High Peak befriending services see huge spike in demand

Coronavirus has taken its toll on so many people in the High Peak over the last year, and left many feeling more lonely than ever.

Sunday, 2nd May 2021, 7:00 am

So its no surprise that volunteer charities which run befriending services for the elderly and vulnerable in the borough have seen a four-fold increase in referrals during the pandemic.

Beverley Jenkinson is the centre manager at New Mills & District Volunteer Centre (NMVC), on Union Street, which offers befriending services as well as other community based services.

She said: “In just over 12 months we have a seen such a surge in the number of people using our befriending services. It really is heartbreaking just how much these lockdowns have affected our community.”

Connex befrienders Rachael Mitchell and Emma Wilson

But it is not just the elderly who have been feeling lost and lonely in recent months.

In early April, the Office for National Statistics released a study giving new insight into loneliness during the latest lockdown from October 2020 to February 2021.

The report stated: "Levels of loneliness in Great Britain have increased since spring 2020.

"Between April 3 and May 3 2020, 5 per cent of people (about 2.6 million adults) said that they felt lonely “often” or “always”.

"From October 2020 to February 2021, results show that proportion increased to 7.2 per cent of the adult population (about 3.7 million adults).”

Health and loneliness are intertwined – people with health problems are more likely to suffer from loneliness and lonely people are more likely to develop health problems.

Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and are likely to increase the risk of death by 26%, the national Campaign To End Loneliness charity says.

Robin Hewings, Programme Director for the Campaign to End Loneliness, said: “Loneliness can have a major impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Helping people who are lonely keep up conversations is an important part of tackling loneliness.

"The lessons learnt by charities, councils and social enterprises during this lockdown will make sure that volunteer callers and befrienders get the right support to help people who are isolated to keep up meaningful conversations now and in the future.”

And the wonderful charities in the High Peak who are offering support to those who need it the most are doing just that.

Beverley said: “Here at NMVC we have kept our phone lines open throughout. We have seen a four fold increase in the number of people being referred to us so we have had to step up and make sure people have been getting the support they need.

"We have been managing an army of local volunteers, we have been proactive in helping people confined at home through this challenging time, involved in anything from shopping, prescription deliveries, telephone check in & chat, transport to medical appointments, online exercise classes, walking dogs, gardening and signposting callers to any other local services they need.

“There have been some positives during the lockdowns as we have had more volunteers come forward than ever before.

"Lots more younger people have been coming to us saying they are on furlough and want to do something to help their community and giving their time while they are off which has been brilliant.

"Volunteering is not just helping the person who needs help, it’s also so beneficial for the people giving their time and makes them feel good."

A befriender coordinator for the Buxton-based Connex Community Support charity has also spoken out about the importance of the work the volunteers do.

Rachael Mitchell said: “Having someone to talk to makes the world a better place for those who have little or no social contact.

"Our service has seen a 50 per cent increase in the amount of people who need that helping hand at the moment.

"We have also seen an increase in volunteers too which has been brilliant.

"Previously with our volunteers it was all face to face and popping in for a cup of tea and a chat and a lot of people can’t wait to get back to that but for others it’s been a lifesaver as we have been able to cover a bigger area more efficiently.

"We had one student from Manchester Uni sign up and then she signed up her fellow students to be phone befrienders too.”

Prior to covid the charity supported 18 people. Now 34 are on the books and services are still in high demand.

Rachael said: “We still have four people on our waiting lists, a gentleman who had covid and still suffering the impacts and although he does have family around him they are back at work and he feels a bit lonely now.

"We also have a couple of people whose spouse or partner has died and they are struggling at the moment and a lady who used to have a busy social life but with all groups and classes cancelled just wants someone to talk to.

"If you think you could be a volunteer we’d love to hear from you, you will make people smile and brighten their day and you really would be making a difference to someone.”

If anyone would like to be a volunteer or needs the help of the befriending services, call New Mills and District Volunteer Centre on 01663 744196 or visit www.nmvc.org/ or to contact Connex ring 01298 23970 or visit www.connex.org.uk.