Council staff have been working with community groups for months now to support every single person in East Lothian in the shielding group.

It’s been a difficult few months for everyone during lockdown – but perhaps most difficult for those with specific health concerns who were advised to undertake shielding.

Essentially this meant that for the period of lockdown, initially 12 weeks, which was then extended to 31st July,  this group were unable to leave their homes. Many needed extra support during this time – and that’s where East Lothian Council and our local Area Partnerships and community resilience groups stepped in, working with our wider network of local support groups and volunteers to ensure shielding people were supported and had everything they needed – from groceries to prescriptions and even just a friendly chat.

Things are changing for those shielding and, with care, they can now start to get out and about more. But council colleagues will still be there for those who continue to need extra support, for example if they don’t have friends, family or neighbours who can help out.

We have almost 3,500 people in East Lothian who are in the shielding category – meaning they had to stay at home to minimise their risk of catching Covid-19 as the virus was most likely to have had extremely severe consequences for them.

Many of them got in touch with the council either directly or through the Scottish Government’s text messaging service. Right at the beginning of lockdown, the council began a programme of outreach work to anyone on the list who had not been in touch. Many phone calls were made initially by staff from services within the council i.e. Community Housing, Customer Services and Social Work and then latterly by Customer Services staff.  If staff were unable to get a response after a number of calls to an individual, then a letter was sent from our Chief Executive, Monica Patterson. For anyone who still hadn’t been in touch, staff teams went to knock on doors to make sure everyone was safe, well and supported. Thanks to this massive effort, we contacted every single person on the shielding list in East Lothian.

All shielded people were asked if they wanted a follow-up call on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis.  Many accepted this offer and calls from Customer Services staff have given many a secure feeling that someone is just checking that they are fine. 

We would like to say ‘thank you’ to all of our colleagues who helped with this enormously important work – literally providing a lifeline to many.

Audrey Kearney was just one of those colleagues and here she tells us about her experience:

“My name is Audrey Kearney, I have worked with East Lothian Council for three and a half years. I work within The Safer Communities Team as a Resolution Officer. In my role I work closely with Antisocial Behaviour Investigators, Housing Officers and Police Scotland as well as the various housing associations. I deal with all low level complaints, aiming to resolve them at the lowest possible level without enforcement.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic, I spoke to Simon Davie, Connected Communities Manager for the Tranent/Fa’side Area. Simon required assistance at the emergency food provision at St Martin’s Church Hall. I volunteered and attended every morning, Monday to Friday for seven weeks. I was taken aback by the sheer scale of poverty in the area but also amazed at the kindness and generosity shown by the community. We had money handed in, cheques from social clubs, football teams and food donations – everyone saying they just wanted to help. It was a real eye opener for me. I developed some good relationships and a clear understanding of how our community groups work so well.

“I was then asked by my own manager, Kenny Black, to do some shielding visits. I carried out 86 visits throughout East Lothian, visiting people who had not responded to the letter sent from our Chief Executive asking to let us know that they were OK. Many people thought that as they were doing fine they did not need to respond. I found that many people thought it was so nice that someone was checking on them and they appreciated the visit. For some I was the first person that they had seen in weeks, as they could only speak to family and friends on the phone. Many elderly people asked me to come in and could not understand why I couldn’t!

“Given that I had worked within the emergency food provision and was aware of all the various help available to them, it was good to be in a position to let them know what help was available if needed. One elderly lady was really struggling to hear. I managed to establish that she needed hearing aid batteries and was able to arrange for them to be delivered to her. I had a follow up call to make on the same lady’s street a few days later. I knocked on her door to see how she was coping now she had batteries. She was over the moon and was enjoying watching the TV and talking on the phone (she is 93yrs old)!”

Anyone who is shielding and needs extra help can still contact the ELC helpline on 01875 824300 or email us at [email protected]

Published: Thursday, 16th July 2020