Volunteer Becca Cheetham, from Didcot, had her first call on Friday last week and the carer she spoke to was “just happy to have someone to talk to.”

“It is clear COVID has made things difficult for carers. Many feel that there’s just no respite,” Becca says.

“In the beginning there was perhaps a ‘honeymoon period’, but the pandemic and social isolation has now gone on for so long. Carers may experience an intense amount of contact with the person they care for but can be lonely and isolated from others, and people are feeling that increasingly now,” she notes.

Oxford Heath’s befriending line is here to alleviate precisely that. The line is not for emergencies or clinical advice. The responders do not have access to any clinical information and won’t be able to answer questions about a patient’s care. It is purely to support a family member, friend or carer with a friendly chat.

Carers can call 01865 901012 at any time and leave their details. A befriender will call back between 11am and 12 noon, Monday to Friday. 

The only details you need to leave is your name and phone number. You needn’t say who you are caring for or what condition they have. If you leave your message by 10am, you will receive a call back on the same day. And you can call more than once.

“I noticed on my first shift that people wondered if this was a one-off,” says Becca. “But no, you can call again, as often as you need a friendly chat. You can also ask to be called back by a specific volunteer if you wish.” Becca says.

Becca became a volunteer after growing up as carer and wanting to support others going through the same thing.

“I was looking after my mother from quite a young age, and we didn’t have a support network around us, although my sister was, and still is, my rock.”

“I definitely didn’t identify as a carer; I was so young, and it was just my life. It definitely took its toll.”

That’s why Becca finds this year’s ‘Carers Week’ theme – Make Caring Visible – particularly powerful. If people recognise they are a carer, it opens up the doors to the rights that they have for help and support they may need, such as the carers assessment.

Before the pandemic, Becca was volunteering on the Ruby Ward at the Whiteleaf Centre, supporting carers there. The befriending phone line was then partly set up to ‘redeploy’ volunteers who could not do their normal roles because of social distancing and the no visitor policy on the trust sites. The phone line has been funded through the Oxford Health Charity as part of the NHS Charities Together grant, and it has been established for the time being. The hope is that the service will carry on.

The continuation of the Befriending Line will depend on the funding available – but also on the need for such a service. So, the best way to support its longevity is to give 01865 901012 a call!

Apart from volunteering, Becca’s spring has been packed full of change. Since leaving her career as a business manager, she now works full time at her own company Siendo, which she has been steadily growing over the last few years. Through her business, Becca provides Mental Health First Aid training, wellbeing talks and development coaching, and is looking forward to completing her training as a yoga teacher this summer. Alongside that, she is also starting a new role as a mental health support worker at Oxford Health, and looks forward to continuing with her volunteering role on the carers’ befriending line.

“Carers do an incredible job,” she says. “Be proud of what you do and remember: there is support available for you.”