Huddersfield-based Yorkshire Children’s Centre (YCC) has partnered with Age UK Calderdale and Kirklees (C&K) to deliver a telephone befriending service for the district’s most vulnerable people, as well as an app to help manage demand.

Since the service was set up – during the start of the lockdown period – in April, the charities have recorded over 1,600 calls, provided 800  hours of support, welcomed 150 new volunteers on board, and matched more than 260  people with ‘befrienders’.

The new scheme has enabled referrals to be paired with a volunteer within 48 hours – a process which prior to the pandemic was admin-intensive for staff and had a long waiting list.

The technology allows the charities to analyse data and spot trends – relating to peak call times plus frequently discussed topics – and keep better connected to their volunteer base.

Volunteers can access the GetVolunteering app to log their calls and any safeguarding concerns, which then flag up on the YCC and Age UK C&K systems – allowing staff to identify where further mental health, financial or social support may be required.

Commenting on the results, Jane Sykes, head of early intervention and prevention services at Yorkshire Children’s Centre, said: “We started the befriending partnership over two years ago with Age UK C&K, Royal Voluntary Service, Kirkwood Hospice and Locala, but the virus meant all face-to-face visits grounded to a halt.

“We had to act fast to help prevent social isolation and loneliness from skyrocketing in the community – setting up the new processes and phone lines, and training new volunteers over Zoom in intensive 30-minute ‘crash-courses’.

“The results – in partnership with Age UK C&K – have been amazing. We’ve worked really well together to deliver such an integral service to those in need. Even when we’re over the worst of the pandemic, this facility will definitely be here to stay.”

Until now, only local authorities and community anchor organisations could refer people for befriending, but due to the phone line’s success, it is now open to everyone.

Age UK C&K’s chief executive Lisa Butland added: “With the winter season almost upon us and the service showing no sign of slowing, we need volunteers more than ever before.

“At the start, we were inundated with requests to provide assistance. However, now people have gone back to work, these figures are reducing – but the number of vulnerable individuals in the community isn’t.

“We’re continuing to ‘rally the troops’ to get more people donating 30 minutes out of their weekly schedule to make a call – this seemingly small gesture really does help make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of the district’s vulnerable people.”

YCC and Age UK C&K hope to further build upon the GetVolunteering app’s capabilities over the coming months, to create a ‘volunteer community’ – enabling befrienders to contact one another via instant messaging.

Anyone can call the telephone befriending phone line on 01484 411071, or email a referral form.

GetVolunteering app