Multiple Sclerosis Mid Argyll responds rapidly with a raft of adapted services to support people during COVID-19.
The Multiple Sclerosis Centre, Mid Argyll, provides support to people with multiple sclerosis and other neurological and chronic conditions, helping them to self manage their health and wellbeing. COVID-19 has meant that the organisation has had to alter its ways of working substantially but effectively. Ahead of the lockdown, the centre took the difficult decision to close its doors in order to protect the health of those who would ordinarily attend due to the fact that many of those accessing services have compromised immune systems, are elderly or form another part of the shielded group. The measure also included protecting those who volunteer with the same concerns.
This by no means meant an end to services from MS Argyll. Operating with a small team of three full time members of staff and one part time, the organisation set up a raft of responses in order to continue supporting people through COVID-19. One of the main concerns for centre staff was that people would become isolated and fearful. In particular, mental health was a concern as many people were already vulnerable to poor mental wellbeing and the organisation recognised the potential for deterioration in some of those they work with.
Karen McCurry, Centre Manager, said: “I’m quite concerned about the impact on people we’ve worked with for many years. People think of this as a centre for physical health but what we’re really doing is promoting good mental health and wellbeing.”
The organisation quickly went into planning mode to implement ways of continuing to engage with people. This comprises services mainly being delivered via online channels as a ‘virtual centre’. Services include physiotherapy, tai chi and zumba sessions and virtual massage guides. Crucially, peer support is still being implemented through video calls where a relaxed approach is being taken to open up discussion around what is most important to people as we continue to live through the circumstances imposed by COVID-19. For those accessing support who don’t have access to digital means a daily phone and text service is in operation.
The organisation has taken a positive approach to reassure people when they are feeling the effects of the pandemic on their lives. An important part of MS Argyll’s strategy has been to continue with the existing timetable to cater to people’s routines and also to retain a sense of normality in what can feel like unreal times. Interestingly the centre is now able to engage with people it wasn’t before due to health and travel restrictions.
It took only a week for the organisation to convert its work to online platforms, a testament to the team’s commitment in continuing to provide services in restricted circumstances. But MS Argyll’s work goes beyond online services. They are also providing key work in their local community. This takes the form of delivering food and supplies to those who are unable to leave their homes with new volunteers who are not in the high risk category providing services. Given the organisation’s small staff team volunteers are an essential aspect of providing services. In addition, further community engagement work is taking place with the organisation running a programme of activities including a live weekly quiz and family competitions to keep distanced families engaged with one another.
MS Argyll’s work is an example of how the third sector can respond rapidly and successfully to challenging circumstances. Karen said: “We can be quite flexible, we’re used to adapting, we’re used to being resourceful…The third sector’s come together strongly and there’s a COVID network locally so we can all make sure we’re not duplicating. We’re still working with our partners and having meetings with them online and keeping the network going.”
One of the positives to come out of the current situation is the increased level of engagement with the centre across the community. Karen hopes this will see an increase in the number of people accessing the centre when it reopens, benefitting more people who need support. During current circumstances MS Argyll has implemented innovative and determined approaches and is successfully fulfilling the needs of those who access services during this challenging time.