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Life in lockdown – helping those cut off from help

Lockdown’s lost services knock people off track

For people already in a difficult place and getting support to turn their lives around, this pandemic together with lockdown and isolation from family, friends and support services could knock them off track. Half of our clients worry that they face damaging social isolation.

Lockdown is vital for reducing the spread of infection, keeping us safe and avoiding overwhelming the NHS. No question it’s the right thing to do. But for people who were already facing personal challenges or suffering from the effects of poverty and inequality, lockdown means new problems to address.

Vital support disrupted

The effect of lockdown on the people we support has been not only to make their lives even harder but to disrupt the support they need. We are very conscious that for the people we help lockdown has the potential to knock them and their families even further off course.

At Venture Trust we work with people who want our help to turn their lives around and reach their full potential. They come to us already dealing with a range of issues such as poor mental health, lack of qualifications, substance misuse, or fractured family relationships. Sadly, many face not one but many of these challenges. Alongside our vital partners we help provide the support they need to get their lives back on track. We are part of a team of charities and government agencies providing a network of support for an individual.

Listening to people’s lockdown fears

One of the first things we did was to pick up the phone and ask the people we are supporting what they felt lockdown would mean for them. We spoke to 125 people in the first two weeks of lockdown and this is what we found:

  • 48% were worried about social isolation negatively affecting them.

  • 25% suffered from data poverty and worried they would struggle to access help online

  • 33% worried that lockdown would aggravate their mental health problems. (Half of our participants already arrive with mental health issues).

  • 16% were concerned about coping with addiction without access to support services.

  • Over 80% wanted to speak to their community worker at least once a week.

Concerns over the financial costs of isolation were also significant:

  • 13% - over one in eight – were worried about their finances.

  • 10% were worried about access to food.

  • 15% were worried about how a prolonged period of lockdown will affect their chances of returning to work.

These findings will no doubt be mirrored across Scotland. The new reality of reduced social contact, self-isolation and disruption of services will have a disproportionate effect on people who were already struggling with complex life circumstances.

We need to change what we do to keep doing what we do

In response we have literally turned our services outside – in, moving from group-based personal development in Scotland’s wilderness and outdoors in communities to working with smart technology to reach those who need help most in their own homes. Our new support service is online, with all Venture Trust outreach and development staff providing tailored support by phone, video link or other digital means

Re-organising how we work was a team effort that involved everyone in Venture Trust pulling together to try something new. We know there will be a lot of organisations trying to adapt so here’s what we’ve learned throughout this process:

  • Put your beneficiaries first. Because we’d talked to people we knew what help they needed. But it still took effort to make sure we focused on these needs and not on what would be easier or less disruptive for us.

  • Moving quickly means letting go. One of the most inspiring aspects of this challenge has been seeing what can happen when you give staff the freedom to come up with their own solutions rather than trying to force change from the top down.

  • Keep talking. Letting people find their own adaptations works but the next step is to share them. Make sure everyone knows what’s happenign and what’s changing.

  • Admin is everything. Once you’ve got new ways of working, you need to make them part of your system. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but to get everyone on the same page quickly you will need new processes for handling these new ways of working – especially for sensitive information.

  • Look to the future. Some of these changes will be temporary, but some might stick. And even “temporary” could be longer than you think. Makes sure you’ll be able to properly report on what you’ve done, even if only for your own learning down the line.

This is a team effort

We are continuing to take new referrals as well as supporting our existing clients. Beyond that, we are already working alongside local and national government, the wider public sector, our partners in the charity sector and our funders and corporate partners to play our small part to help minimise the disruption lockdown brings to those who were already at risk of falling through the cracks.

We’d also love to hear from everyone else working through these issues. There’s a lot to learn and we’d be very happy to be part of a wider conversation about how Scotland’s third sector adapts to the challenges of coronavirus and lockdown.

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