How a Covid-19 support call team has helped thousands of people deal with problems from grief to food shortage

“IT was on the second day we had one of our most harrowing calls,” remembers Fran Anderson, Assistant Director for Communities and Health.

“It was a grieving family member of a person who had just died of Covid-19 and was really heart-breaking. A baptism of fire. The whole team was involved in making sure this person had the support and advice she needed…we did all we could to help this family in a very difficult situation. It really brought home the importance of what we were doing here.”

What Fran and Sue Fenwick, Principal Democratic Services and Scrutiny Officer, were doing was quickly establishing a brand new Covid-19 Community Support Hub, a call centre which has so far made and received well over 3,500 calls to residents and helped in the delivery of nearly 4,00 food parcels. It was a brand-new team at Redcar’s Community Heart building designed to work as one with the food and supplies distribution hub right at the moment the country went into an unprecedented full lock down.

Neither had done anything like this before. But, still, they knew they had a wealth of expert council workers ready and willing to help. Colleagues volunteered from all parts of the council, from Children and Families, Adults and Communities, Employment and Benefits, Libraries, Communications, Customer Services and Business Support.

By any measure the Community Support Hub has provided crucial support for the people of Redcar and Cleveland. A total of 1,980 calls have been received so far and a further 1,650 made to residents and 3,817 food parcels have been delivered along with other vital supplies. The calls are not always quick, with one person with a complicated problem on the phone for 1 hour and 13minutes the record so far.

“We had to learn some important lessons quickly,” said Sue, who, with Fran, worked every weekend and every weekday for the first month. “One was making sure you get the right person to talk to the right caller. Another was actually taking the time needed with each person to do as thorough a job as possible.”

A small number of calls have been quite challenging. “The worst was someone shouting at a member of the team who had volunteered for the first time – her first day. She was so nervous but handled the caller in an extremely professional manner and is now a really valued member of the team.”

Other calls have had a funny side. “One person rang because he wanted us to know that Dettol could stop the coronavirus and it was written on the side of the bottle and we should notify the government,” Sue laughed.

It was one of a few laughs and morale boosting moments. The team have a ‘joke of the day,’ there have been two birthdays, and copious amounts of cake have been shared and donated. They even received a donation of Easter eggs as they worked through the bank holidays.

“They are just the best group you could hope for,” said Sue, who had her first day off last Friday. Fran wholeheartedly agrees. “Everyone has been superb.”

With that Fran and Sue get back to work with the Hub team. They all know there is a long way to go. The nature of the calls has already changed – from early days’ fraught queries from people worried about how to get food and support for isolated people, to more recent calls about access to services.

The needs of the public may well change again before the lockdown is over. But the residents of Redcar and Cleveland should be assured – whatever happens next, the Community Support Hub Team will be right there at the end of the phone ready and willing to help.

Councillor Mary Lanigan, Leader, said: “The Community Support Hub Team has provided a crucial service during what is an unprecedented situation. They have had and made thousands of calls and ensured people have food, supplies and support. I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to each and every one of them.”

Call 01642 771122 or email support@redcar-cleveland.gov.uk for advice and support.

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