22 July 2020
When I look back on the blog I wrote on the impacts of Covid, it feels like it is a few weeks ago, however it was actually back in April and this pandemic has been taking place for five months so far.
It doesn’t feel like there is going to be any let up anytime soon and we are being challenged daily to think outside of the box and identify new ways of working to meet needs. I thought I would share some of the current challenges and successes we are facing in meeting the needs of young people through the last few months.
The environment has changed from responding to a crisis to providing services that help people continue to cope with crisis whilst they start to mend and recover. For us this has meant developing more new services and changing crisis services into long term services. The first has allowed us to design and respond to even more young people’s needs, we are particularly proud of our Transition Chat service working with young people in year 11 to make sure they make a positive destination in September. The later has meant lots of learning. Normally if you plan to deliver a new programme, you spend time thinking about what it looks like, working out the budget, employing a team and ensuring they are trained to deliver what is needed. When we converted crisis services into long term services, we forgot all of this and jumped in, two weeks in listening to the staff teams we realised we needed to better equip to deliver the services and took a pause, spent four days training the staff and relaunched. We are constantly learning and it is important to step back and reflect!
This leads me on to reflect on the staff teams here at Young Gloucestershire and Infobuzz. They have shown their resilience in this crisis, their willingness to roll their sleeves up and get involved not worrying about their job description and titles but more what is needed on the ground and how can we achieve it. I have watched a middle management team formed only months before lockdown go from managing an alternative provision to running a food distribution service, from managing and delivering schools programmes to a street based youth work team, from running a drop in service to delivering an online chat service, all with enthusiasm for the challenge. I have watched Programme Leaders convert from personal development programmes to street based youth workers and providing one to one support to young people. The biggest outcome from all of this is the growth we have seen in the staff team, the learning that has taken place and the opportunity to think differently, working outside of the box and really focus on what young people need from us. A large part of this learning is the implementation of weekly reflective practice sessions, based around street based youth work practice but an opportunity for all involved to learn from each other and their own reflections.
Don’t get me wrong there is our fair share of frustrated team members, people finding the new way of working challenging, staff dealing with their own mental health challenges and juggling their childcare responsibilities but that’s because we are all human and that’s life, it shouldn’t overshadow the great things that are being achieved.
The element that has occupied the Senior Management Team’s (SMT) time more than anything in recent months is funding; we lost a significant amount of income when we closed group based payment by results services back in March as the pandemic hit. Whilst we are working on opening some of these services they look very different now and are unlikely to cover their costs. The focus of the SMT therefore has been to apply for Covid response pots to help recover the money we have lost and then apply for funding that allows us to meet the increased need in this current time. We are so grateful to the funders we have formed partnerships with during this time, those who let us un-restrict restricted funding, those who gave us money with no strings attached quickly, those who worked with us to design appropriate new services to meet needs quickly all of which has allowed us to keep all our staff team working, responding to the increased needs of young people. We still have a long way to go and a hole in our budget, but each week this improved slightly. There is a fear of what a second spike would do to our hard worked and fought for budget though as whilst we can see a light at the end of the tunnel another spike would put us back to square one!
In all we do, partnerships are critical and we would not be able to achieve what we are without them, whether that’s our clinical supervision support from Gloucestershire Counselling Service, the street based youth work partnership with the police or our targeted GEM and CGL, a drug and alcohol service. We have tried to seek ways to work in partnership with other organisations including applications to provide counselling to deaf children and young people in partnership with Gloucestershire Deaf Association (awaiting outcomes of funding bids). We are excited by a growing relationship with World Jungle to ensure there is youth provision in the Cotswolds. We have however found this a challenging path over the last few months, there is limited time and resource a real need to secure income quickly to survive and a critical time frame to provide services to young people, a changing land scape and a need to reflect how we can work together in these times to achieve outcomes. This is an area we continue to reflect and develop on and will be hosting an opportunity for all our partner youth clubs to come together to look at what the future holds.
We are pleased that we have managed to reopen all of our buildings and with adaptions, limitations and new risk assessments and cleaning routines our services are now back open face to face, we continue to deliver some online but where we can it is face to face. A large challenge for us in this is lack of space. Our current buildings were already cramped prior to the need for social distancing and therefore we are exploring options of renting additional space (this is more challenging than you would think!) to ensure we can work face to face with young people.
A discussion on all our minds is holiday and rest, it feels like we are still in a crisis and that everyday there is a new challenge and a need to respond to it, yet we have been operating in this way for five months now and it can’t continue. We have been exploring ways to ensure people are rested, long weekends, ensuring people are taking their summer holidays, mindfulness sessions for the staff, clinical supervision, reflective practice sessions, coffee and a walk with your line manager and opportunities to gather as a team outside (we have a private outside space at the bowling green in the centre of Gloucester) which has been a real asset during recent months for delivering staff training, doing reflection and an opportunity for teams to socially distance meet. The longer this pandemic stays the more we need to work out ways to look after our teams, ensure they don’t burn out and be in a position to continue delivering the services that are needed as we go. Reflecting with other CEO’s across Gloucestershire and the South West network, which has been a lifeline for me, there is no easy answer to this but it’s something we need to think about each day, and listening when you’re told by your team you are not functioning as well as normal - maybe it’s time for a few days off!
So some final reflections as we continue to tiptoe through the current situation; have you noticed I have managed a whole blog without using the phrase ‘new normal’.
- Meeting (albeit virtually) with CEO’s from across the South West, Country and Gloucestershire has been critical in allowing me the space to think, plan and learn.
- People grow in a crisis
- There is always a way, you just have to think outside the box and not take no as the option
- Reflective practice is critical
- This journey is only just beginning and we have so much more learning to do