Muriel Searl, Volunteer, Compassionate Inverclyde

How have you been able to keep a focus on what matters to people during COVID?

Compassionate Inverclyde is a community led project which has been running for a few years now.  It brings out the best in people.  I think of it as the huge beating heart of Inverclyde. It is a project which changes and adapts according to where the need lies, and we have adapted again in response to COVID. 

One of our projects – back home boxes – is based in the basement of Inverclyde Royal Infirmary.  Normally, we make up boxes of enough groceries to last someone the first couple of days returning home from hospital alone.  We have also made up bags of toiletries for people coming into hospital who haven’t been able to organise that.

We are still trying to make sure that people get what they need but our methods have had to change.  We have also always wanted people to feel that someone cares and we still try to make sure that is part of what we do. We have always included a homemade card made by local children in the boxes.  We wanted the store to look welcoming to all the staff coming down so my daughter made a rainbow of hearts for the wall.  She is going to do a trail of hearts next as some staff have found it difficult to find us down here.

What have you had to do differently and what made this possible?

Over the past three months the volunteer numbers for Compassionate Inverclyde have dropped dramatically, as most are shielding.  There are now just six of us working in the back home boxes project.  So we each work more hours and between us we cover the store five days a week.  

My daughter who lives with me, has joined as a new volunteer and the two of us have been working together.  She is my driver and navigator.  We have also formed a team of five to co-ordinate delivery of prescriptions and have delivered hundreds of those too. 

We are doing lots of things differently in the hospital.  The biggest change for back home boxes is that volunteers can’t go to the wards any more. We used go up with our grocery boxes on a trolley and staff would take a box if they knew of any patient going home alone that day.  Now word has got round amongst ward staff, who come down to us and get what is needed for patients.  The need has changed.  Because patients don’t have family visiting, there are more people who don’t have the toiletries they need. it is far more common for patients to need pyjamas.  And there are more people going home alone because family can’t visit. 

We also do isolation boxes now. They are similar to the back home boxes but for people who are shielding and may have had difficulties getting the basics they need.

What have you noticed that has been better?

We have met lots of ward staff now and some have come down repeatedly depending on the needs of their patients.  It can be nice break for staff to come down here and we love to chat to them.  We encourage them to take biscuits up for their colleagues as they deserve a treat too.  It feels like we are much more a part of the hospital and we have bonded with ward staff.  I hope that continues when things change again.

How did this make you feel? 

I’m a retired nurse and I don’t know what I would have done during lockdown if I didn’t have this role.  My daughter and I both love it and it has kept me sane.

What have you learned through this? 

It has confirmed to me how kind people are.  Most people are doing the best they can to keep the community safe in the face of this pandemic.  Even in these circumstances, we just need to put out a notice on our facebook page that we are running out of something – and the community responded.

Phase 2 story (Autumn 2020)

What has continued to help keep a focus on what matters for people during the  pandemic? 

I think it’s more difficult to have a clear focus now compared to the start of the pandemic.  In Spring it was all new. We had never experienced lockdown before or faced such  restrictions in our lives. As volunteers with Compassionate Inverclyde we had to get on  and find a way to keep connected and do something to make a difference to people.  

We are still active in Inverclyde Royal Hospital (IRH) with some of that changed focus that  emerged back in March/April. We still can’t go round the wards to see if anyone needs  one of our back home boxes of groceries if returning home alone from hospital. But staff  do come down to get nightwear and toiletries for people who have come into the hospital  on an unplanned basis. We don’t have as many staff coming down – many came down to  our store for the first time in Spring. But we always enjoy the chat when they do appear.  

It’s still important that people feel cared for when they come into hospital, that there are  folk in Inverclyde who want to make sure that nobody goes without. Our jolly box scheme  for Xmas is a huge operation and again, the point is to make people realise they are not  forgotten and that they will have a box of goodies and a human connection.

Are there changes that seem to be lasting longer term and are there things that have  slid back to old ways of doing things?  

I’m thinking about life in general here. We have all had to make so many adjustments.  You have to pay more attention to recognise people with their masks on, judging by their  hair, their walk and so on.  

Then there are the constant changes of social plans. It’s hard not to get discouraged by  the cancellations and disappointments. People keep finding new ways to do things. Xmas  will be a challenge! My nephew will be 30 in November. His family have decided to have  a garden celebration no matter what. So: candles, braziers, barbecue and an awning and  immediate family only. People are finding ways. My niece had a baby this morning and  that’s been a great source of celebration. Life does go on.  

A big change for our volunteers is that there can only be one person in the back home box  store in the hospital. That is a huge adjustment because the volunteer teams were very  close before and the social aspect was a big part of their weekly shift. I was very lucky  that my daughter has volunteered with me the whole time due to being furloughed. She  goes back full time next week so that will be me on my own in IRH for the first time.

What difference has this made to people? 

We try to keep in touch with all the volunteers in Compassionate Inverclyde. Some are  still isolating and it’s been a long time now for them. You can pick up on the What’s app  groups that some people are struggling. I got a start when one volunteer said they felt  worthless and useless at this stage. I would not have expected that person to feel like  that. That set me on my back wheels a bit. We need to stay in touch with everyone as we  go into Winter.

How did this make you feel?  

I stay hopeful. I’m a very determined person and I know that I need to be busy and seeing  people.

Reflecting on your experiences what have you learned? 

My experience during the pandemic has confirmed that you always get back more than  you put in.

What difference has it made to you to tell your story as part of this project?  

I feel that telling my story – it’s a bit like contributing to a time capsule. We are coming  through something here. While we probably have a way to go – this will pass in time and  people in the future will want to learn about how this was and how we got through it. It’s  good to be able to contribute to that in a small way.