By Liz Campbell
At a time when the elderly, vulnerable and those living alone need more support than ever, the strength and importance of local community services couldn’t be more vital.
Among the numerous services operating to help those in need at the moment, is the transport service offered by Local Link. With public transport at much reduced level, they have found themselves with spare capacity; and recognizing that many of their regular passengers are cocooning but still need to be able to get essential supplies, they have adapted their service to meet the demand.
Local Link drivers have been busy over the last few months carrying out a variety of new duties for those living in the community who need extra help at this time. The list of services currently being offered by Local Link is as follows:
Shopping – drivers will take an individual to the shops to do shopping either for themselves or for a neighbour. Alternatively, the driver will do the shopping and deliver it to the house.
Pharmacy/prescription pick-ups – delivery of essential medications, prescriptions and medical supplies from pharmacies in the Bantry, Skibbereen, Dunmanway and Castletownbere regions. Drivers follow pharmacies’ health and safety protocols at all times
Meals on Wheels – many organisations are involved in delivering Meals on Wheels throughout the country, and Local Link also has the capacity to help with deliveries
Hospital appointments – Local Link is prioritising the facilitation of transport to hospital appointments, particularly for older people. Social distancing is not an issue due to the amount of spare capacity on board the vehicles, and only one person plus a companion will be transported at any one time. The fleet is fully accessible for those with mobility issues.
Although practical in nature, these services also provide much needed contact and companionship for those who are isolated, or living alone – the sight of a friendly face popping in with the shopping, or just passing by to say hello is invaluable at a time when normal social contact, so important to those on their own, is dramatically curtailed.
The above services are being operated for the duration of the pandemic, while regular services are suspended. David O’Brien, General Manager of Local Link says, “Local Link was created to serve the rural community. A large number of our regular users are cocooning at this time, but we are delighted to be able to put the spare capacity in our vehicles to use and to continue to provide a service to them as well as being able to offer new services to the local community during the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, other Local Link services, such as Cancer Connect and Community Call, which are operated by volunteers, continue as usual – and in fact are busier than ever. Community Call is manned by eight volunteers, who make approximately 50 to 70 calls a day to people living alone, or who are isolated. The calls can last anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes, but as David O’Brien points out, “sometimes, that 5 minute call is worth far more than the 45 minute one to someone living on their own.” In addition to the calls, The Community Call volunteers also arrange social gatherings – schriochts – during normal times, and David says, “we are all looking forward to having those back again.”
Cancer Connect, established in 2011, continues to operate – providing an invaluable service transporting patients to hospital appointments in Cork. Local Link manages this service but is indebted to the 100 to 150 volunteers who drive for Cancer Connect. Without their willingness to give their time free of charge each month, this service, which has made such a difference to cancer patients in the region, would not be possible.
The community is very grateful to Local Link staff and volunteers for their continued commitment to those in West Cork who rely on their services, now more than ever.