Supporting communities during crisis at the Royal Voluntary Service

Written by: Sarah Murray, Commissioned Services Operations Manager – Scotland, Royal Voluntary Service

Published: 19/08/2020

The newest additions to the ALLIANCE membership network share how they've been able to support over 15,000 people since March.

Supporting communities during times of crisis has always been integral to our culture at Royal Voluntary Service; we were originally founded in 1938 as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions, with 1 million ‘women in green’ giving their service to help communities cope with the hardships of the Second World War.

Throughout our history, we’ve been there with compassion and comfort during times of crisis; for example, we supported emergency services during the Lockerbie disaster. These days, people will know us for our work in the NHS and in communities; we’ve supported the NHS since its inception with our shops, cafés and infamous trolley rounds, as well as on ward services supporting patients and hospital staff.

We offer a helping hand to patients returning home through transport and support at home, and we run lunch and social clubs in communities for older people to help them maintain their social connections. Our services are typically face to face, so we had to make major changes when the COVID-19 pandemic hit to ensure we could continue to support our communities, without putting them at risk.

We saw a 40% increase in client numbers in Scotland, so we needed to support them as well as our existing clients. In addition, many of our volunteers are over 70 and living with illnesses that make them vulnerable to COVID-19, they had to stop volunteering and shield during the pandemic too. It was crucial that we supported them too, just as they’ve stepped forward to help others during times of need. We regularly call our volunteers to make sure they’re safe and well, and have everything they need.

Much of our face-to-face activity now takes place over the phone, with 15,588 telephone support calls made to people in receipt of Royal Voluntary Service commissioned services in Scotland since March. We make sure our clients are safe and well, and take the time to have a chat with them. Many of the people we chat to live alone and have been shielding through lockdown, so it’s vital they have someone checking in with them and offering a bit of company over the phone.

We’ve also delivered over 1500 activity packs to volunteers and clients across Scotland; they contain activities like puzzles and reading materials, as well as physical exercise guidance and reminiscence activities. We know that if older people lose their social connections, their mental and physical health can decline, so these packs are a real lifeline to recipients. Not all of the people we support want to or are able to chat on the phone or join in with virtual sessions; one of our clients is a fiercely private lady and declined our offer of regular phone calls; she was used to living on her own and felt she didn’t need them. We sent her an activity pack and were very surprised when she called the office to say thank you! She told us this is what she enjoys doing, and getting the pack when she can’t leave the house was really beneficial – she’s looking forward to receiving the next one! We were so pleased that she took the opportunity to give us a call – and of course it gave us an opportunity to check in with her and make sure she was okay. We know that one size won’t fit all, so offering flexible, client-led support is vital to our services.

Although many of the people we support have been staying at home and shielding, life doesn’t stop; we’ve also supported clients with their day to day needs. We’ve made 5,683 essential shopping trips and collected much-needed prescriptions, and we’ve driven 309 return journeys, taking patients to essential medical appointments and getting them home safely from a stay in hospital. We’ve also linked with other charities to deliver hot meals and help people access food banks, mental health and dementia support.

We have seen volunteers step forward to provide a safety net for their vulnerable neighbours; 1,134 volunteers have given their time to our services in Scotland in the last quarter, a 12% increase on pre-COVID numbers.

On behalf of everyone at the Royal Voluntary Service, and our clients, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has stepped up to help others during this immensely challenging time. As we take steps to resume some level of normality, we will continue to offer support those in our communities who need a helping hand – do get in touch if we can help you or a loved one. To find out more about Royal Voluntary Service, please visit our website (this link will take you away from our website). 

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