Across the Hedgerow: Rural lockdown companionship service launched in NI

Two rural bodies have joined forces to set up a new project to support older and vulnerable people in Northern Ireland during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The new initiative called ‘Across the Hedgerow’ will be run by Rural Support in collaboration with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU).

It will provide older, vulnerable or isolated members of the farming community with listening support and companionship through telephone calls to improve mental and emotional well-being during lockdown.

Rural Support chief executive Veronica Morris said: “Our helpline has seen a marked increase in calls since the escalation of the Covid-19 situation and more and more of those are from vulnerable and older members of the rural community who are isolated and afraid.

“In order to really help these people navigate what is the new normal for the foreseeable future, the ‘Across the Hedgerow’ project, in collaboration with the YFCU, will provide our most vulnerable people with extra human connection on a regular basis, via the phone, to help lift their spirits and bring some happiness during this uncertain time.

Traditionally, older and vulnerable people can be in the hard to reach category so this project will help Rural Support to identify people most in need, ensuring they are getting the help they need to protect their mental health and well-being, as well as connecting them to the right services if they need it.

“It will also provide a small bit of respite and comfort to their loved ones knowing that there will be someone else checking in on them and providing additional care and a listening ear at this time of uncertainty and fear.”

Across the Hedgerow

Rural Support will co-ordinate the matching of Across the Hedgerow clients to a suitable person and they will make contact as often as the person needs to feel safer and more content during this crisis.

Clients can either self-refer to the service via Rural Support’s helpline: 0800-138-1678; or be referred by third parties with the verbal permission of the client.

YFCU president Zita McNaugher said: “Members of the Young Farmers’ Executive Committee have volunteered to take part in this new initiative with Rural Support.

“We are delighted to be involved and play a part in supporting rural communities during this uncertain time.

We are looking forward to having a chat with anyone that feels vulnerable, lonely or isolated during this time and hopefully our members can provide a listening ear and maybe even brighten up someone’s day.

As well as the Across the Hedgerow project, Rural Support also continues to help farmers and farm families who are facing financial pressures, physical and mental health concerns as well as tackling isolation and loneliness.

If you know anyone who could benefit from the Across the Hedgerow Project or wish to speak to a member of staff, please contact Rural Support via email on: [email protected] Alternatively, the service can be contacted via telephone on: 028-8676-0040.