Reflections on our conference

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Helplines came together to celebrate the history of helplines and to look to the future. I was proud to be a part of Helplines Partnership as we delivered a very successful conference, looking back over the past 25 years and then forward towards the future of our sector.

The past of helplines; we heard about the development of helplines in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s from Patrick Nash of Connect Assist and Claire Milne, a telecoms expert, reminded us of how people having telephones in their homes is a relatively recent advance.

What’s in the future? We had a fascinating talk from Nicola Millard, a futurologist from BT about how several new technologies may (re)shape helplines. I was particularly interested to hear about developments in ‘3-D voice’, where voice conversations have the potential to be enhanced enabling more nuanced information to be picked up by the listener. This innovation could have significant implications within helplines that provide emotional support.

We talked more about technology with a distinguished expert panel from the telecoms industry and the helplines sector. This combined with the equally distinguished morning panel who helped to continue our journey on how helplines have moved from phone to multichannel communications. This is a journey that Helplines Partnership has been proud to assist many helplines to navigate. No conference can be complete without a good debate, and I was highly absorbed in the different views put forward by the speakers in terms of helplines and social media. It is likely that there has been a decline in the absolute number of voice calls that a helpline receives, but through multi-channel offerings such as websites, text and web chat services, the overall number of contacts that a helpline has with its users is higher than ever. This has great benefits for our sector. Susan Ringwood, the Chief Executive from BEAT reflected how in previous years, people would call for a leaflet which would then need to be posted out. The world has moved on considerably since then, but the excellent John Cameron from NSPCC gave a warning about the dangers of social media, particularly for young people.  It is my view that there will always be an important strategic place for voice communications within helplines, and I advocate this position within government.

John also issued a challenge to HLP to facilitate even more joint working between helplines in future, and this is something we will be delighted to facilitate in the future. We also launched our landmark report on how helplines deliver Health and Social Care and the latest in our collection of eBooks, focusing on social media and helplines, which was very topical given the themes raised by our speakers.

But perhaps the most emotionally engaging part of the day for me was hearing from our keynote speaker, Derek Derenalagi,

Derek was injured while serving in Afghanistan and lost both legs. He was very close to death, and spoke movingly about his experiences. Delegates told us that his story was  "Inspirational indeed’, ‘Very inspiring’ , ‘Really excellent, and ’ Moved me to tears!’. Derek gave us the missing piece for all of us involved in helplines. He credited helplines with providing his wife with the support that she needed during a really difficult time for their family. Very rarely when we support people through helplines do we get to know how the story ends. Derek went on to compete at the Paralympic and Invictus Games with his wife proudly by his side.

We also recognised the Helpline Awards, and celebrated the achievements of just some of the hard work that helpline staff and volunteers do every day, consistently and very well.

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate our Award winners and thank all our speakers, staff and Board members that supported the conference.

However, most of all, I’d like to thank you,  the helplines that contributed to such a successful and inspirational day. Look forward to seeing you all again next year - Wednesday 18th November 2015

To download the presentations from the Conference visit here

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