The telephone befriending group set up by Point and Sandwick Trust as part of its Wellbeing Project to combat the effects of the pandemic and lockdown is to become permanent, with a grant of £5,000 from Foundation Scotland to secure it for the future.
The money was obtained by Urras Stòras an Rubha on behalf of the group, which will be known as Caraidean an Rubha agus Sanndabhaig (CARAS), with input from some representatives from the community wind farm organisation including general manager Donald John MacSween and community consultant Alasdair Nicholson.
It is a welcome step forward as other aspects of the Wellbeing Project – the fresh daily meals by Chief Cook Donald Smith and the grocery delivery service – came to an end yesterday (Friday, October 2).
The new group will be chaired by Catherine Anne Smith from Lower Bayble, who said they were looking forward to reaching out, especially with such uncertainty over Covid 19.
As a first step, the Caraidean group will be picking up on any recipients of the meals service who ticked the box in the recent survey, indicating they would welcome contact from a befriender.
Catherine Anne said: “We were all delighted to hear that the funding bid was successful and Donald John wasted no time in setting up Caraidean an Rubha agus Sanndabhaig (CARAS), our telephone befriending service.
“Now that we are an independent body, and all the official work has been done behind the scenes, we can concentrate on building on the success of the marvellous work carried out by Point and Sandwick Development Trust over lockdown.
“The feedback from the meals delivery service was amazing and the volunteers did so much to help in the community that we wanted to carry on helping out in some way with the contacts we built up over the summer. We are looking forward to continuing and building on the friendships we’ve all created since then.
“With winter approaching, and another possible lockdown, we are keen to befriend anyone in the area who would like to join our befriending group and we look forward to making lots of new friends over the coming months. Point and Sandwick are friendly communities anyway but we would love to make them even friendlier and reach out to anyone who may not have as much contact with people as they would like.
“My own experience as a befriender has been a positive one and I always look forward to catching up with them and I hope they get as much enjoyment out of our conversations as I do. A wee blether over a socially-distanced cuppa is the best cure in the world!”
Christine Macleod, also from Lower Bayble, is the new group’s secretary. She said establishing the group on a permanent footing was particularly welcome for those who had been receiving the free meals as they would miss the chats on the doorstep when their meals were being delivered.
“They will miss this contact every day,” she said. “It’s a contact and a contact is so important, especially for the older people. There is a lot of loneliness. And now with Covid 19 in Uist, people are going to be extremely careful.”
Christine, who works as day care organiser for Alzheimer Scotland, said: “I do home visits anyway and that’s why I’m so aware that there’s a lot of loneliness. I am seeing people who are really, really lonely. And that’s the ones that have been identified. What about the ones who haven’t been identified? Who have no contact with an organisation or anything?”
Angus McCormack, honorary president of Point and Sandwick Trust and chair of the Hebridean Men’s Cancer Support Group, was “absolutely delighted” the project would be continuing on a permanent basis – as these support networks are so crucial for wellbeing.
“I realise what an important service it is to people, especially at this time of Covid 19 where so many people are having to remain in their homes and just don’t get visitors,” he said.
“I talk a lot to the men in the cancer group, for example. We were always phoning one another. The people who go to the cancer group know there’s a network there and just to know that somebody is thinking about you is so important.
“I’m grateful that this additional funding recognises how important this scheme is for the people in our area. There is no area which doesn’t need this type of scheme but it’s another example of the community responding to what Covid 19 has brought to us and that is just so important.”
News of the project continuing was also welcomed by psychotherapist and lecturer Hereward Proops, who had provided training for the befriending volunteers, as well as those working on the delivery service, on how to be good, supportive listeners.
He had shared key principles such as active listening and open questioning and stressed the importance of communication skills in helping tackle social isolation.
Hereward said: “In these days of Covid 19, where face to face contact with people is inadvisable, the important of things like the befriending project – the importance of maintaining social contact – cannot be overstated.”
He described the project as “empowering”, adding: “It’s a great example of the community helping themselves; finding support from within.
“Social isolation is a huge problem for mental health and anything that helps combat it, especially in these days of coronavirus, is hugely beneficial and telephone befriending is a great means for people within the community to maintain positive contact with one another in these difficult times. I think it’s great that this project will be in place for the community in the long run.”
Point and Sandwick Trust community consultant Alasdair Nicholson, who had accessed the funding for the different aspects of the Wellbeing Project, said the creation of these initiatives had fostered a community resilience and hailed the “tremendous effort by the many volunteers that took part.”
He added: “We don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of a resurgence of coronavirus, or indeed any other issue like that, but I think the community itself will be better placed to respond to future events. Without doubt, the fact the Trust was able to pursue and host and manage the Wellbeing Fund was something that ultimately meant a whole range of people in the community were given critical and crucial support in the time it was needed.”
Picture of Catherine Anne Smith by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos