19 Jun 2020

'Lockdown' - Week 13 - from our Assistant Support Work Manager

We find out from Belinda how the last 13 weeks have been.

My role as assistant Support Work Manager is basically to support Julie in her role and ensure that I take up some of the slack from her and to try and deflect some of it in the best way I can. Obviously when she’s not in work, I cover for her, then the team come to me and we get through it the best we can.

I also worked at the Winter Shelter 3 nights a week 6:00pm - 9:00pm right up until Lockdown happened. I’d go there and look after the referrals due to come to SmartMove. It would just allow those clients to have a SmartMove face so when they eventually came to the office it wasn’t daunting to them and they felt that it was something they were able to do. I’d get to know them, cook for them, sit and have a meal with them and try and support them the best way I could and allow them the time to ask for the help they needed.

I’ve spent two Christmas Days at the Winter Shelter with the clients that had nowhere else to go. We tried to make it the best Christmas they could have and create a nice atmosphere. There are people that really need that cheer and you just get on with it and be thankful for what you have at home.

The Winter Shelter was transformed into the Coronavirus Hub not long after Lockdown happened. They wanted me to carry on working there but because there was nobody in our office we needed to be here to keep things ticking over the best we could.

At the very beginning we had a staff meeting just to say to everybody look after each other, have each other’s backs and if you need to vent, ring either me or Julie and I think to some degree that worked to a point in the initial stages but after that, because people were working from home and they didn’t have that office environment, they started to look to each other for support. It’s been strange having the office so quiet when it’s normally a hive of activity.

In terms of looking after the support team, Julie and I have been in the office almost every day and it’s been a bit like an admin job – scanning things to staff, taking referrals and updating the monitoring book. We’ve also been doing lots of driving round delivering food donations, collecting things and dropping them off. There have been lots of Zoom meetings! It’s quite an awkward form of communication but it’s been a great way to keep going.

In the last week we’ve introduced a new rota system to get the team back into the office one day a week each to ease us back into some level of normality. We’re in the process of changing the office so that social distancing guidelines can be easily adhered to at all times, we have PPE in the office and all surfaces, door handles and light switches are being regularly cleaned.

In terms of clients – there have been a few emergencies throughout and obviously we’ve had to direct any potential rough sleepers to the Hub. We housed someone about 4 weeks ago now and we knew he was a flight risk because he’d been in the Winter Shelter before and we knew his background. Even though we know the bond might be lost, we had to make sure he had the tools needed to carry on as we do with all of our clients. It hasn’t been the best outcome for him but he still has the tenancy, it’s just a matter of whether or not he wants it.

Unfortunately, you can’t always make them want it. Their priorities are totally different to anyone else’s. It can be quite sad because you know what you want to do for that person and you know they’re more than capable of following that path but if they choose not to, you can’t make them do anything they don’t want to do. It’s like having children in that respect – you know they’re going to make some mistakes but all you can do is let them and then be there if it all comes crashing down. The role is firm, fair, but motherly. Some of them do really get under your skin and you want to just shake them but you have to take that step back and remember your role.

There have been a few really good points. We’ve helped so many people with clothes and food parcels who initially were really struggling. They were scared to go out. Noah’s Ark have been a godsend as well as Focus4Hope. All the organisations came together and everything just kicked in. For Calderdale it has been such a blessing that there are so many people out there who will support the most vulnerable - those that can’t get out or who don’t have families to help. I’m sure there will be some that have fallen through the net but between us we’ve managed to catch so many. We’ve pointed lots of people in the right direction for other services. Halifax is so good for services. I live in Bradford and although it’s a bigger place, there’s not as much community spirit as there is in Halifax. There aren’t as many people to make life just that little bit easier.

All the support workers, plus Dom, Stuart and Beth have done a cracking job. I’m proud of the whole team. Everyone is knuckling down and getting on with what needs to be done to help us survive. We’re just us on our own, we don’t belong to a massive organisation, we have to look after ourselves to make sure we can carry on doing what we do. The Support Workers have each got a bigger case load now because we’re helping more people than ever, but it’s sort of balanced out with some clients learning to live with Lockdown themselves, they know there’s only so much we can do at the moment and they’ve handled that really well.  

I’d just like to say that SmartMove is a fantastic organisation to work for and we’re doing everything we possibly can to try and bring it back to the norm. For absolutely everybody this has been a really testing time. It’s also a learning curve and nobody has got it 100% right I don’t think. We’re taking our lead from the government in an unprecedented situation. We’re doing everything we can to make the office safer. If something like this were to happen again - we’re ready for it now. We’ve done everything possible in terms of PPE. We’ve cleaned, hoovered, wiped down, we’ve kept ourselves safe and followed the guidelines.

Personally, I’ve found it tough being away from my children and grandchildren. My two boys are turning 18 this year so I was supposed to be taking them to Turkey at the beginning of this month as a last holiday before they won’t want to go with me anymore! I went 8 weeks with only seeing them at the end of the garden path. My daughter has just finished her teacher training and starts her role in September so she’s needed lots of time for her assignments and studying. Normally I’d be there to help with her two children who are 7 and 3, but I’ve not been able to look after them either so it’s been upsetting for all of us. I would normally have them 3 or 4 times a week. I managed to see them the other day so that was wonderful! I’ve got plenty of time to make up with them when it’s all over and things get back to normal. Of course video chats will keep us all going in the meantime.