Vulnerable residents receive lifeline from Oxfordshire Community Safety Officer

When Community Safety Officer, Tara Clarke, 25, visits residents’ homes in Banbury and across Oxfordshire, she might be the first person they’ve seen in four-months. That’s the reality of care and safety in a COVID-19 world.
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Hidden behind many a curtain are some of the most vulnerable people in the county. Some rely on relatives and neighbours to check on their well-being, but that support is less readily available because of social distancing.

Tara has become their lifeline, and with her love for people, she is thriving in making a difference.

She said: “I’m employed by Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue. The service is much more than fighting fires. I’m proof of that.”

Tara Clarke is one of five Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Services community safety advisorsTara Clarke is one of five Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Services community safety advisors
Tara Clarke is one of five Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Services community safety advisors

“I used to work for County Council’s social and health care team on their helpdesk. One day, in 2018, I shadowed Fire and Rescue’s community safety officers. I knew it was the career for me; applied for a vacancy and never looked back.”

Tara is one of five Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s community safety advisors. They have visited more than 100 vulnerable people in their own homes since mid-March.

The role ranges from fitting smoke alarms and giving general advice regarding fire safety, to managing more complex situations, such as assisting alcohol and drug users, and residents with mental health issues.

Tara primarily advises and supports from a health and safety perspective, but regularly works alongside other professionals including social workers, trading standards, environmental health, and housing officers.

Tara Clarke is one of five Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Services community safety advisorsTara Clarke is one of five Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Services community safety advisors
Tara Clarke is one of five Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Services community safety advisors

Vulnerable

Visiting some of the county’s most vulnerable residents is even more critical during COVID-19 lockdown. But the challenge Tara and team face, in these unprecedented times, is how to enter homes without the risk of infection from COVID-19. They treat #Stopthespread extremely seriously.

Tara said: “I’m almost unrecognisable.

“I sometimes arrive in a respirator mask – the type firefighters use when wearing breathing apparatus is not necessary. I could also be wearing an apron, gloves and glasses.

"We are equipped with varying levels of PPE designed to cope with any situation we might be confronted with, such as IIR masks, face shields, and cloth face masks.

“In many cases, I hardly see the resident. They’ll stay in a separate room whilst I’m fixing their smoke alarm or removing anything that’s a fire or hygiene risk, such as piles of rubbish or rotting food.

“But some people are desperate for company. I am the first face they’ll have seen for months.”

Craving company

Tara cites one particular case when she recently visited a resident with dementia.

She said: “This poor lady was placing orders for groceries, but forgetting to put food in the fridge or freezer. It was heart-breaking when I entered; the smell of rotting meat and fruit.

“They craved for company too, having not seen anyone in months, other than the food delivery guy.

“We did OK. We found a way to communicate as safely as possible. I made sure she was comfortable in her armchair, then I hovered by the living room door, chatting at a safe distance.

“I left that property feeling I’d made a real difference to someone’s life. The decaying food removed. Equally important, I’d brightened a lonely resident’s day, providing that missing human contact she’d yearned for.”

Tara’s respirator mask and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are essential in her job, and although she wears a less dramatic face mask when going to the supermarket, she never lets down her guard.

Follow the rules

She added: “I can’t risk getting COVID-19.

“My role involves helping others. If I had to quarantine, that would be one less person to visit vulnerable residents across Oxfordshire.

“I always remind family, friends and colleagues of the importance of regularly washing your hands, following social distancing, and wearing a face mask.

“The day when we can see people without worrying about infection can’t come soon enough. But we’ll only get there if we all follow the rules, both professionally and in our everyday lives.”

Anyone concerned about a vulnerable resident should phone 01865 895999 so that Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service's safety team can investigate.

Or visit the website: www.365alive.co.uk/cms/content/safe-and-wellAnsaf Azhar, Director of Public Health for Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Tara and her community safety colleagues are taking great care to abide by national guidelines that are keeping us as safe as possible.

"I urge everyone in Oxfordshire to continue to follow their example. Don’t relax and give COVID-19 the advantage. Together we can stop the spread.”

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