15 February 2021
It’s been while since I have blogged so I thought it was time to reflect and share again!
At time of writing we find ourselves in lockdown number three, vaccines are being rolled out but so are several new strands of infection. The end of our financial year is quickly appearing and uncertainty with it!
Funding and money occupy at least 70% of my day with the rest focused on safeguarding of staff and young people, wellbeing of the teams, building development and the other 101 jobs that go into running two charitable organisations!
So let’s start with money, there is an impending sense of doom, last year when the pandemic hit we took a risk and even though we lost a lot of income overnight (due to payment by results contracts) we sent the staff and management teams out to respond and support the community. Within a few weeks we saw a response from funders with new funding awarded and change of use for funds already held. The relief was palatable and we were able to start focusing on needs rather than how we were going to pay for it.
We also launched many new services, some that we were already discussing, and some that it became clear were needed due to the current situation. We have referrals to our services and young people engagement increase. An example, we launched a link chat service providing regular phone and text support to young people with an allocated youth worker and since April 20 we have had 158 young people sign up to this service, in January alone we delivered 287 link chat sessions with these young people providing mental health support. This service is in addition to our five counselling service offers!
I have to say though I am feeling that impending sense of doom, needing to do it all again. As I write this we have a number of services closed, unfortunately most of these are payment by results and contribute significantly to our core costs. We imagine they won’t start up again until April but who knows for sure when they will really open. All this fills me with dread for so many reasons:
- There are a lot of young people in Gloucestershire right now that are lost, feeling grief and are missing being part of a community. The group programmes YG normally deliver would help address this and provide some of the needed community for these young people.
- For many the one-to-one face to face support they would receive, by dropping into the link when they need someone to talk to, advice or guidance has been lost
- We have been fortunate to date to not need to furlough or make staff redundant. This is something that has been very important to us as our team are the experts in supporting young people and hold critical knowledge and skills to enable us to meet the needs of young people, our fear is whether this can be maintained if the pandemic continues.
- Our teams have been working at full capacity in a pandemic for nearly 12 months. They are home schooling, providing one-to-one support, running virtual online programmes, online counselling, creating new materials and exploring innovative ways to be engaging, but this takes its toll and it is exhausting!
I have watched my teams adapt to deliver an interactive in-person EmpowHer programme via Zoom to 90 young people at the same time on a number of different rooms and platforms. I have watched staff drive around the county to deliver laptops (I wonder if we will ever see them again), art materials and food to supported housing units so the young people can join remote sessions. I have seen staff record hours and hours of video content (which was then sent to the young people) to ensure we can still deliver and engage SEND young people. I have seen staff walk miles on the streets of Gloucestershire engaging with young people, addressing their needs in the current situation. I have debated with staff the growing list of safeguarding concerns which we are seeing (this is becoming a full time job in itself!) whether it’s increasing self-harm or suicidal thoughts or the need to find emergency accommodation.
What’s tough is this pandemic is taking its toll on everyone, the need for money not only sits in the voluntary sector but also in the commercial sector, as businesses remain closed. Individuals have become reliant on schemes from the government, many of these people have never been unemployed before so understanding the processes required is particularly tough.
I suspect 2021 is going to be way more challenging than 2020 but what I do know is that everyone pulled together massively in 2020. Funders, councils, communities pulled together and I am confident we will do the same in 2021. What motivates me on a daily basis is seeing the smiles on young people’s faces when they leave a counselling session or a session with our therapy dog Buddy, the positive stories of impact on young people that our staff share on our WhatsApp feed, and the resilience and determination of our staff to deliver more and more services. Also, the support from other CEOs who are around me on late night conversations or that join me for a walk with the dogs in the woods.
We don’t know what the rest of the year holds but together we will tackle it and do our best to make sure young people can thrive despite the challenges they and we face.