"The third sector continues to demonstrate its powerful impact and value as we navigate this, the most challenging of times"
Across Scotland carers’ centres are having to respond rapidly to the restrictions caused by COVID-19. Usually busy hubs in the community with many opportunities for face to face interaction, services have been required to find innovative ways of providing support to thousands of people.
The Carers Hub at Perth and Kinross Association of Voluntary Service (PKAVS) is no exception. When the lockdown was announced the organisation immediately took action, increasing their telephone capacity to continue to support carers in the local area. Staff are now working from home with laptops, phones and a case load. Swift action has paid off. In one week PKAVS staff made 1,215 contacts, the majority to carers and a smaller number to cared-for people.
When staff originally reached out to carers less than 5% of those they made contact with said they didn’t require support, a clear indication of the needs of people at this time. Staff at PKAVS keep in touch with people on a weekly basis, sometimes multiple times a week depending on need. Raymond Jamieson, Carers Centre Manager at PKAVS said “There are people feeling isolated, quite frightened, not being able to cope with what they’re going through right now.”
Lockdown is an undoubtedly difficult time for many, but it presents additional challenges to carers. Isolation is already an issue and, add in the enforced time at home, people feel that isolation all the more acutely. This is why the ramped up service from PKAVS is so important. It provides essential emotional support to people cut off from their usual networks. One person using the service told staff: “It means a lot knowing there is someone to contact when we’re all facing these uncertain times. I’m so glad you can keep in touch, I don’t have many people to talk to and this gives me an outlet.”
PKAVS services don’t stop with these essential calls. In redistributing finances normally reserved for respite for carers, the organisation is now providing alternative offerings such as money for Netflix subscriptions to ease a little of the monotony of being stuck indoors. In one instance PKAVS had a family’s WIFI reconnected after it was cut off to allow them to stay in contact with people and services. The team have also produced a ‘how to’ guide to setting up Zoom so that carers can make video calls to one another for peer support.
Further practical support is also a key part of the PKAVS service. Many people are struggling to get food deliveries as those who used to rely on click and collect services at supermarkets are losing their slots due to the increased demand during this time. In addition, obtaining medication can be a challenge for people and across these needs PKAVS is linking people in to local services to help them get support.
Running a service during COVID-19 presents multiple challenges. One is looking after the mental health and wellbeing of staff. Raymond is acutely aware of this: “My staff team have gone from a vibrant environment where there was 25 of us working under one roof who gave each other peer support and always had good fun. It’s been a massive change for them.” Reminding staff of the crucial work they are doing is key to keeping the team feeling positive.
COVID-19 is requiring the third sector to be at its most responsive, adaptable and innovative. Now more than ever people require the support offered by organisations. As organisations as such as PKAVS navigate their way through COVID-19, valuable learning will be made around service design and engagement with our communities. In the meantime, the third sector continues to demonstrate its powerful impact and value as we navigate this, the most challenging of times.