A MICKLEY-BASED befriending service is ensuring its users do not go without as the country continues to contend with the coronavirus.

Community Buddies was set up in 2016 and since has proved a valuable lifeline to the elderly and vulnerable across Tynedale, offering companionship calls for clients and respite services for families.

And at a time where is it, perhaps, needed most, the service is continuing to support over 120 clients.

Owner Rackel Miller, who has many years of experience in the social care sector, said: "Our service users need looking after, they can't live independently, so it has to be business as normal. We've had to adapt, yes, but our service users need their routine.

"The virus has had a massive effect on the confidence of service users as some of our clients suffer with mental health issues. Our staff were nervous too because the government guidance and advice from Public Health England has been conflicting. As an employer, it's been hard to make the right call, but from day one, I've been of the mindset that everyone we come into contact with has coronavirus.

"We've had to change the way we work, staff have new uniforms, for example, which has given them more confidence. We have an amazing team, I am so proud of them. People get into social care because they care, but they never thought they'd go through this, putting their lives in danger. I've left my door open to them all, it's about being there for them too" , Rackel added.

With some aspects of the service restricted, including the day care centre, buddies have been busy with companion calls and are working closely with families and social services to deliver a complete package.

"We thrive to keep people out of hospital and have worked hard to keep the virus away. As a small business, we don't get support for PPE, it's all been self-funded which has had a massive effect on the business. But, I don't want to set staff off without, I want them to be safe", said Rackel.

And the work of the buddies has not gone unnoticed in the community, with strangers offering to pay for their shopping and neighbours making scrub bags. "You could cry, it's so lovely and it keeps them going. It's all about being together and working in a safe environment at this time".