For many of our clients, uncertainty, isolation and illness were an everyday reality long before the coronavirus outbreak, as was the resilience and adaptability needed to cope with some of the most difficult of circumstances.
In some ways, I think that this past couple of weeks has given us, as members of staff, a very real sense of how quickly everyday life can change beyond recognition, a reality with which some of our clients are already much too familiar. As a member of the Learning and Training team, the stopping of activities from Monday, March 16th, while vital to protect the wellbeing of clients and staff, took away the structure that had underpinned our working day since the programme launched in 2013 and meant an overnight change in our roles.
For our clients living in hostels or their own accommodation, it removed a vital source of support, as well as the opportunity to socialise, see friends and take part in learning and skills development. Having to tell clients, some of whom we see every day, that we did not know when we would be resuming groups was incredibly difficult. As one client said to me ‘we were already isolated before…’ Despite this, there was an understanding among clients that the focus now was on supporting those who were rough sleeping.
By Tuesday morning the feel and look of the centre were very different; the canteen, normally busy and bustling, was quiet, the computer room was almost empty and the activity rooms, usually being prepared for, or hosting groups, were used for assessments. For our team, time spent planning and running activities became time spent with rough sleepers and those in shelters; completing assessments and health questionnaires, making Streetlink referrals so those rough sleepers could be found by Outreach teams and having conversations with clients about their physical health. It felt like vital, urgent work, completed against a backdrop of dwindling service provision as various partner agencies closed or reduced their services in the face of a growing public health crisis. I felt incredibly proud to be working alongside my colleagues and continuing to provide a service for clients for as long as possible, despite all the challenges. It felt like we were doing exactly what we should be doing and the energy and dedication among the team were palpable.
Now, we continue that vital, urgent work but differently and from a distance. Maintaining contact with clients through telephone calls and working on distance Learning and Wellbeing provision in the form of activities that can be sent to clients and hostels. We want our clients to know that we will continue to be there for them, albeit differently, for as long as this crisis may continue. We are taking inspiration from the resilience and adaptability of those we work with.
Before leaving the centre to work from home, my colleague Chris created a beautiful board on the theme of Hope in the centre. It was designed with residents in the hostel above in mind but for me, it was also a symbol of what remains when times are at their most difficult. And when the centre opens again, all our clients will be able to enjoy it.