A scheme that will encourage public facing workers and volunteers to become ‘human signposts’ is to launch this summer.

The Coastal Connecting initiative will provide people in public facing roles practical guidance on signposting anyone in difficulty to support services and further help.

Coastal Connecting is particularly aimed at workers and volunteers who chat to the public, for example carers, taxi drivers, hairdressers, shop keepers and bar staff. The one-hour online training session will include tips on responding with empathy and kindness when people share their problems, as well as practical information on how to help people access information and services that might be helpful to their situation, such as community groups, benefits or housing support.

Coastal Connecting has been developed by the Coastal Primary Care Network (PCN), which covers Teignmouth, Dawlish and Chudleigh. Led by Coastal PCN social prescriber Becki White, the intiative is based on a similar scheme that runs in Frome in Somerset.

Although there is no dedicated funding for the initiative, Teignbridge Community and Voluntary Services (CVS) is supporting the scheme as part of its Community Matters approach.

Coastal Connecting will mean that ‘when someone hears that someone else is having a hard time, they don't just show them sympathy and have a whinge with them, they know that there's loads of support out there’, explained CVS Volunteering Development Worker Chloe Myers.

As well as the online training, anyone interested can do it at an Information Access Point. These are currently located at the Hub Store in Dawlish, the Alice Cross Centre in Teignmouth, and at Coastal PCN GP surgeries. There are also online directories for support services on the Devon Connect and Coastal Network NHS websites.

A meeting to help shape the Coastal Connecting training took place earlier this month and included input from representatives from the Town Council and local support groups and services.

One of those attending the meeting was Jo Jones from Dawlish Community Larder. ‘I happened to be in Tesco shopping for items that we needed for the Dawlish Community Larder. My trolley filling up with tins of veg, meat, fish and desserts when an older gentleman came up to me with a twinkle in his eye wondering if I knew something that he didn’t!’ she recalled. ‘We stayed chatting for a few minutes and I explained what I was doing. He then opened up that his wide was disabled and that they were on a pension but when the latest utility and council tax bills came in, he worried how they might be able to cover the cost and still eat and heat the house. I was able to tell him about a charity that could help them by making sure that they were getting all the benefits that they are entitled to and to receive help with energy bills and any white goods that need replacing’ she added. ‘This is what the Coastal Connecting initiative is all about: We all need to talk more with others and be human signposts.’