Walsall’s ‘befriending’ services see spike in demand as mental wellbeing suffers in wake of pandemic
Making Connections Walsall, a project that provides food parcels, prescription services and a befriending service for those lonely and isolated, says that the current COVID-19 crisis is leaving more people than ever before in need of support and that people’s mental wellbeing is being severely affected. The project says it has received an additional 1250 befriending requests across its four Locality Hubs since the outbreak began and referrals for those under the age of 50 have increased significantly.
The service, which began in 2017, takes referrals from across the borough before contacting one of four Locality Hubs to arrange an appointment to discuss the individual’s needs, which also includes supporting them to access social activities and other services, including mental health support.
Diana Southall, Community Development Officer and Programme Lead for COVID at the Old Hall People’s Partnership Hub in Bentley, said: “Referrals to the service have increased by substantially since the crisis began Pre COVID our befriending service users were older people in the 50 plus age group, but there’s been a sharp increase in those under 50 in need of help and support since the pandemic began.
“The biggest challenge has been around the increase and severity of the mental health issues being faced by referrals. Many are experiencing anxiety, depression, financial concerns and whose symptoms are either being exacerbated by COVID, or the COVID situation is the cause of their anxiety.”
The service has taken on additional volunteer befrienders to cope with the demand of new clients and whilst the pandemic has increased the need, it has also complicated the delivery of these services. Diana explained: “Volunteers are now delivering the service from home and are still in contact with their clients but by telephone only. Our parcel delivery team are doing ‘welfare’ checks from a distance when they drop off the food parcels engaging clients in communication ensuring they are safe and well and, if necessary, raise their concerns.
“We have been tremendously supported by Rethink and have access to emotional support help lines that cover all hours. We also have excellent relationships with adult social care workers who help us to ensure that we can address the issues being experienced, Walsall Council and our partner Hubs have been fantastic, and Walsall Housing Group who have been amazing helping us deliver parcels and checking on people’s wellbeing.”
The long term mental impact of the pandemic is likely to be felt for some time and befriending services, like those available through Diana and her team, are likely to be needed more than ever.
Councillor Garry Perry, Portfolio Holder for Culture and Communities, said: “The work of our Hubs reaches beyond the initial relief effort in providing food and medication assistance to residents. Mental health and well-being is as important to many of those we come in contact with – as systems re-set we must ensure contact is adaptable to the new way of working post-COVID with resilience as demonstrated by our Hubs at its core.”