The Silva Homes volunteers who have been helping the association’s most vulnerable customers through the Coronavirus crisis have been hailed as “unsung heroes”.
Dozens of staff at Bracknell-based housing association Silva Homes says staff took on “vital” voluntary roles as they rose to the challenge of protecting the mental and physical wellbeing of those in the community most at risk of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Silva colleagues from across the organisation changed their everyday routines to take on extra duties and provide vital services to many of its 14,000 customers across the South East of England.
Support came through a ‘Phone Pals’ service, designed to combat loneliness, and a food delivery service, established to help the most vulnerable customers stay stocked up during the pandemic.
Now ,their efforts to support those most in need have been praised by the housing association as life in the communities returns to normal, and the colleagues who went beyond the call of duty have spoken of their rewarding experience on the frontline in extraordinary times.
Dasos Christou, Silva Homes’ executive director [customer relations], said: “These have been incredibly tough times for customers of all ages right across our communities, and our hearts go out to families who have lost loved ones due to Coronavirus.
“We have done our utmost to protect our customers during lockdown and have ensured that those left most isolated do not go without essential moral and physical support, which is why our phone pals and food delivery support services were set up.
“It has given me immense pride to see the way our colleagues have mobilised and volunteered to ensure no one is denied essential supplies or left lonely, and that is why they are the ultimate unsung heroes and deserve immense credit for putting other people first.”
For the Silva Homes volunteers, making sure the phone pals scheme and food delivery support service have been successful has been a “labour of love”.
Phone pals and food delivery service volunteer Olivia Fuller, a tenancy support coordinator, added: “I’d normally get out and about supporting vulnerable customers on things including benefits rights and budgeting and managing their property.
“Lockdown freed me up to volunteer in Silva’s Phone Pals service to help people who were shielding but didn’t have anyone to talk to.
“I spoke to 40 people each week as part of this programme, and I also put my hand up to help on the food delivery service for people who couldn’t get out of their homes.”
She added: “One of our elderly customers lost one of her best friends to COVID-19, so I offered her emotional support, while at the other extreme another customer told me all about her son, who is a renowned musician and actor.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at times, but this whole experience showed me how resilient our customers are and that even the most vulnerable people are in safe hands with Silva Homes.”
Phone pals volunteer Xolani Preston, Silva’s independent living scheme manager at Lawrence Court, said: “I actually think a real positive to the lockdown is the way it has brought Silva Homes’ colleagues and customers closer together, which bodes well for the future.
“For me it has been a real pleasure and a real privilege to chat to our lovely customers. I’ve loved the way they have responded in such a cheerful way and opened up about their amazing lives.
“I felt as if the calls I’ve been making through the phone pals scheme mean the world to them but it means so much to me as well. We’d speak for as long as an hour about anything and everything, as well as giving them important information.
“It provided customers with a link to the outside world. I have really enjoyed it because it’s been so valuable during a very confusing time.
“I just enjoy speaking to people because you learn a lot about how we can best do our jobs so I’m grateful the service was embraced by our customers.”
Food delivery volunteer Will Reeves, Silva Homes’ graduate customer relations partner [tenancy], said: “I have to admit, it’s been a real labour of love for me and my fellow volunteers because we know we’re providing something of a lifeline to our customers whose supply lines were cut off.
“It’s been a far cry from my days at Reading University, where I did a politics degree, but far more rewarding.
“The way we changed our roles to adapt to new challenges has been great and to see positive results straight away from customers has meant the world to me.
“It’s all made me really proud to work for Silva Homes, to have such amazing colleagues and to know that our customers really appreciate our determination to go the extra mile – in an efficient but caring way.”
Food delivery service volunteer and customer relations manager [tenancy] Mimi Watson said:“I jumped at the chance of volunteering to do home deliveries alongside a few other members of my team. I think it just proves that we are all in it together.
“As well as the basics of picking up food supplies and prescriptions, it was great chatting to people who were clearly missing social interaction, and what I found moving is that one lady had something different to chat about every week, right from recipes tips.
“I relished the opportunity to get stuck in. I knew that the key to getting through this was stepping out of my comfort zone, while being honest and admitting how much I was struggling with lockdown.
“That opened things up and really strengthened the bond and trust between everyone involved in the organisation. I think it just proves that we are all in it together.”
Image: Silva Homes’s Executive Director of Customer Relations, Dasos Christou, and dog, Roxy