Helplines NI is an online directory funded by the Public Health Agency and consists of more than 40 telephone and online support services including Lifeline, Samaritans, Parenting NI, Advice NI, NSPCC and Childline. It’s calling on people to explore volunteering opportunities with a telephone helpline as calls continue to skyrocket, and public funding for these vital services remains uncertain. Helplines NI’s members received almost 600,000 calls throughout 2023, and with the economic and political landscape continuing to cause challenges for households, they are bracing for a spike in calls over the coming months.
Clodagh Crowe, Co-Chair of Helplines NI, and Head of Development and Strategic Engagement at Rural Support highlights just how important committed volunteers are to Northern Ireland’s network of helplines and is urging people with available time to consider giving up just a few hours a week to help an organisation.
She said, “The charity sector would be devastated if not for its volunteers, and that’s likely to remain the case for 2024 with operational costs on the rise, and funding impacted with people having less disposable income and the ongoing, drastic cuts across the public sector.
“Volunteers share a passion for helping others and that sheer will to do good complements the work of full-time staff, crucially allowing services to reach and support a greater number of people. They often start new to the role, but by harnessing their own life experiences can become trusted experts in a cross-section of issues affecting the most vulnerable in our society. Our Helplines NI members provide a variety of vital support services including information and advice, counselling, a listening ear, and be-friending, so there’s lots of ways people can get involved. Full training is always provided so I’d encourage any person looking for a rewarding and meaningful way to spend their time to consider volunteering with a helpline.”
Denise Hayward, Chief Executive of Volunteer Now, the lead organisation for promoting and supporting volunteering across Northern Ireland, said demand for volunteering is year-round and it’s important that people understand the long-term, positive impact it can bring about.
Denise explained, “Volunteers make a huge difference to society and particularly in the case of our helpline services as the challenges faced by people grow in complexity. However, there’s room for improvement with recent research by NISRA stating that 79 percent of the population of Northern Ireland didn’t volunteer at all in 2022. I’d urge people to get involved as they may be surprised at the range of rewarding opportunities available.”
Helplines NI not only advocates for an improved landscape for helpline services, it also improves efficiencies for people in need. Member organisations are all briefed on the services offered by each other so that when a person calls a helpline that may not be best suited to their needs, they are directed to the most-appropriate service reducing the amount of time they wait for help and improving their experience.
Claire O’Prey, Co-Chair at Helplines NI and Interim Assistant Service Manager at Lifeline, explained, “It’s wonderful that Northern Ireland has so many support services, but many people can find it overwhelming trying to navigate services and ascertain which might be best suited to help them. This can prevent people getting the help they need. Everyone will need advice and support at some point in their lives – the broad range of people our members help every day proves that – so it’s very important people know that Helplines NI is specifically designed to make the journey from first call to expert help as easy as possible.
“We’re particularly concerned for people who may currently be suffering in silence or not yet realise that help is just a call away. Reaching out to a helpline is a great first step in better understanding how to control a difficult situation. If you’re in need, call any organisation part of the Helplines NI network and you will connect with a person who will help you get confidential and impartial support.”