you put the phone down, or the smile when you drop off their shopping or medication, is the only measure we need - to know we are making a difference to their everyday life.

“From those smalls acts we undertake we hope they provide the warmth and comfort that they are not forgotten and are an important part of our community - we are the vehicle to providing a community socially distanced cuddle.”

Anyone wanting to look more into the process of becoming an NHS responder volunteer can go to: https://nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk/

To find Sarah’s Facebook support group search ‘Coronavirus HORAM HEATHFIELD VINES CROSS WALDON RESPONSES’ on Facebook.