27 Mar 2020

'Lockdown' - Week 1 - from a front line Support Worker

We talk to Michelle Martina, one of our Support Workers working on the front line.

"It’s been a very strange week, totally different to what I would normally be doing. I’ve been supporting clients from home and going into the office when I need to for forms and to use the computer because I don’t have access to one at home. It’s really difficult to do everything I need to from home, but we’re managing as best we can. I’ve delivered food parcels nearly every day this week. Clients generally have been quite upbeat and have been very, very grateful for the food that I’ve dropped off for them. I think they’re slowly beginning to realise the situation, just like the rest of us are really. This week took a turn quite quickly, with us going into ‘lockdown’ and I think that came as a shock to some of the clients and there was a bit of initial panic. Some clients thought they’d have more time to get shopping in, so there have been a few extra food parcels for that reason but other than that, nobody is asking for anything over and above what they’d normally receive during a regular month.

We’re speaking to clients regularly and most of them just want reassurance that we’re still here and able to speak to them and help. Everyone seems to be pulling together which is really nice, all the clients I’ve seen (obviously from a safe distance) or spoken to have been so grateful and told me to stay safe and well too which is lovely. We’re just reassuring them that we haven’t forgotten them and that we’re all in this together. A lot of the time, we’re the only people our clients speak to so keeping up this telephone contact is really important. The other day we asked for two TV’s for our clients and we had them donated within the hour. The clients were so grateful and Calderdale as a community are so supportive.

In terms of what it’s like out there, the roads have gotten much quieter as the week has gone on and it’s very surreal. In shops and pharmacies, I haven’t come across anybody being rude and generally everybody is being very kind to each other. The social distancing measures in place seem to be working now and everyone seems to be sticking to them.

Most clients will struggle with gas and electric more than anything I think. Because they’re on a tight weekly budget and they’re not usually in the house all the time, they’re having to pay more onto their utilities. I know the weather has been warmer the last few days but that’s not set to last so I think that’s my biggest worry in terms of clients and how they’ll manage. There is funding available for some kind of financial support but it’s fairly new and if I were to access that today for clients I wouldn’t be able to do it again for another three months so it’s hard to know when to apply for that for it to have the best impact. I have a client that accessed a help scheme where if you can’t get out to top up they give you credit. She got £50.00 worth of credit but they’re now taking that back at 75p per day, which doesn’t sound a lot but works out at £21.00 per month. It’s an awful lot to someone who only gets £316.00 per month.

Clients are scared, just like the rest of us are, but they’re so grateful they have us. Choice has been taken away from all of us and we can’t just go where we want whenever we want. This situation is unprecedented and hopefully it won’t make any of our clients go backwards in their support journey. We are going to struggle generally because it’s going to be so much harder to house clients during this time. I’m lucky that on my books, at the moment, none of my clients are street homeless. Anybody that doesn’t have a home yet is sofa surfing and they’re OK and safe where they are at the minute, but that could of course change. Everyone’s in the same boat though and things will spring back into action very quickly when we’re allowed to function properly again".