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By GreaterSport | 05 March 2021 | TAGS: Coronavirus, Volunteers, Rochdale, Mental health, Covid-19, Stories

Rochdale Borough Council and Living Well (a local voluntary organisation) has trained volunteers to provide support to people attending centres for their COVID-19 vaccinations, opening up ‘Good Help’ conversations with those most at risk.

Over the past decade, Rochdale Borough Council and Living Well has built a network of Community Champions to support the borough’s residents in a range of issues – after all it is a Good Help Borough. Rochdale recognised how the COVID-19 crisis had shone a light on health inequalities and that we had an opportunity to do more and link up our decade of experience of community champions to support our residents most at risk.

‘We’re part of Greater Manchester’s Ageing Well meetings, led by the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub team,’ Place Worker Dave Broome explains. ‘The link has allowed us to distribute the Keeping Well in Winter booklets at the Vaccination Centres as well as an opportunity to connect with people as part of the vaccination programme to support vulnerable people attending our borough’s vaccination centres.'

Opening conversations

There are vaccination hubs in four townships in Rochdale Borough. Volunteers are in place in each, having quick chats with people attending appointments before they have their vaccinations.

"It’s all about welcoming people and opening up a conversation at the beginning of the vaccination process", Dave explains. "This could be as simple as asking ‘how did you travel here today?’ Our volunteers are trained to listen to the person so they can pick up on even the smallest things. Then, they can introduce them to someone who can help, building on a conversation that might not otherwise have happened."

"It’s so important that people feel at ease," continues Dave. "We make sure we use our words carefully, for example ‘I can see that’s bothering you. Do you have any support?'. We also let them know a friend will be there to look after them during their post-vaccination recovery time at the centre. It encourages them to share their concerns openly."

The volunteers have had over 1000 conversations at the vaccine sites and pop up vaccine sites. With many people being able to access service that they may not have been aware of. Living Well have contacted individuals following their visit to the site and supported 49 people with chatters calls to reduce isolation and loneliness.

Providing support

Once the volunteers have chatted with the vaccination centre attendees, they can call on Rochdale Borough’s great network of support to find the right source of help. The volunteers are linking-in to the borough’s resources, such as Adult Care, Living Well Health support, Link4Life sports network, local voluntary sector support, advice and benefits points.

"We’ve already worked hard to make these links, such as distributing ‘Keeping Well in Winter’ booklets", Dave explains. "Yet this new programme means we can access people we wouldn’t usually be able to connect to, and in the right way. We can also chat to their carers, and others who’ve attended with them. We can give information, arrange connections, and provide follow-up support with call-backs".

Training volunteers

Living Well and Rochdale Borough Council are currently training as many people as possible, including many of their contact centre staff. As of mid-February, around 120 people have been trained. The aim is to increase both numbers and skillsets ahead of the second vaccination stage, beginning in March. Living Well have localised the training and gathered feedback from volunteers and frontline workers on the types of themes that are being raised at the sites to ensure the training builds skills and confidence and is also relevant to the day to day issues discussed at the sites; from bereavement services to isolation, loneliness and myths busting.

"The training is designed to help our volunteers listen carefully and notice what someone’s concerns may be," says Dave. "That way, we have the best chance of finding out what’s really going on, so we can provide the right support. It’s an opportunity for a good help conversation to link-in people with the right services for them, both now and in the future."

Continuing help

The programme is in its early stages, and Dave recognises there are challenges to overcome. "Our champions are trying to engage on the phone with people who are ambivalent about vaccinations, as well as engage with those who need support in different languages. We also know there are real health inequalities in the BAME community, so it’s vital we continue to find ways to support this."

However, the council are already starting to see the programme’s potential, particularly now people are beginning to return for their second vaccinations. "As a Good Help borough, we have great resources available to help people who are struggling", says Dave. "Yet the opportunity to chat to so many of them in person helps us to pick up on those who need our support, making sure they don’t slip through the net. It’s a wonderful opportunity arising from a time of worldwide crisis.’

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