BT announces Care Home Companion service to tackle loneliness in care homes

To mark Loneliness Awareness Week, BT is announcing a pilot project to help tackle loneliness in care homes using volunteers from UK based contact centres to make regular calls to isolated residents.

To help lighten the loneliness epidemic in care homes, a team of over 40 volunteers from the BT contact centres in Gosforth and Doncaster make regular calls during their shifts to local Marton Care Home residents. The employee-led initiative offers volunteers from contact centres the opportunity to give back to their local community using their professional skills to chat with residents who might not have anyone else to talk to.

The idea was born out of an existing project set-up by a group of BT employees to help tackle loneliness in the UK. Lockdown and social distancing has had a devastating impact for residents in care homes, so EE and BT volunteers are taking this project one step further to help combat loneliness for this vulnerable part of society.

Volunteers work with the care home managers to find a companion with similar interests and find a suitable time to help get the budding friendships off to the best start. Residents who don’t have a phone have been provided with handsets and SIM cards. The pilot is still in the early stages but is already creating positive results.

Nick Lane, MD of service, BT’s Consumer division said: “Giving back to the local communities that we’re part of is so important, so when we heard there’s was a group of people who’d appreciate a chat, our volunteers jumped at the chance to help. I couldn’t be prouder of them. Being local and personal is such a big part of who we are now, meaning that we’re uniquely placed to be making these calls to those in our communities who need it most.

The feedback from the residents, carers and care homes has just been overwhelmingly positive and while we’re still at the trial stage with a small team, I’m hoping we can ultimately grow this. COVID-19 has only fuelled the UK's loneliness epidemic which is why this initiative is even more rewarding for everyone involved.”

Colleagues who volunteer to take part are given full training on top of their professional customer service skills to help their companions feel more connected during lockdown. Matching companions in the same area means volunteers can bring in their own personal and local experience to build friendships and help residents feel comfortable.

Dawn Ellis, a volunteer from BT Gosforth, who speaks to Ruth, often chats about Ruth’s favourite ice cream:

“Our calls are lovely, Ruth is such a joy to talk to, she tells me about what she has done in the day. She loves attending her local church services but can’t at the moment because of the lockdown situation. We had a good chat the other day when she heard the ice cream van coming, in fact, she couldn’t be quick enough to get off the call as she didn’t want to miss it and thought it was great that she can get an ice cream and I couldn’t. She is looking forward to talking to me next week to let me know which ice cream she had.”

Bev Wilson, who initially helped to set up the scheme, and has spent her time speaking with Pat:

"Speaking with Pat has been just so rewarding. I know I’m going to be grinning throughout the call. I just enjoy talking to her about things I would have done or watched as a child. It brings back lovely memories. It’s important now more than ever because when people go into a care home, they tend to not get a lot of visitors anyhow because of their age. Now, they’re getting to speak to somebody different. These people are telling us personal things, they’re opening up to us, probably the first people they’ve spoken to about these things in a long time.

"Although this is new to me, it’s quite close to home for me as my mother is currently in a care home with dementia. She's since forgotten who we are but I always think about her when I'm doing these calls. We’ve heard of residents who hardly left their rooms, prior to receiving our calls. Now they’ll socialise with the other residents, telling them all about their chat with us. The only thing that might cut a chat short is if the ice-cream van arrives or it’s time for bingo! Just speaking about it now puts a grin on my face.”