MOST people are surrounded by family and friends at Christmas.
But for some, the festive period can be one of the loneliest times of the year – especially for vulnerable adults living alone.
Careline receives more than 2,000 calls a day from alarms, pendants and sensors in people’s homes which are linked to the call centre in Florence Road, Chichester.
And Christmas is set to be no different, with call handlers manning the phones day and night ensuring people across the district are safe, reassured and, if needs be, setting off to give help.
Brenda Jackson is the manager of the service, which has been running for 28 years.
“Careline is very important at Christmas,” said Brenda.
“The calls take longer because sometimes, the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t have any one else to talk to. Many of our clients are elderly and vulnerable. It can be quite sad.
“Often the calls are from people who just need a bit of reassurance or a chat. They aren’t necessarily from people who are in trouble or need assistance.
“We will be working all over Christmas to make sure people have someone to talk to. Often family members go away, so we make sure we put an alarm in their house so they know there is someone they can call.”
Sometimes referred to as the fifth emergency service, Careline is run by Chichester District Council.
It operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, supporting everyone from carers to senior citizens wanting to live more independent lives.
“Our staff really care for the person on the other end of the phone,” said Brenda.
“We decide what to do – whether they are hurt and need emergency services, or someone to go round and reassure them before we get there.”
Careline has been especially busy this year, with the launch of a new alarm called Mindme.
“Mindme uses GPS to determine a location,” said Brenda.
“I can’t emphasise enough how much it has given freedom to clients. When people press the button it transfers straight to our call centre and you can have two-way communication – no matter where the person is.”
Mindme has been especially designed for people with learning difficulties or dementia who might be prone to wandering off.
Chichester Careline was the first to use the device – and Brenda and her team found themselves in the midst of a media storm, appearing on ITV, the BBC and even getting attention from Al Jazeera.
Gill Stoneham, from Fishbourne, who has dementia, used the Mindme device the day after she got it. Bernard, her husband, had heard about the device and thought it would put his mind at rest if his wife was ever on her own.
Gill took the dog for a walk, and Bernard logged on to the computer to check if she was taking her usual route. He saw on the map that she has stopped in a field – in the opposite direction.
Bernard eventually found Gill distressed and lying in a field.
“Without the locator I wouldn’t have known where to look,” he said.
“Since then, we have been given the latest Mindme device with a button that links directly to Chichester Careline.This means that if she gets into difficulty, she can speak to the staff through the device. All I can say is how grateful I am to have had the use of this piece of high-tech wizardry at what a difference it makes at this time in our lives.”
Brenda said the atmosphere at Careline is ‘lovely’.
“It is amazing to be surrounded by so many people who want to help others,” she said.
“We are a Chichester District Council service – which people sometimes don’t realise. We have 21,000 clients. For a council service we really do try to pack in as much as possible.”
The organisation also makes every effort to go the extra mile to help people in their homes.
“Sometimes its just about the extra touches,” said Brenda. “Like putting labels in people’s homes or providing reassurance and a helping hand. It is a team effort.”
Chichester Careline can be contacted on 01243 778688 or by emailing email@example.com and will be running over Christmas.