"It’s the passion for the people that comes first. We’re passion driven.”
If there were ever a time to demonstrate who and what the third sector is and does, it is now. Often overlooked and undervalued, when we are presented with a crisis those key strengths of compassion, creativity and versatility come to the fore.
A striking example of this is in South Ayrshire, where communities and third sector organisations came together to support South Ayrshire Lifeline. An initiative morphed from 2019’s ALLIANCE winner of Self Management Resource of the Year, South Ayrshire Life. When it became apparent that the COVID-19 emergency was going to have an unprecedented effect on our communities it took a mere four days for Voluntary Action South Ayrshire’s (VASA) South Ayrshire Life project to change its operation to South Ayrshire Lifeline and adapt its services to meet the needs of local people during the pandemic.
The organisation’s response has been impressive. Operating seven days a week with four full time and three part time deployed staff and volunteers, a call centre and helpline was set up. South Ayrshire Lifeline is providing essential services to the most vulnerable in its communities. These services are wide ranging and the organisation has listened closely to people’s needs to shape their response.
Offering a paid shopping service from a list of 96 items, South Ayrshire Lifeline delivers to those self-isolating, enabling them to get the essentials they need without compromising their health. This takes away the anxiety that this crisis has created for older and vulnerable members of our communities, protecting them and our NHS.
The shopping list includes everything from milk and bread to meats, fresh produce, toiletries and even supplies for pets. A further service is the prescription pick-up and delivery, with the team now delivering 80-100 prescriptions a week throughout South Ayrshire. VASA have had to employ a part-time driver to meet demand, supported by volunteers from local community groups in our more rural areas helping their neighbours.
In addition to these services, South Ayrshire Lifeline identified the need for hearing aid batteries. A direct result of users’ apprehension about going into hospital settings. South Ayrshire Lifeline is now delivering between thirty and forty packages per day. The service also has someone seconded from the council who works with people with sensory impairment giving specialist support to this group.
Crucial to the range of support on offer is telephone befriending, mainly serving the elderly. Seventy volunteers work on the service calling around one hundred people each week, with some receiving daily contact. Marie Oliver, CEO of VASA and South Ayrshire Lifeline, said: “It’s been so humbling for myself and the volunteers when we hear the stories from people who are phoning in. It’s really heartwarming.”
The elderly in the community have specific needs and everyone at South Ayrshire Lifeline strives to keep people up to date. Looking after people’s health needs, South Ayrshire Lifeline has delivered ‘All About Me’ packs so that people can put all relevant personal and health information, including details on medication, in one place for ease of access should their family or health professionals need access if additional support were to be required at any time.
A recent key response by South Ayrshire Lifeline to the pandemic has been to distribute PPE to those unpaid carers. This new service has only just started and will see the equipment delivered in the community to help carers to protect themselves should those they care for be symptomatic for COVID-19.
Always at the heart of this entire initiative is the wellbeing of staff and volunteers. Without them there is no service. In order to keep up morale in such a busy and fast moving environment, a Thank You board has been set up in the office to remind staff of the positive feedback and impact of the work they are doing. On staff and volunteer commitment to the organisation Marie states: “It’s the passion for the people that comes first. We’re passion driven.”
Reflecting on South Ayrshire Life’s quick turnaround to respond to COVID-19, Marie states that the willingness of staff to step up and out of their comfort zone has been amazing. They have learned more about their community in the past weeks, something we can build on as we go through this together. Working now as a strong and supportive team and looking to the future Marie said: “We might only be a small number of people but if you believe in what you’re doing you can do anything.”
South Ayrshire Lifeline has embodied passion, drive and determination in the midst of a public health crisis to meet the needs of the local community. Their commitment during this trying time is typical of the third sector’s response to COVID-19 in developing innovative services with agility in the face of adversity.
This article was produced with written content from South Ayrshire Lifeline.