"The lesson I take forward from the COVID-19 pandemic is just how quickly the third sector can adapt."

Befrienders Highland memory and Carer Service provide telephone befriending across Highland for carers and people with memory loss.

The Covid-19 pandemic put particular strain on people with memory loss and their carers, due to cancellation of all support groups, social groups, lunch clubs and adverse effects on support visits, access to day care, and professional visiting support. In addition, visits from family members, neighbours and informal support was severely restricted. In situations where the cared for person was in a long-term care setting, not being able to visit, or visiting with PPE, where the person was not recognised, were especially distressing for carers – these restrictions are ongoing in some cases.

Throughout the pandemic, befriending services continued to be provided by telephone, even more frequently than before. People described their befriending calls as their “one constant” and “a lifeline”. The coordinator also made more frequent contact with carers and friends with memory loss during the pandemic to provide support, advice and signposting as necessary.

During lockdown, postal packs were sent out to people with memory loss, their carers and volunteers. Everyone received a Sunshine Pack, containing poems, a simple exercise routine, a recipe, word search, quiz, some sunflower seeds to plant, and also a blank hand-made card for them to send to someone they were missing, or that they wanted to thank.

Follow up packs were sent out, with historic pictures and information from the Highland Archive Centre, which helped people to have something to speak to their volunteers about in the weekly calls – these were really popular, and were repeated several times. We also sent out some useful laminated handwashing reminders, a daily routine planner, and some hints and tips about useful/interesting websites and resources, and “how to stay safe” on-line.

Some additional funding allowed us to purchase some postal art packs, which were sent out to people who had an interest in arts and crafts, and these were personalised to individual interests. Where volunteers lived close by, some provided support with shopping deliveries, which is usually outwith the remit of our volunteers.

Carers also received a “Respite in a Basket” cream tea doorstep delivery to enjoy with the person they care for during Carer’s Week, as normal group celebration/get togethers were not permitted.

The biggest challenge we currently face is effectively supporting carers and people with memory loss moving forward with changing restrictions in place.  The on-going restrictions place enormous strain on people with memory loss and their carers. Befrienders Highland have trialled a walking group, where people can meet safely outside and maintain social distancing while still enjoying the social contact and chat with the group. For those that have attended, this has been a great success.  We are aware, however, that this is not accessible to everyone and we are constantly looking at ways to connect inclusively with those we support.   Many people we support are not online and that again adds to the challenge of keeping in touch during the Pandemic. We are constantly asked about face to face befriending and this is something we are actively seeking funding for, so the hope is we can secure funding and once it is safe to do so, provide that face to face contact that carers and people with memory loss need.

The lesson I take forward from the COVID-19 pandemic is just how quickly the third sector can adapt to enable them to continue to provide services. Also how connected and resilient the third sector are.  I think that communities and people are now much more aware of what being lonely and isolated can feel like, having had a small glimpse into that during lockdown.  I feel that long-term investment and funding in the third sector is needed moving forward to enable us to emerge from this pandemic and support the most vulnerable in our communities.


This article was contributed by Carol Summers and Befrienders Highland.

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