How life has changed since the pandemic: from planning afternoon tea, to buying nappies to delivering methadone! All in the day’s work at Armley Helping Hands (AHH).
When lockdown started, AHH identified themselves as a key frontline service, primarily in the self-isolation period for people aged 50 upwards living in Armley and Wortley.
Our first agenda was to resource food and make sure all our members were safe and well, and understood what was happening. We begged, we borrowed, we went knocking on local business doors and even travelled far and wide to ask for help in buying fresh fruit, meat, vegetables, bread and milk – all the essentials that disappeared from supermarket shelves across the UK in that first weekend of lockdown.
We implemented a coronavirus protocol, looking at what support our older people would need in their homes, what barriers we could face, and, most importantly how as a team we could keep ourselves and older people safe and well.
At the beginning of week two, we were approached by Leeds City Council to become a Community Hub, and over a period of 48 hours we had to reshape our services and roles to deliver vital support services. These included delivering emergency food parcels, prescriptions and access funds, and not just for our older people. We were asked to support vulnerable people who were shielding and those with long-term conditions, deal with people with addiction and complex mental health problems, and support families who were struggling to buy food, baby products and pay for the essentials like gas and electric.
As a team we had extensive knowledge and skills on how to support and work alongside our older people and their families to provide a bespoke package of care. This additional role has brought many new challenges and has been a steep learning curve, with no instructions to follow and no expiry date – it’s definitely taken us out of our comfort zone and community bubble!
We have developed new working methods and partnerships with local business in which they have offered access to vital resources like bread, milk, meat, other foods, nappies and even facemasks, when many people and organisations were struggling.
The pandemic has shown us how strong our existing partnerships with the statutory and voluntary sectors and the community are, and has even taken these partnerships to the next level. Now more than ever, we can see how significant all the years working hard to build up good practices and working relationships with, for example, doctors, social workers, housing support officers and the community have been. To have these facilities and relationships in our community, to be able to pick up the phone and say ‘we need your help and we need it now’, and knowing with every call that the person on the other end will say ‘no problem, what can we do?’ has been indispensable in the present climate.
Traditional referral processes, timeframes and pathways to support have not been available, and each day over the last 13 weeks we have worked alongside our community and partners and faced each challenge as a new one.
What’s working well and what’s not working well? How can we resource the most vital items like baby milk and Fortisip? How can we help carers who are shielding with loved ones with dementia? How can we reduce social isolation, when we are telling people to stay behind doors, especially as it completely conflicts our normal objectives? These are the questions we ask ourselves each day. We may have not always found the right answer, but collectively we have always been able to offer a solution, a listening ear, and, most importantly, let our community be aware that they are not alone, and together we will overcome this situation and there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Why have we done this? Because we care. Our roles in the community are not just jobs that bring money in every month to support ourselves and families. We have a meaning in life, we have a position in our community where we know the smallest gesture of support can have a significant impact on an individual life and the community. None of us know our future and we all wish we have someone who’s willing to be beside us and lead us on the path to independence.
When people ask me personally “why?”, I say “seeing a smile on a person’s face” and hearing the two magic words “thank you” is my pay and reward and gives me a warm feeling. That is the reason I get up every morning to be there for our community.
Armley Helping Hands is one of Leeds Neighbourhood Network Schemess (NNS); nearly 40 organisations working with older people in local areas across the city. You can follow them on social media: on Twitter @ArmleyHH and Facebook
Chief Executive Officer, Armley Helping Hands