Spotlight is a series of articles focusing on organisations in Wolverhampton working to tackle COVID-19.
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This issue, we spoke to Lucy Williamson, a volunteer at Wolverhampton Social Prescribing's Telephone Befriending Service.
When COVID-19 hit many people wanted to volunteer to help others who might be struggling , either with practical arrangements or the psychological effects of being unable to leave their house. I was one of them, and as I had been furloughed from my part-time job I had plenty of time to spare.
At the end of April I joined Wolverhampton Social Prescribing Service as one of eleven befriending volunteers. My role is as a befriender making telephone calls to their clients who need a bit of support while they are keeping themselves isolated.
Wolverhampton Social Prescribing Service are part of the NHS. People can be referred to them by their GP for support with loneliness or low-level mental health needs.
The Link Workers usually visit people at home get to know them so they can introduce them gradually to social activities or groups that might suit them. However, during the lock down they are offering support by phone instead of face to face and have many more people needing the service who are having to stay home but are feeling anxious and/or lonely.
As I teach a mental health awareness qualification via distance learning I have some skills like non-judgemental listening already.
I support three clients who I call once a week for about an hour. One is a lady in her 50s who has caring responsibilities and not much time to herself. We chat on a Sunday afternoon with a “virtual cup of tea”. I speak to a gentleman in his 70s who has a long term health condition but a very lively mind, and a younger gentleman from another country who was recently homeless and has no local friends and family. I have got to know them quite well over the last 3 weeks and we talk about whatever they want, it’s their time and their choice.
Wolverhampton Social Prescribing Service prepared us for volunteering well. They placed a lot of emphasis on what to do if we were worried about a client’s welfare. During a Zoom meeting for volunteers they told us what to expect and went through any queries we had.
Then my Link Worker allocated some clients to me and made sure they were happy to get a call from me. For safeguarding reasons the clients do not have volunteer’s telephone numbers. I have a weekly catch up with my Link Worker to check how the clients are. I have had to call her with a couple of concerns outside of these times too and she has been very responsive and supportive to myself and the clients.
I feel I have definitely benefitted from volunteering. Knowing I have to call people at certain times on certain days gives me a routine to follow which is useful in these confusing “what day is it?” times. I am genuinely interested in other people’s lives and want people to be happy so if having a chat to me helps somebody feel happier then that is a reward in itself.
My role is to listen and encourage people to express themselves, sometimes they are feeling low or anxious so empathy and kindness are needed and if appropriate I might gently suggest ways to improve their mood. On the other hand sometimes people just want to take their mind off the crisis and chat about cats!
This role has helped me to put my knowledge of mental health to good use in a practical way and I feel like I have made three new friends who I genuinely care about.
For information on studying mental health awareness via distance learning please visit my Facebook page Lucy Williamson Training & Consultancy.