Big-hearted community safety advocates vow to support communities

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By Jamie Milligan

Maxine And Gerry

A team of community safety advocates have told how they reached out during a home safety visit to assist a vulnerable woman who was struggling with the loss of her husband.

Maxine Lamb and Gerry Mongiardini are members of Ayrshire’s dedicated Community Action Team and equip homeowners with advice and guidance to reduce the risk of harm within their properties.

And while they are keen to work with every member of society, a key part of the duo’s role is looking out for any enhanced support needs required to protect the elderly and the most vulnerable within communities.

This included the elderly lady who has been recently widowed – and by taking the time to listen to her story, Maxine was able to signpost to one of many partner agencies working closely with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Community Safety Advocate Maxine revealed: “The lady involved appeared, at first, to be quite stand-offish which was unusual. I tried to get the chat going, but she was quite defensive and this was a flag to me.

“I kept trying and asked her how she was … and that was it – the floodgates opened.

“She was breaking her heart to me because her husband had died six months ago and her whole world had been turned upside down.

“She didn’t see anyone and her family lived away from home. I knew I couldn’t just leave, so I referred her to a local befriending service.

“Because I had listened and engaged, she was keen to listen in return and consented to take this opportunity to reach out to specialists who are there and waiting, and willing to help. I felt like it was just time for her to let it all out.

“It made my day being able to help like that – and all it required was for me to care and then take a little time to contact a partner agency. That lady will always stick with me.”

Maxine continued: “Just offering a friendly face is a massive part of what we do. You’ll have people say to you that they just want a chat.

“Our role is about engaging with the individual – we don’t want to say: ‘You must do this, or that’. It is not a judgemental visit.

“What I’ve found is that it can take a bit of time to build up a relationship with someone – not everyone is comfortable speaking to a stranger.

“However, people seem to like having the fire service come into their homes, and will sit and have a chat with us.

“That’s how you find out if someone needs extra support and that’s when we can pinpoint how people can be helped, or referred onto other agencies.”

Another enduring memory involved Maxine and Gerry visiting an elderly female who lived with hoarding and was vulnerable.

The pair engaged with the lady and were later delighted to discover she had taken advice on board and had completely turned around her living arrangements.

According to Gerry, the art of listening is just as important as the provision of fire safety advice and guidance.

He said: “When you chap that door you don’t know what you’re going into, or how people will react.

“We do go into environments where we think: ‘If this person continues to live like this, something is going to happen.’

“But we never judge – that’s how people choose to live and some people are vulnerable, and all they require is some support to stay safe. The biggest thing we can do is simply sit and listen and try to engage.

“Listening is one of the biggest parts of our job.

“There’s no doubt that engaging with someone, building a relationship and a level of trust, and ultimately helping, or referring them to someone who can, then leaves you feeling good.

“Helping reduce harm within the home and giving people advice and guidance will always be a massive part of a home fire safety visit.

“But listening, engaging and seeing the person is just as important.”

For more information on how to receive a free home fire safety visit www.firescotland.gov.uk/your-safety/hfsv-form.aspx

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