Practical and emotional help to the elderly

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Shetland Royal Voluntary Service manager Mary Gair - Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News Shetland Royal Voluntary Service manager Mary Gair - Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News Old age can bring with it some disadvantages. Feeling isolated from society can be one of them, but there are solutions, writes Louise Thomason.

The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) is one charity on hand to help with this. It works to ensure older people feel valued and involved in society. Based in Market House, Lerwick, the Shetland branch operates lunch clubs, social meets and other services throughout the isles to do just this.

Established in 1938 as a women's voluntary service which assisted civilians during and after air raids in World War Two, the charity has evolved to become one of the largest volunteering organisation in British history.

Today, it has branches throughout the UK which provide practical and emotional help to the elderly.

Shetland service manager Mary Gair, explained some of the ways in which the local RVS helps people.

She said: "The Royal Voluntary Service is aimed at supporting any elderly folk who are at risk of being isolated. A lot of our service users don't have family at home, so the contact they have from our volunteers when they go to the lunch clubs or social clubs is quite often the only contact they're getting - especially if their mobility is affected.

"So it's a real benefit to them to get out the house and have that visit and spend time in a different environment. It's a great way to stop them sitting at home and feeling isolated."

RVS Shetland has social clubs which run from Northmavine to Sandwick and Cunningsburgh, but folk can be visited at home, too.

Mary said: "[There are also] a few 'good neighbours' that go out and visit and have cups of tea and check in on folk to make sure they're ok."

One of the main benefits of these services is the social interaction they provide. As well as the social clubs that meet regularly, there are lunch clubs. One meets in the Islesburgh Community Centre, which runs Monday-Friday, and another which meets monthly in Cunningsburgh.

Mary said: "Folk [come] from a variety of places, they have their dinner, and twice a week we try and get entertainment."

RVS Shetland also offers help in times of need. The welcome home service, for example, is there to help any elderly person settle in at home after a period in hospital.

Welcome home coordinator Helen Budgen said: "It can be anything from taking them home and making sure they're fine... it's a basic 4-6 week service if anybody wants it, just basic tasks - popping in for a cup of tea, for example."

Anyone can be referred for the service, and self referrals are accepted.

The local branch receives funding locally from Shetland Charitable Trust, as well as other sources, but the services provided are all reliant on volunteers.

Mary said: "It's all done with the fantastic work of our volunteers. We have four part time members of staff who support the service here - we're all based in Lerwick - but we have a lovely variety of volunteers who selflessly give up their time to support the older folk in Shetland. And we'd always love to get more of them."

One service which is unique to Shetland is the Petrofac responders service. Funded by the energy company, it provides '365 days a year' on call support to anyone injured on taken unwell on an oil rig. The support is not restricted to Petrofac employees.

Helen said: "You would get notified if someone was coming in off a rig, injured; you might meet them at the hospital or stay with them while they're being transferred."

RVS is looking to recruit people who can help with the responders service. Helen said: "You are paid for your time, but only if you are called out."

Mary said the RVS is very grateful for the financial support they receive. She said: "We are lucky in the funding in that we have the support of the charitable trust, so if we can grow our services we can apply for more funding and it really rolls together beautifully."

Local fundraising will be taking place this summer, with bingo nights and Sunday teas planned. Mary said that while more funding will enable the services on offer to expand, more volunteers are crucial.

There are currently only a few volunteers who carry out the "good neighbours" service, and would welcome anyone who might be able to volunteer to drive.

She said: "I'm lucky in that I've had a chance to see how [RVS] services are run in Perth, and they have a huge amount of community travel. [It could be] just taking people to and from appointments. Taking them to dentist appointments or to the health centre or into town.

"So that's something we would love to grow here in Shetland. [We'd appreciate] volunteer drivers, people who have mobility to help people who don't."

If anyone would like to hear more about what the RVS does in Shetland, or to volunteer for them, they are welcome to contact Mary Gair at Market House.

She said: "Our office is open from 9am-3pm Monday to Friday; folk can phone in and have a chat or they're quite welcome to pop by. We provide full training for all of our volunteers - so there's health and safety, food safety, manual handling... all the training is online, so they can pop in here and use the PC.

"We support them as much as we can to help them get to the point where they can support the community."

To contact the RVS in Lerwick call 01595 743914 or email shetlandhub@royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk