Lucy has been working as a Helpline Information Officer for the past two and a half years.
There's such a variety of calls that we take here on the Helpline – we could have someone asking something fairly simple such as where their nearest stroke club or group is, to something as specific as, 'Do you know of any removal companies that help people with disabilities?’. Some are quite emotional, and we get lots of people calling whose loved ones are in the early stages of stroke recovery and are still in the hospital. One of the main skills we need on the Helpline is the ability to jump between information-giving to the listening and emotional side of the role. Trying to stay within the remit and boundaries of the Helpline service is a tricky balancing act on some calls. Managing our enquirers’ expectations, while giving them the care and attention they deserve can be really challenging.
But that’s my job and I love it. With more frequently asked topics, such as those around benefits claims, we usually already have in mind a few organisations which are likely to be helpful. My first port of call is something called the Stroke Information Service Resource Search, where we can put someone's postcode in and select different topics, which will show us what’s available in that person's area, such as stroke clubs and groups, stroke recovery services and any other organisations that might be able to support them. We use a range of other resources, including our own website, and an internal resource called the ‘Shared Bank of Enquiries’. That’s just a collection of less common queries that needed a little more research and it would be a shame for that knowledge to go to waste. It can be helpful if someone asks about something a bit random like ‘one-handed guitar playing’! However, I do have to confess to being a closet Sherlock Holmes. I relish the challenge of trying to source support for someone when there really isn’t anything obvious available.
The number of calls I take in a day can also vary quite a lot. I can sometimes take 20 calls in a day, and then other days I can be on the phone to somebody for an hour and only take four or five calls. On the Helpline we are not driven by statistics - we have that time to simply let someone talk. It's really quite empowering to be able to say to someone, 'That's fine, we've got plenty of time'. I find that really rewarding. It underpins everything we do on the Helpline - that our calls are led by the caller, not by us. Sometimes people call us initially thinking they want a piece of information or a particular question answered and actually as the call carries on and opens up, it turns into quite a different experience.
A number of the callers to the Helpline have speech difficulties, which can be challenging, but it’s just a case of having the time to let someone communicate as best they can. I notice that quite often people’s speech improves during a call because you get to learn the rhythm of their speech and they understand that you're going to give them that time to speak. Peoples' confidence is knocked when they've had a stroke - even picking up the phone to speak to us is a huge milestone.
The nature of the Helpline means that we don’t usually know what happens with our callers. I find myself wondering about some callers at random times, hoping that they’re OK. I can’t call them for a catch-up, or pop round for a cuppa, but I do know that I have given them my time and my care when they needed it.