Toby was overcome with emotion the first time he pushed a trolley loaded with reading material, healthy refreshments, treats and toiletries around hospital wards for Royal Voluntary Service. Pushing the first such trolley to reach elderly patients at the Royal Sussex Hospital for four years, he was greeted with clapping and cheering. “If I remember correctly, I went back to my car and cried,” he says.
Royal Voluntary Service plays an important role in supporting older and vulnerable people in hospital and in the community, and our six-year partnership with them has seen hundreds of our colleagues give up their time to volunteer. But the coronavirus outbreak has made that face-to-face support for hospital patients impossible, so we’re backing the charity’s efforts to help vulnerable people in new ways during the period of social distancing.
In recent weeks, Royal Voluntary Service has built an army of new volunteers for NHS England – the NHS Volunteer Responders – to help fight Covid-19 and protect the 1.5 million most at risk, and others that medical staff feel are clinically vulnerable. But many more people need support and it continues to care for thousands more older and vulnerable people in the community, many of whom will remain isolated at home as we move into the next phase of the pandemic.
We’re supporting the charity’s appeal to raise £5 million to deliver these crucial services and support income losses the charity is now facing through the decision to close its 200 shops and cafés in hospitals and its 107 on-ward trolleys, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of volunteers and staff. We’ve provided advertising space in the Telegraph, which has seen one reader alone make a substantial donation of several thousand pounds. And Toby is among the first of our colleagues to complete the training needed to make essential welfare checks and companionship calls to vulnerable people on the telephone.
Our work with Royal Voluntary Service is an essential component of our efforts to help people live better in later life, and follows our recent support of Royal Voluntary Service’s new Home from Hospital service at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, where elderly patients are provided support from a caring volunteer on their road to recovery after a hospital stay. It complements our financial support for the Advanced Care Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh and our work to develop a network of later-living communities designed to encourage healthier and more connected lives, under the Inspired Villages and Guild Living brands.
In normal times, in addition to its shops, cafés and trolleys, Royal Voluntary Service operates 400 lunch and social clubs, 60 home support services, 20 home library services, 23 companionship services, 38 Healthy and Happy Lives groups, which support older people with mild to moderate dementia, and five community centres. But these aren’t normal times and Royal Voluntary Service is providing a whole range of new and remote delivery services for people who are now cut off from their usual support networks.