A former top newspaper editor has joined an army of volunteers helping vulnerable people get through the coronavirus crisis.
Rob Irvine, 54, who is now training to become a counsellor and therapist, is making weekly calls to tenants of housing association Cartrefi Conwy who are struggling to cope during the pandemic.
He says he signed up to the Wellbeing Project because he lives in Conwy and wanted to help the community during the unprecedented health crisis.
The volunteer scheme was set up in March by Creating Enterprise, a subsidiary of Cartrefi Conwy, as a way of ensuring tenants, especially those who were shielding due to underlying health issues, had someone to talk to and collect essential supplies or prescriptions should they need help.
Volunteers, including Rob Irvine, were recruited to ring them every week to check everything was well, whether they needed anything or just wanted someone to talk to.
Other volunteers such as retired civil servant Jon Young, 63, from Abergele, took on the role of drivers, delivering shopping, prescriptions and other essentials to tenants in need of support.
Among the tenants receiving weekly calls from Rob is Alun Humphreys, 66, from Llandudno, who has lived with his wife, Sylvia, at the same property in Llandudno for more than 35 years.
He said: “Sylvia has battled cancer twice and had to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy and although she is now in remission, she has a very weak immune system which meant right from the start of the pandemic she had to shield.
“Our adult son lives with us and is a great help and we have a daughter who lives in Llandudno Junction who has also been a big help. She had our second grandchild just before lockdown and it meant Sylvia couldn’t see the baby until he was about three months old. She could only see photos.
“It’s been a worry looking after Sylvia, I’m her registered carer. I’ve been terrified of her contracting Covid-19 and, believe me, I’ve bleached the house within an inch of its life.”
He added: “We do have a good circle of friends but it was nice to know there was someone out there who cared and that Cartrefi Conwy cared too.
“I was a bit taken aback when Rob first phoned but I grew to appreciate the fact he called every week, and still does, to see how things are and how were getting on.
“He has a lovely way about him and you couldn’t fail to be impressed. It’s like having a sibling to talk to, like a family member.
“I know when Rob rings I can talk in confidence and it won’t go any further. I can discuss problems or talk about my fears for Sylvia and our health with the pandemic and he will listen. Having Rob call to check on us and just be there for a chat has really helped.
“A call from Rob can last anything from five to 20 minutes. It’s never rushed. And he gave me his number so if I need to call him anytime for a chat if I need to. It’s a wonderful service that has given me a lot of confidence. “
According to Rob Irvine, who spent seven years editing the Daily Post and a further six years as editor of the Manchester Evening News, the Wellbeing Project is giving him an opportunity to put into practice a few of his new skills.
He said: “Once the situation with Covid-19 began I wanted to volunteer to do something to help. I thought I could use the skills I’ve learnt through my training to be a counsellor to good use.
“I heard about the Wellbeing Project and the service to Cartrefi Conwy tenants and thought it was an ideal fit.
“It’s actually proved to be a very rewarding and fun-filled thing to do. It’s not just about ensuring vulnerable people have essential foods and medication it’s about offering a listening ear.
“It’s gone further though. I’ve never met some tenants face to face yet I now know them so well and count some as real friends. We share a lot about the Covid-19 health crisis but also talk about other concerns and fears.
“It’s a couple of hours a week of my time but it’s actually something I look forward to, I really do enjoy it and look forward to calling people.
Fellow volunteer Jon Young, a retired health and safety officer who also volunteers with the Wildlife Trust and is a trustee with the Clocaenog Red Squirrel Trust, says he signed up as a driver with the Wellbeing Project in June as soon as he heard about the project.
Jon, who lives in Abergele, said: “I have been out and about since June, delivering all sorts of things to vulnerable Cartrefi Conwy tenants. Mainly it’s groceries, prescriptions and food parcels but I’ve even collected a hearing aid from hospital and delivered it to a tenant.
“Most of the tenants I’ve been to are elderly or self-isolating due to underling medical conditions.”
Wellbeing Project co-ordinator Richard Chance said: “We have 10 volunteers with some making weekly phone calls to vulnerable tenants and others going out and delivering food parcels, collecting shopping and prescription medicines or anything else that is urgently needed by tenants.
“The volunteers making calls are building real friendships with tenants. I covered for one volunteer who was unable to carry out calls one day and every tenant I spoke to asked where his or her normal caller was and how were they.
“I think that shows the importance of the scheme and how volunteers are building real and meaningful relationships with tenants.”
“With the health crisis showing no signs of coming to an end any time soon the services we are providing to tenants will continue thanks to our incredible team of volunteers.”