Home Third Sector & Education Major Yorkshire charities appeal for lunch-hour volunteers as demand for befriending rises...

Major Yorkshire charities appeal for lunch-hour volunteers as demand for befriending rises among vulnerable

Huddersfield-based Yorkshire Children’s Centre (YCC) and Age UK Calderdale and Kirklees (C&K) are looking to the region’s businesspeople to donate 30 minutes out of their week to become a ‘virtual volunteer’ – supporting those in the district who are most at risk of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic.

The charities set up their telephone befriending service during the lockdown period in April, and have recorded over 1,600 calls, provided 800 hours of support, welcomed 150 new volunteers on board, and matched more than 260 people with ‘befrienders’.

Alongside the service launch, the GetVolunteering app, which helps to monitor and manage the befriending calls, was also designed, developed, tested and set live in just five days – in association with Novoville Ltd and Peopletoo Ltd, who provided their tech expertise free of charge, funded by the Government’s Covid-19 tech fund scheme.

The technology allows the charities to analyse data and spot trends – relating to peak call times plus frequently discussed topics – and keep better connected to their volunteer base.

Volunteers can access the GetVolunteering app to log their calls and any safeguarding concerns, which then flags up on the YCC and Age UK C&K systems – allowing staff to identify where and when further mental health, financial or social support may be required.

Commenting on the need for more people to give back to the community, Jane Sykes, head of early intervention and prevention services at Yorkshire Children’s Centre, said: “The social distancing restrictions aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and that means there are hundreds of people who will continue to not see or speak with anyone for weeks on end – which isn’t good for their mental health and overall wellbeing.

“The telephone befriending service helps to prevent social disconnection, by pairing volunteers with a service user – within 48 hours – for a 30-minute call, at a frequency which suits them.

“We also train our new volunteers over Zoom in intensive half-an-hour crash-courses.”

Age UK C&K’s chief executive Lisa Butland added: “With the winter season almost upon us and the service showing no sign of slowing, we need volunteers more than ever before.

“At the start, we were inundated with requests to provide assistance. However, now people have gone back to work, these figures are reducing – but the number of vulnerable individuals in the community isn’t.

“We’re continuing to ‘rally the troops’ to get more people donating time out of their weekly schedule to make a call – this seemingly small gesture really does help make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of the district’s vulnerable people.”

YCC and Age UK C&K hope to further build upon the GetVolunteering app’s capabilities over the coming months, to create a ‘volunteer community’ – enabling befrienders to contact one another via instant messaging.

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