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Microscope view of coronavirus

Yellow Ribbon and Covid-19

An interview with Andy Partridge – Head of Operations at Yellow Ribbon

There can be no downplaying the impact that the Coronavirus has had on everyone the world over right now. The news is often filled with reports of how peoples lives, their businesses and ways of working have been massively impacted by the restrictions needed to help control spread of the pandemic.

I asked have asked Andy Partridge, Head of operations here at Yellow Ribbon a few questions to give a little insight into the challenges and changes we have faced during this period.

From your perspective as Head of operations Andy, what has been the biggest challenge of Covid-19 for the charity?

“No eye contact with clients has been the biggest challenge. You get so much out of a conversation with eye contact and being able to read body language.”

And from conversations with other team members and keyworkers this has been a point which has been echoed  frequently. 

Our mentoring system involves working closely with the clients. Building trust and improving their levels of confidence in honest communication is a vital part of the recovery and support process. Although we have worked hard to remain in close contact with all of our client houses, simple things like the lack of non-verbal clues as to someones state of mind make continuous assessment and support much more difficult. 

‘What steps has the charity taken to focus on overcoming this?

“We have set up a [modified] support plan for the guys to manage this. We phone each client regularly and still attend at the houses. Normally talking to each client at the door step making sure we are sticking to social distancing and PPE.”

And speaking about some of the ways in which remote working technology has been adapted to work in our working scenario Andy added 

“We have also set up laptops in each house giving the guys access to video conference calls with us and counsellors.”

As reported in a recent news article, these specially built secure laptops provide YR with a vital audio visual link to the client housing in Shrewsbury, Telford and Walsall. They give staff the ability to engage both on a one-to-one and a group basis with clients, and provide vital extra levels of communication and support. They also form the basis for several of our upcoming training projects (currently in development – watch this space!), and we have included a few well thought out games on them to provide a degree of entertainment to help pass the long hours in lockdown the clients face.  

Whilst still on the subject of remote working and the wider changes to the nations working  practices I asked Andy to explain ‘What effect has the Lockdown and social distancing had upon the way the team works?

“Serious effect….    The team still meets every day via video conferencing but we really miss the interaction with the lads.” 

And went on to add 

“We normally work out of Meeting Point House in Telford. We hang out there with the lads, build relationships, trust and challenge the lads.to move forward. We have lunch together and it’s a real relaxed and fun environment.”  

And it is obvious that this key aspect of social contact which has been an important part of how the team would normally work on a daily basis is now very different under lockdown conditions. Although pretty much all of the daily admin and behind the scenes tasks are progressing pretty much as normal for the charity via video calls and remote working, it is obvious that adapting the keyworker roles to one where social distancing is the norm is far from straightforward. 

I then asked Andy ‘how these changes impacted the clients?’

“The lads are coping well. They know we are supporting them the best we can. But some of the lads have serious mental health issues and addiction issues. Isolation is not the right thing to do in these situations. They need support and encouragement.”

And as the current lockdown and social distancing  situation progresses these are ever present issues for the charity to deal with. It will continue to be a challenging environment for the staff as well as the clients.

As ever our clients have access to our trained counsellors, and frequent checks and welfare calls help those who sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression to cope with this period of enforced isolation. 

Andy added,  

“It is also very difficult stopping all project’s as these were the things that gave the guys meaningful activities and focus.”

And this certainly has been a big issue for YR during the Coronavirus outbreak. Filling the clients days with as much purposeful activity and training  is key for a number of factors not least of which is their ongoing mental health.

Whilst in prison inmates tend to lead a fairly structured life, with daily access to purposeful activities and training. We consider it vital that this structure is carried forward during their release transition period into the community, and are currently working hard to put in place some purposeful activity projects (we aim shortly to deliver a simple woodworking project via video link to clients who would like to try DIY and crafting during lockdown).

I then asked Andy ‘If the situation continues for some time, will the charity continue to operate at full capacity?

“Yes we will continue to support the lads as best as we can. They are our priority.”

And so far this has been the case. We continue to receive frequent new referrals from probation services and the prison resettlement teams. We continue to provide round the clock support for all the clients during their journeys through recovery and reintegration into society.

The circumstances we have to work under may have changed, but the outcomes remain the same.

These days there is hardly a day that passes without seeing a broadcaster or journalist ask someone ‘knowing what we know now, is there anything the charity might have done differently earlier on?’ So I posed the same question to Andy.

“I think we would have had the laptops in as standard in all houses. This has taken sometime to get into place.”

And with the benefit of hindsight this is certainly something that I would agree with. When I am not covering the newsdesk here on the website my role is developing the charities IT systems and much of my recent working time has been spent on the roll out of the laptop systems. The steps needed to roll out fully secure devices that are functional enough to provide a useful level of client support and systems access but meet the requirements and scrutiny of the Probation services and West Mercia Police have not been trivial. A number of weeks when their benefits could have been felt were lost through protracted security tests and discussions on suitable levels of access.

So having established that there are things we could have done better I posed the question What positives if any have come about from the current lockdown situation?

“The team has really pulled together and has been very productive. I think we will need to look at our ways of working coming out of the lock down.” 

… and What if anything that has changed during lockdown might you take forward into post-lockdown ways of working?

“I would like to keep some of our improved communication lines.”

And this is certainly a positive that has been echoed by the whole team during our daily briefings. It is certainly felt that the greater levels of team comms via group video calls and secure messaging along with greater attention to note taking on our logging systems have helped all members of the team to keep a more cohesive picture of the current state of play within the houses.

So, looking forward, what is your outlook on things once normality returns?’

“We have been able to do a lot of planning. We will be launching our new Recovery Academy which will give the guys, hope, purpose, and meaningful activities.”

There will be a lot more information about this project shortly, keep an eye on our news items for details! 

…. And finally,  anything you would like to add?

“We have all learned a lot through this crisis and I am determined to come out the other side not the same charity we went into the crisis as but a new and improved one.”

I’m sure we will!

Thanks Andy for taking time out of a busy day to answer these questions.

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