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May 21, 2020

Are you OK?

Are you OK?
How are you doing?
Is everything OK?

These are questions I’m sure we’ve all asked and been asked many times in the past few weeks. When I’m asked that question, I often thoughtlessly reply ‘yes, I’m fine thanks’ but recently I’ve taken a moment to consider whether I am actually ‘fine’. Often, like everyone else I am not; I’m worried, anxious and nervous about the future.

In these unprecedented and scary times it is even more important to reach out to others and check that they are actually doing OK and that we are thinking of them even if we need to be physically distant. Having an honest chat about the current situation, sharing concerns or a joke can help illuminate an otherwise dark period.

At a time like this, being kept away from friends and family is terribly hard for all. At Time to Shine this has additional resonance as it has provided an unwelcome opportunity to truly empathise with a situation many others sadly feel every day: Age UK produced a report – No one should have no one – in 2016, stating that half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all.

The telephone has never felt more important as a means to connect and show that you are thinking of others. Over the past month or so we have been working with colleagues at Leeds City Council to develop a new service – RU OK? – to connect with Leeds residents during Covid -19, as the need for emotional support and conversation at this time became more and more apparent. RU OK?, which can be accessed through the Leeds Covid-19 helpline (0113 378 1877), will provide welfare check-in calls to residents of all ages by a team of volunteers. Volunteers will make regular contact, supported by LCC staff who will coordinate and manage the service and offer signposting if further support is needed.

Leeds Older People’s Forum (LOPF) has been involved in the development of the service alongside colleagues at LCC. A huge part of our role has been the induction and training of volunteers. Through the Leeds Community Care volunteering scheme, hosted by Voluntary Action Leeds, we have initially recruited 300 volunteers to become RU OK? volunteers. They are all Leeds residents who would like to support others at this time of need.

The scale of the task is huge and would not be possible but for the hard work and dedication from my LOPF colleagues and our third sector partners. They have come together to facilitate a series of induction sessions of 6-8 volunteers, on Zoom of course, to ensure we all share an understanding of the task at hand and support others safely and compassionately. We are very grateful to staff from Carers Leeds, Feel Good Factor, Health for All, MHA and Yorkshire Dance for helping roll out the volunteer training. The RU OK? partnership is a great example of what is achievable through working together and trust in others. One of the few positives of Covid-19 has been the opportunity to work quickly to develop responsive services across sector and build on the strengths and expertise of others.

We all have a personal reaction and response to the impact of Covid-19. I, like many, lurch from feeling energised to feeling lethargic and powerless at the scale of need. Despite this backdrop all staff involved in the development and implementation of this service have risen to the challenge. LOPF staff have rewritten training materials and implemented training systems overnight, while council staff have been redeployed to unfamiliar roles with new colleagues. Everyone is working outside of their comfort zone to try and develop something positive in this time of crisis.

We know that RU OK? won’t fully replace the need for social connection or alleviate all feelings of loneliness and distress, but we will do our best to ensure people are isolated, but not alone, during this crisis.

Hillary Wadsworth
Time to Shine Programme Manager (Learning)