The helpline offers practical support for administrative procedures such as making appointments and finding services; assistance in medical procedures including translations during a visit to a doctor; information on measures to Covid-19 vaccinations; help with integration in France and access to essential items such as financial aid and residence cards.
The volunteers are also available to listen, if you just want to talk.
The helpline is the idea of Fiona Purcell who had been helping friends in this way and thought other people might benefit.
She was already a volunteer with the French Red Cross and the charity was more than delighted to support the scheme: “We started in January and since then we have about 10 new calls every week. Sometimes we can simply give people the name of the appropriate organisation to get in touch with.
“We will also accompany people who live nearby to appointments to help with any language difficulties. On Fridays we are at the Croix-Rouge charity shop Vestiboutique from 10:00-17:00 for anyone who wants to meet.”
There are four volunteers at present, who between them have a broad experience on living in France: “Since we started we have seen there is a need for this kind of service, particularly since Covid-19 which has made communication more complicated for people who have low confidence speaking French.
“Fewer appointments in person mean having to use the telephone more, which is always more difficult, and when there are appointments in person, masks make it harder to understand.”
The helpline will accept calls from any English speaker anywhere in France. They also have a volunteer who speaks Dutch: “Even if your French is good, we know there are many situations, when it is far easier to talk and to understand the subtleties in your native language, for example when you are ill,” Mrs Purcell said.
They would welcome more volunteers to help them respond to calls and they would happily give support to anyone who would like to set up a similar service in their area.
Helpline number: 07 86 28 11 99 open 09:00-17:00 Monday to Friday.