Covid lifeline - how a little-known service helped Kirkby couple close death's door
When Kirkby grandad Kev Evans was rushed into hospital on Christmas Day with Covid-19 pneumonia, he was given three days to live.
Enveloped by stress, wife Sue even started preparing for his funeral.
But somehow, former Linby Colliery miner Kev, 62, survived.
Miraculously, after 96 days in hospital, mostly in intensive care, he is now back home and on the long road to recovery.
And helping to steer him down that road is a little-known, free service, run by the Age UK charity, that is proving to be a godsend to so many like Kev and Sue.
Since launching in 2016, Age UK Connect has supported more than 11,000 people in need across the Mansfield, Ashfield and Newark and Sherwood areas.
That support might equate to advice and information, help with the shopping, cleaning and gardening, providing social interaction or tackling mental-health problems.
For Kev and Sue, Age UK Connect stepped in to give the financial guidance and access to help they needed at a time of acute crisis.
Home he might be, much to the relief of his three sons and three grandchildren. But Kev is still largely confined to bed or a wheelchair.
His mobility is severely limited and although is determined to make a full recovery, there is no prospect yet of him returning to his job with Sutton firm, S&S Plastics.
"He lost five stone in muscle mass, so he is very weak,” explained Sue, who is also 62. “He had numerous lung-infections while in hospital and, two or three times, doctors told us he wouldn’t make it.
"He’s had home-visits by carers four times a day, and also regular visits from physios, and it was one of the physios who happened to mention Age UK Connect to us.
"We were in the dark and knew nothing about them. But I spoke to Deb Hughes, one of the support workers, and she got cracking straight away.”
Within days, Kev and Sue’s plight was eased considerably as Age UK Connect helped them gain a council-tax rebate and benefits such as Universal Credit and Carers’ Allowance.
Because of his major disability, the service also explained how Kev was entitled to a Blue Badge and a Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
"They were fantastic in pointing us in the right direction for things,” said Sue.
"They helped us with the complicated paperwork and filling forms in.
"We didn’t have a clue because we had never claimed benefits of any kind in our lives. We have always worked.
"But Age UK Connect told us that was their job. They explained we were truly entitled to these things because of what Kev had gone through.”
And what about what Sue had gone through too? As an ex-nurse and former commander of Air Training Corps squadrons in Sutton and Hucknall for RAF cadets, she’s considered a ‘tough cookie’.
"But I was so stressed out by this,” admitted Sue, who is a governor and midday supervisor at Kingsway Primary School in Kirkby.
“I went through the trauma of nearly losing him. Age UK Connect really helped to take a lot of the pressure off me. We were so grateful.”
It is just one of thousands of examples of how the service has thrown out lifelines in the last five years under the leadership of manager Jackie McGuinness, who oversees a team of 15.
Although it assists predominantly the over-50s, especially people aged 70 to 85, Age UK Connect is open to all.
Astonishingly, its help with benefits alone has yielded a total of £4 million for vulnerable and elderly people in the region.
Jackie put the purpose of Age UK Connect in a nutshell. She said: “We understand that, sometimes, issues with health, mobility, disability, loneliness, housing, care needs or finances can impact on your sense of control, confidence or quality of life.
"We help you access new opportunities and services, such as applying for funding, that will hopefully improve your wellbeing and independence.
"Through these interventions, we have seen positive changes in people’s lives. They have reconnected with loved ones, gained suitable accommodation, regained their freedom and received the ongoing care and support they need.
"Our community co-ordinators can empower you to make the right choices.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, those community co-ordinators have even been known to join queues at supermarkets to collect shopping and at pharmacies to collect prescriptions for elderly people who are shielding or isolating.
They have helped people to cope with isolation by teaching them how to master the internet, or to come out of isolation by restoring their confidence and getting them out and about again.
Through its Best Foot Forward project, it has organised walks and activities, such as canoeing and paddle-boarding and voluntary work at wildlife havens and nature reserves.
"It is a very valued service, and it has been a great effort by the team,” said Jackie.
"We are an open door. We happily listen to anyone, and if we can’t provide support, we make sure we find the relevant service that can.”
All it takes to contact Jackie and her team is a quick phone call to 01623 488217 or a brief e-mail to [email protected]
It’s a service funded entirely by Nottinghamshire County Council, on whom Jackie lavishes praise for its support.
Scarily, with the squeeze on council budgets tightening by the day, there is no guarantee that this funding will continue when Age UK Connect is reviewed next summer.
Hopefully, those holding the purse strings will take into account Kev and Sue Evans.
The shadow of ‘long Covid’ looms large over Kev as he lies in the specially-adapted hospital-bed at his Kirkby home.
But defiantly, he insists: “It’s not going to beat me.”
Thanks for that goes not only to the doctors, nurses, physios and carers, who have saved his life and are piecing him back together. But thanks also goes to Age UK Connect.