St John caring service a phone call away this holiday season

Noreen Hegarty |

Much is made of modern communications and the ways in which they can enable people to connect but, as St John Caring Caller clients attest, there’s nothing quite as reassuring as a friendly voice on the end of a ‘phone.

St John currently manages about 800 Caring Caller volunteers throughout the country and, in the lead-up to Christmas and the summer holiday season, is encouraging more people to request the service and become clients of the callers.

Community Health Services Direct Sarah Manley says the service is free and, for many of St John’s 800 clients, it is the only regular ‘phone call they receive.

“While the service is free, there’s no doubt about its value for clients. There’s been a lot of research into the detrimental impacts of chronic loneliness, irrespective of a person’s age or circumstances.

“Age Concern research in the United Kingdom showed that having weak social connections carried similar health risks to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.  

“Our Caring Caller service aims to provide the opportunity of friendship and regular contact to people who have little or no contact with others due to ill-health, immobility, isolation or depression.”

Laurie, who has cerebral palsy, is a client and says everyone needs a Caring Caller.

“I couldn’t live without them,” he says. “The lady I have calling now is very nice. I don’t hear from many other people and she calls every week day. It’s a very good service.”

Betty has been a Caring Caller for 15 years and has had three clients in that time.

“My first client was a woman who I called regularly for nearly 10 years until she passed away. When I started calling her she was regularly out and about but, as time passed, she became more confined to home so she really looked forward to my daily call.

“Although we didn’t know each other in person, [callers and clients never meet] we got to learn so much about each other that, what began as ‘chatting to a stranger’ evolved to ‘ringing a friend’.

“My current client is always grateful to get my call, has a good sense of humour and is pleasant to talk to.

“I sometimes think that a lonely person could just as easily be the Caring Caller as they’d discover they’re not the only lonely person in the world.”

Betty says age is not a determinant of loneliness as there are many young lonely people in communities who would benefit just as much from regular calls.

There is a high level of anonymity in the Caring Caller service. Callers are only provided with a client’s first name, sometimes their age, preferred telephone number and a short profile. Callers don’t disclose their own surname, address or telephone number.

Marcia, 77, has been a Caring Caller in New Zealand since the mid-1990s. She took the initiative to volunteer for St John when her own mobility was curtailed due to arthritis and back problems.

“Being a Caring Caller gives me an opportunity to do something for the community. I’ve encountered some absolute characters over the years. One of my clients is more than 100 years old and doesn’t see his family very often.

“It’s a sad indictment on human nature that families don’t call on each other as often as they should.”

If clients don’t answer their scheduled call after the caller’s third attempt, the caller contacts his or her supervisor and the matter is followed up according to an established St John process.

Age Concern NZ cites results from the NZ Social Report 2016 showing that young people experience the highest rates of loneliness. Those aged between 65 and 75 have lower rates than any other age group, but the prevalence of loneliness rises again in the 75+ age group.

Sarah Manley says the period leading into Christmas, when many people are celebrating, can be even more lonely and isolating for the elderly, unwell or marginalised members of society.

“Family members and neighbours may leave town for a break but those who are home-bound still need someone to check on them. Our Caring Caller service is an invaluable welfare check that can reassure families and their relatives that someone’s looking out for them.”

She says anyone who thinks they or a friend or relative could benefit from the free Caring Caller service should contact St John on 0800 780 780. Prospective clients will be directed on how to apply and, once the process gets underway, callers and clients are matched and a schedule set up.

Further information about Caring Caller and other St John community services can be found online here and





Noreen Hegarty

St John Media & Public Relations Manager

T 09 526 0528 I X 8095 I M 027 809 2058


Subscribe to our RSS FeedUrgent call: help fuel this vital serviceSt John first aid TrainingFeel Safe with a St John medical alarm