a photograph of Samantha Johnson, the People First Advocacy Manager

Working through Covid - Sam Johnson

Lockdown has been a hard time for everyone for many reasons. The time we have spent in lockdown, has given us a one-of-a-kind experience. Some of us welcomed the alone time as it gave us the chance to do things we never had time to do, such as arts and crafts or sorting out our house.

Whilst some of us struggled, being stuck at home alone or with family members for weeks. Counting down the weeks, until Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock said it was safe to reconnect with friends. Also, many of us lost loved ones to COVID, which caused high levels of fear of death, low mood, and lack of sleep.

“Lockdown is difficult, it’s hard, it’s depressing. I get pissed off and I miss my work” client J.T

Even if you felt lockdown was a good or bad time, there is no doubt, that lockdown has changed our daily routine, actions, and the way we talk with our peers. At the start of lockdown, we were unsure if we could maintain the SEOEP project as all our work was previously done face-to-face or in the office. To keep the work going, we planned and reshaped the project. We had to adapt the services we gave to our clients. This was done by finding useful ways to work from home, that was fun and kept the line of communication going, between us and our clients.

Before we could help our clients, we had to make sure we were set up well. We did this by making sure we had the right equipment, and technology such as work phones, laptops, printers, and phone stands. Along with finding the right apps, that would be easy to use for the workers, and clients on the project. We also looked at what work could be done from home. In some cases, we could not support our clients during their court cases, police interviews, benefit calls or filling out forms. This meant they had to seek help outside the project, through other local services, family, and friends.

Losing contact with the outside world, and having your daily routine stripped away is very hard. So, we needed not to, just focus on supporting our clients with practical issues, but their social life too so as to prevent, feelings of loneliness, low mood, and worry.

We worked with a local charity that provided our clients with devices, like laptops, desktop computers, and smartphones. The Smartphones also came with a year’s free bundle deal of data, minutes, and text so we could download apps like, WhatsApp, Zoom, Google duo, and Microsoft teams onto. These Apps help us to, host one-to-one video sessions with clients like virtual trips, to different places around the world; The Sea aquarium Sentosa in Singapore.

We also hosted other group activities, like coffee and chats, and movie night. These group activities provided a safe space for people to catch up and have some social contact. Our clients really enjoyed our movie nights, and the snacks we posted them. The last movie we watched, was the Marvel movie Black Panther.

Life after the pandemic

Although Lockdown has eased, it is going to take a long time before things get back to normal. Some of our clients, are still not comfortable being in close contact with other people. We plan on introducing new virtual social clubs in the next year, to keep our clients connected, entertained, included and their spirits high.

“All have helped me a lot, it’s really helped me overcome my loneliness and social isolation and has made for a greater social inclusion and social connections to my community” RJ

Although these apps have been a useful tool to maintain our clients, mental health, and wellbeing, there is also a downside, to using these apps and talking to our clients over the phone, since we no longer have face to face meetings with our clients. At times it can be hard, to pick up on other issues our clients may have. Working from home does not give us, the chance to pick up on client’s body language and physical signs.
To overcome this, we have had to pick up on clients change of behaviour and tone of voice to give meaning to their words and emotions. As well as be aware of background noises, to uncover if our clients are in a safe space or hanging around the wrong people.

However, a positive outcome is the relationships with our clients have changed. We feel more connected and closer to our clients. During this time, we have reconnected with some old clients, who we have not spoken to in a long time. Also, we have discovered new services within the Lambeth area, that are making a good impact on our clients lives.

Working through Covid has taught us, that we can put our minds to anything. We have also learnt, many new skills and so much about ourselves. It has been hard to balance our personal and work life. Like you, we have felt alone, low, and scared to leave our house.

We just want to let you know that you are not alone and things will get better.

Sam is the Advocacy Co-ordinator for the Supporting Each Other Equals Power (SEOEP) project

People First (Self Advocacy) is registered in England and Wales under charity number 1057354 and company number 03134827 at 336 Brixton Road, London SW9 7AA.
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