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What it was like being an LRSN Call Handler.

Until December 2022 I was an LRSN call handler and volunteer through what had been a busy period. My move to Northumberland meant I reluctantly had to relinquish this role. Recently Lincolnshire Rural Support Network sought further people to man the help line and I was asked by a few that knew me what my experience was.

The following gives an account of my experience and why I would encourage people to volunteer for this or similar roles if they feel able.

Lincolnshire Rural Support Network’s phoneline is 0800 138 1710 and is open from 8am to 8pm and is manned by a group of volunteers through a mobile network. Those volunteers remain outside the lime light as it is important to maintain people’s confidence in being able to phone and talk freely and in confidence.

Farming is a small village. I have been on holiday at a farm-stay in County Durham and had people talk to me about farmers they know in the fens of Lincolnshire. There is always a need for discretion and confidentiality. But this is amplified as soon as you work as either a volunteer or a paid employee for a charity like Lincolnshire Support Network.

It is with this in mind that I write carefully. I personally am happy to openly say I was a call handler for LRSN. Occasionally I received a phone call from a client I know, and if this happened I’d say who I was and offer to get a colleague to speak to as an alternative if they wish. This offer was seldom taken.

So What Does being a Call Handler Involve?

For me it was very simple, I carried a second phone (pictured). As you can see it is an old Nokia phone and I chose this because it had a strong signal and the battery can last up to two weeks. I could have a second sim in my main phone, but I chose to deliberately keep it separate so that when I hear this phone ring I know it is LRSN. I also carry a small notebook and pencil.

I kept the phone on all the time and kept it with me next to my main phone. If it rang I picked it up and received a recorded message that this was a helpline call and this was put through to me.

What if I could not answer the call?

The thing to be mindful of is that when you answer a call you have to give the client on the other end your undivided attention. If I was driving, in the supermarket, or sat on the toilet I would not answer the phone. If I was unable to answer the phone within three rings it diverted to one of my fellow call-handlers. Any calls I missed I made a note of the time and advised my paid colleagues in the management and support team so that they could review and check all calls have been answered each week.

What sort of calls do you get?

They varied from being people in need of help, somebody to listen to them, to more administrative enquiries from journalists or other charities. Mental health concerns are often part of a client’s issues, but the subjects are as wide and varied as life and the human condition itself. This is how it should be and I deliberately do not say what sort of calls we get in detail as I wish people to know that they are there to listen to ANYTHING THAT THEY NEED TO TALK ABOUT.

The calls vary and the appropriate response also varies. In some cases we signposted them to a more appropriate service. In other cases we just listened. Many calls required further action or support. The call handler at LRSN is not alone, and is not expected to be the ultimate solution for those calling. Many calls required a call back from one of our support team of caseworkers. The call handler has to get details and agreement for this and an expected timescale, usually 48 hours, but occasionally more urgent or even immediate. The call handler is given clear guidelines and has a group of people that they can contact immediately in accordance with the charity’s protocols.

The ultimate aim of the call handler is to leave the client feeling better at the end of the call than at the beginning. Whether this is achieved or not is for the client to judge. I would contend that this is an aim with every contact that LRSN makes with a client.

How often does a call-handler receive calls?

The largest number of calls I received in a week was three. The work load was spread over a small group of people.

What if you are unable to receive calls for a period?

It is important that you chose to be on the help line. If you have something else happen in your life, like a holiday or illness you can be taken off the helpline rota. In 2021 I suffered from Bells Palsy for a few weeks. Whilst I was physically able to receive calls, the strong steroids I was taking to cure this affected my mood greatly and I was off the help line for a little over a month whilst I recovered.

How do you know what to say on the phone?

LRSN has continuing training program, this covers all sorts of areas from suicide prevention, mental and physical health, boundaries, financial issues, succession. There is also a wide range of training available from partner agencies. Call handlers do receive Mental Health First Aid Training. The key purpose of taking a call is to listen. You are supported by good team of professional and amateur experienced people that can aid a client. The call handler is not the solution. I refer to my earlier comment and if the client just feels a little better at the end of the conversation than at the beginning you have done good.

Are you afraid that a call can go wrong?

I would argue that anyone that does not have this concern should not be a call handler. It needs to be remembered that there is a protocol of help to support the call handler and client immediately if required. An LRSN call handler does not replace the emergency services.

I would argue that the greater concern is the person that has not phoned the help line.

Why should I volunteer?

Because you will be valued – both by the clients and the charity. LRSN treats volunteers as “valued employees” . It is a great team of people. You can learn so much and being a volunteer for LRSN can add to your own wellbeing.

How do I volunteer?

Check the details on the LRSN “Want to help” page Want to Help - LRSN - Lincolnshire Rural Support Network

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