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New service reaches out to lonely over 60s

Eyleen Gomez

A new free service to help ease loneliness experienced by residents over the age of 60 during the Covid-19 crisis has been launched.

The Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing Team realised through their work during the lockdown that a significant number of people reported feeling lonely, vulnerable and isolated, with nobody to talk to.

“We actually had lots of references from the 41818 number where people just keep calling but it tends to be because they just want somebody to talk to,” said Shane Mac Donald from Airport Fire and Rescue and part of the Befriending Service team.

“So, they passed on this message to us and we thought that it was something that was probably needed especially considering what we are going through at the moment.”

“There are people feeling isolated, they can’t go out, they can’t have family visiting them either so it’s like ‘who do I talk to’. So this goes someway in providing that friendly chat,” he said.

The Mental Health and Wellbeing Team were also alerted to the fact some residents were experiencing loneliness via the volunteer teams who are visiting people with food or other essentials.

Mr Mac Donald was surprised by the level of loneliness on the Rock.

“Considering Gibraltar and the close knit community that it is, I am surprised that there are people who are lonely,” he said.

“But, unfortunately that is the way it is. Sometimes from the outside everything looks rosy but we do not know what people are going through in their private lives.”

“This has really come to the fore now especially within this lockdown period. There are people who have no contact what so ever with the outside world,” he added.

The service matches the service user with a Covid-19 volunteer, who has been vetted, who has similar interests or backgrounds giving them a variety of things in common to talk about.

This is done over the phone and the service is provided from 10am to 6pm, seven days a week.

To ensure the safeguarding of both parties follow up calls and co-ordination with the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team will be conducted after the call.

Anyone over 60 who would like someone to talk to on a regular basis can request this service using the application form available at: https://bit.ly/2WKNYy4 or by calling
200 12494 where an operator will take the application over the phone. A family or friend can also register for a person.

“Once a person’s details are in the database, just by submitting the form, then the co-ordinator gets that information and it will be paired up with a suitable volunteer that has the same hobbies and interest, or past history and employment,” said Alfred Rovegno from City Fire and Rescue and Befriending Service team member.

When it is time to make the call, a befriending service call centre operator will contact the client, informing them that they are about to be connected to their new ‘friend’.

There are six members on the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team behind the programme, together with six civil servants who have been redeployed to the service and at present 15 volunteers.

“It has to be said that the volunteers who are going to be talking to the elderly and providing that friendly chat they are from the volunteer list who have been vetted and they have agreed to be part of this service,” said Mr Rovegno.

“They are exclusively now going to be for this service and they have been given guidelines and safeguarding support from us on how to help them and support them.”

“Some calls may turn out unexpectedly with issues and raising concerns, so we do have a feedback and support system also after every call where we make sure both sides are alright,” he added.

It is expected that the volunteer team will expand to 30 once the remaining 15 enter their details online that will enable them to be matched with someone of similar interests.

The team also worked with the Information Technology and Logistics Department who helped set up the call systems, the package for matching people, other specialists and Gibtelcom.

“There is a big team behind it. We might be at the front but there is a lot going on in the back as well,” said Mr Mac Donald.

There will be two co-ordinators in the morning and two in the afternoon each day.

Some of the team working on Tuesday, the launch day, include Kyle Bear a welfare support assistant with the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team, Janeve Freyone a call centre co-ordinator, Giselle Carreras head of counselling services within the Care Agency, Amy Chipolina a welfare support assistant with the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team and Sean Keating the civil service welfare officer.

The Minister for Civil Contingencies, Samantha Sacramento, said: “Because of the lockdown and people being home for long periods of time, the Befriending Service is a valuable way of connecting people across our community and of ensuring that nobody has to feel alone at this difficult time.”

“I’d like to thank the dedicated teams of professionals and volunteers who have worked so hard to make this unprecedented community project a reality.”