‘It would be really great if people who were worried or just a bit lonely knew there was someone at the end of the phone’
Chat Newham is a new community support and listening line set up by The Renewal Programme in rapid response to the Coronavirus crisis. Newham resident Laura Glendinning has been instrumental in helping to create this important service. After listening to a radio announcement detailing the increasingly restrictive social distancing measures which she knew would cause a wave of loneliness, anxiety and stress for Newham residents, Laura was inspired to take action for the mental well being of all across the borough. With her help and experience working in the NHS for over 40 years as a mental health specialist, The Renewal Programme launched the new befriending service at the beginning of April
The initiative is in partnership with the London Borough of Newham (LBN). It would not run without the incredible group of local volunteers, and other community organisations who were really passionate about putting their extra time and professional expertise to a great use. The framework of Chat Newham – which was created in an impressive 2 weeks and is being refined periodically – really represents the power of community spirit and the growing atmosphere of collaboration in the wake of this global crisis.
As an organisation founded on the importance of building resilience in the face of adversity, The Renewal Programme has had to be innovative. The issues the community face have intensified, and new problems arise everyday. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Newham has the highest Covid-19 death rates in London; as high as 144.3 deaths per 100,000 people. Newham’s director of public health, Jason Strelitz, describes the figure as “shocking and sobering, but unsurprising”. Newham is one of the UK’s most deprived and diverse areas. Not only are 73% of the community from ethnic minority backgrounds which is a reported risk factor for the coronavirus, but a large percentage of residents live in intergenerational and overcrowded households, often due to the acute shortage of affordable housing in the borough. The borough has a longstanding history of poverty and health inequality. Like so many charities, The Renewal Programme have moved quickly to learn new ways of working so we can continue supporting those most vulnerable and high-risk.
So far, Chat Newham has been a huge success in that our team of volunteers are connecting with more and more residents each week who can now access the support they need. Unsurprisingly, calls are increasing as the community faces the continued strain of social distancing measures. According to academics, the combination of social isolation, loneliness, increased anxiety and stress surrounding health, finances and uncertainty is already having a tremendous impact on the nations mental health and well being. The majority of calls we receive are for support accessing food, medication, housing, and unsurprisingly advice on dealing with the stress and anxiety.
‘Chat Newham is providing a comforting and connective support system for the people of Newham which aims to stick around even after the pandemic’
The long-term vision is to establish the project as a regular telephone & video befriending service with a focus on implementing a people first, collaborative approach – delivered by local people for local people. We want to promote inclusion by encouraging positive social integration. It will be volunteer led with the aim to provide social, informational, emotional and supportive care to vulnerable adults in the borough. The service will provide comfort, connection and community through the current Covid-19 period and beyond.