BT is announcing the national rollout of its employee led initiative, Care Home Companions to over 300 care homes across the UK. Since 2020, BT, EE and Plusnet contact centre colleagues have been volunteering to regularly chat with care home residents to keep their spirits up during the pandemic. Following a successful launch in the North East, BT is expanding Care Home Companions to over 300 care homes nationwide with their partner HC-One, with the ambition to have 1,600 volunteers making 15,000 calls to care home residents over the next year.
BT colleagues are using their personable and local communication skills they’ve learnt as customer service advisors to chat with residents who might not have anyone else to talk to on a regular basis. During lockdown, the Office for National Statistics found that those who are “always or often” lonely reached 8 per cent* of UK adults. Care Home Companions is helping to tackle the loneliness epidemic by giving volunteers from nearby UK based BT, EE and Plusnet contact centres the opportunity to give back to their local communities. Call centres taking part in this initiative include Darlington, Sheffield, Leeds and Doxford Park, and will be expanding to a total of 30 centres, with additions including Accrington, Blackburn, Lancaster, Liverpool and Warrington throughout the year.
In line with BT’s mission to Connect for Good, the original idea for Care Home Companions was born out of an existing project set-up by a group of BT employees in 2020 to help tackle loneliness in the UK. The scheme was hugely successful, with around 140 volunteers making over 1600 calls to care homes in the North East during 2020. The series of lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures has had a devastating impact for residents in care homes, and now in 2021, BT volunteers together with HC-One are taking the project one step further to help even more residents across the country to combat loneliness for this vulnerable part of society.
Nick Lane, MD of service, BT’s Consumer division said: “Giving back to local communities is so important, so when we heard there was a group of people who’d appreciate a chat, our volunteers jumped at the chance to help. I couldn’t be prouder of them. Being local and personal is such a big part of who we are now, meaning that we’re uniquely placed to be making these calls to those in our communities who need it most. The feedback from the residents, carers and care homes has just been overwhelmingly positive and our people love it too.”
Colleagues who volunteer to take part are given full training on top of their professional customer service skills on how to help their care home companions feel more connected. Matching companions in the same area means volunteers can bring in their own personal and local experience to build friendships and help residents feel comfortable and supported.
Robi Roccella, Head of Quality of Life at HC-One on how the weekly calls help as part of their overall activities: “Our wellbeing programme aims to enhance the quality of life of the People we care for, by providing a range of meaningful activities that can stimulate their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. During the coronavirus pandemic we’ve had to adapt the way we do things, and for the People we care for, their relationships with the outside world and community links have become even more important. We are grateful to be working with BT and EE, for not only the time their volunteers have given to help the People we care for to stay connected, but also helping them through their weekly calls to lead active and fulfilling lives. This programme is also promoting the use technology which is also key to enable People to be stimulated and engaged.”
Jay Routledge, a volunteer from North Tyneside said: “Speaking to one or two individuals on a weekly basis means I leave that call with a buzz, knowing I’ve made somebody’s day. It’s knowing I’ve had that lovely conversation with somebody for half an hour and I’ve been able to get to know them a little bit and they’ve got to know me as well.”
Georgie Pouton, Wellbeing Coordinator from HC-One’s Redesdale Court care home in North Shields said: “It wasn’t real at first when COVID-19 hit. We got a phone call asking if we would take part in a pilot [of Care Home Companions]. At first we were like ‘ooh how’s this going to work?’ but I’d say the first few days after we got the calls we were starting to see signs of positivity in the residents.”
Bev Wilson from BT’s Gosforth contact centre, who initially helped to set up the scheme, and has spent her time speaking with George, a resident at Kirkwood Court care home, Kenton, Newcastle said: “Speaking to George is like speaking to family. Whenever I’m feeling a little bit down, I think about my calls to lift my spirits up. We now share a picture and a bit about our interests to residents before we start our calls as a friendly introduction. I shared a picture of me cycling and stories about my pet dogs, which really helped our relationship flourish as it brought back memories of George cycling into Newcastle each day, and his own lovely dog. He loves the calls that we have together, and he says that it is a release speaking to someone new. George’s wife is also in the same home and he doesn’t have any other family. Some residents don’t have any visitors, and so in some cases we offer multiple calls a week.
“Even though lockdown restrictions are lifting, it’s still important to keep in touch with those who may be feeling lonely, sometimes doing this can help and inspire you too. Another resident that I speak to is a poet, whose work has been read out on the radio and published in newspapers. I’m lucky enough to have been able to hear her work over the phone, as she speaks about her local area, including mining and politics. I’ve been incredibly inspired as she recalls all her poems from memory as she is blind. It fills her with pride to be able to continue sharing her beautiful poems.”
Lauren Proctor, Wellbeing Coordinator from HC-One’s Kirkwood Court care home in Newcastle said: “We cannot thank the BT volunteers enough and everyone who has used their free time to chat. Our residents look forward to the calls and enjoy telling stories about their past. They love getting to know the volunteers’ and learning more about the people they’re talking to – one resident said, “It’s lovely to match a face to the voice”.
“Our ambition is to help combat loneliness and this initiative is definitely helping. From the numerous calls we’ve had, one little chat makes a resident’s day. For example, George, looks forward to his call every week and enjoys talking about his life, his family and especially history. BT sent George The Magnificent 7 DVD and sweets as a birthday present, as he mentioned when his birthday was on a call once – it made his year.”
“BT’s Care Home Companion’s has been brilliant for both residents and our colleagues. For ‘National Carers Week’ all the Care Home Companion’s sent personal cards colleagues at Kirkwood Court to say thank you and to keep up the good work. We were overwhelmed with their kindness, it made them feel appreciated. I’d recommend this programme to everyone.”
If you are a customer, please call BT customer service numberTеl: 0800 800 150
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