Riverside volunteers step up to tackle COVID-19

More than 210 frontline and back office colleagues have stepped up to volunteer to provide extra support for Riverside’s customers to combat the impact of COVID-19.

Grace Connor, who works with Riverside’s Business Development team covering the Midlands and South West, immediately stepped up to make calls from her home in Northamptonshire. Riverside contacted 7,500 customers, including 99.5% of Retirement Living residents aged over 55, with Grace making contact herself with more than 250 people.

Riverside has developed its Volunteer Support Scheme to assist its frontline teams to respond to the threat of COVID-19, with a focus on additional help for vulnerable customers such as providing cover for emergency shifts at supported services for people affected by homelessness in Manchester.

As soon as the Government imposed the social distancing restrictions, it became clear that offices were going to close and non-frontline colleagues needed to work from home. Whilst Riverside’s frontline Care and Support team continued to deliver services to customers, with the assistance of some non-frontline volunteers, a combined team was mobilised to get in touch with every single vulnerable customer, completing self-isolation plans for more than 7,500 residents, a process that started two weeks prior to social distancing being imposed.

Further assistance has been provided by Riverside volunteers to help residents to access food donations, make online shopping orders and adapt to the new Public Health guidelines.

Additionally, redeployed colleagues from Riverside’s Evolve and Riverside Direct repairs and maintenance teams have been delivering much needed food supplies and prescriptions to vulnerable customers across the country.

Lee Bailey, Volunteering Manager – Riverside, said: “The current circumstances have meant that our team has stepped up to volunteer their time to support services in need. My thanks go out to everyone who has volunteered for the huge difference they’ve made. Volunteering has been part of the way we do business in Riverside for a long time, with all colleagues entitled to take up to two paid volunteering leave days a year, whether for Riverside or another deserving cause.

“Volunteers are enriching our services and this has meant that we can continue to provide an excellent service to our customers, enabling us to support the most vulnerable. Whether it’s delivering shopping, medication or checking in for a chat once a week, the positive impact on our customers’ lives is tangible.”

Grace Connor, who works with Riverside’s Business Development team covering the Midlands and South West, immediately stepped up to make calls from her home in Northamptonshire. Riverside contacted 7,500 customers, including 99.5% of Retirement Living residents aged over 55, with Grace making contact herself with more than 250 people.

Grace said: “One of the customers I’ve been contacting is really sad he won’t get to see anyone for his birthday which is coming up, so I’m going to give him a call on that day and sing happy birthday to him down the phone. He’s clearly missing regular daily contact so it’s nice for us to be able to speak regularly and to be honest I feel the same.”

Grace was able to share tips from other residents, such as when the local Sainsbury’s at one scheme was offering priority delivery to vulnerable residents who called them up or contacted them online. Beyond the immediate needs, she also found that it was the reassurance of hearing from Riverside and knowing there was someone looking out for them which made the biggest difference.

Grace is now making regular calls to Riverside’s Extra Care services in Hull, whose residents include people with learning disabilities. All Riverside’s Extra Care customers, who may also be tackling feelings of social isolation and loneliness, have been assigned a volunteer for a daily call, every three days or once a week, depending on their needs.

Derek, Robbie Cowbury and Esther came through the Riverside Volunteer Support scheme, offering to help where needed from his normal office based role.

Robbie Cowbury, a homeless services Campaign Manager, stepped forward to cover emergency shifts at Newbury House in Manchester, a complex needs service which is often the first step on people’s journey away from rough sleeping. Newbury House was hard hit by the pandemic due to a number of staff with underlying conditions and a few others who self-isolated after developing symptoms. To help cover shifts, the Scheme Manager put a call out to people working in other services across Manchester. Robbie came through the Riverside Volunteer Support scheme, offering to help where needed from his normal office based role.

Robbie said: “It’s been fantastic to gain first-hand experience of frontline situations, instead of just organising campaigns for homeless services. It was really good to see people in supported housing following the Government’s health guidelines, responding positively by staying in their rooms.”

Ongoing support work with tenants linking them into services like the Job Centre, Mental Health teams and Drug & Alcohol services is still being picked up by Riverside colleagues working remotely, so volunteers like Robbie, covering shifts within actual services can focus on responding to immediate customer needs. Shifts included cleaning and wiping down all communal areas to prevent the risk of infection, as well as providing welfare checks and money advice. It’s an arrangement that has helped bring huge benefits for customers and colleagues alike.

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