“Any decision we took had to have at the heart of that decision making process the people we care for and support.”
Royal Blind provides residential services across the country with care homes in Edinburgh and Paisley, two residential units for young adults affected by sight loss who often have underlying health conditions and a school for children who also often have underlying health conditions. In addition, the organisation offers respite services and afterschool care with training provided through a learning hub and further outreach educational services in East Lothian and Orkney.
COVID-19 presented immediate challenges for Royal Blind with a particular focus for the organisation being its response to the pandemic across its residential services. Driving the organisation’s actions in responding was a commitment to the people accessing services. Hawys Kilday, Director of Services said: “Any decision we took had to have at the heart of that decision making process the people we care for and support.” The first decision that was taken was to restrict access to residential settings, a difficult decision resulting in huge changes for those living there.
Reacting to this substantial change to ways of working, Royal Blind quickly worked to mitigate the effects of the move among residents. The organisation consulted with families in order to map out the best course of action, recognising that residents would be impacted by the lack of face to face contact. In order to ensure families stayed connected, Royal Blind brought in a raft of measures at a rapid pace. They put out a public appeal for laptops and iPads to maximise opportunities for communication so that people could talk remotely or connect via social media. People are being supported to make telephone calls and volunteers are working with residents to keep them in touch. In addition, videos of activities are being shared with families to foster an ongoing sense of connection with the homes.
With regards to school services, Royal Blind followed government advice and once again consulted with families. As a result of family preferences, whereby most did not wish to send their children to day school, the organisation is now working to send out resources to pupils who will benefit from these at home. Young adults in residential services are benefiting from additional one to one support and Hawys reports that a positive lesson from working through COVID-19 is that with slightly less activities for the group people are a little calmer, prompting Royal Blind to reflect on their usual level of activity.
Beyond their residential services Royal Blind is aware of the needs of people with sight loss who engage with their social media accounts. The organisation mobilised to ensure that their social media outputs are active in order to tackle the social isolation felt by many people with sight loss in the community, providing access to essential resources during the pandemic.
Taking care of staff has been a crucial element of Royal Blind’s COVID-19 response. They have altered ways of working by providing the option for flexi time, on site care for children enabling parents to come to work and ensuring staff are looked after on shift by offering meals. Crucially staff are now able to access COVID-19 testing.
On the third sector’s response to COVID-19 Hawys said: “I think the third sector is really agile. What I really appreciate about it is we can make decisions fast and we can respond. What the third sector always does is it always remembers who it is supposed to be serving and because we have that focus at the forefront of our minds, everything else falls from that.”
By reacting to COVID-19 quickly Royal Blind has been able to maintain its services and continue to provide care and support to residents, school children and staff. Their response exemplifies the speed at which the third sector can respond to the most acute challenge health and social care is facing today.