Yesterday, as we discussed in our staff meeting how to mark the second anniversary of the first lockdown on 23 March 2020, was the day I tested positive.
What irony: I’ve ‘stayed safe’ through 2 years where we lived with varying rules and restrictions, where public health was the overriding goal. Now, with almost no restrictions and the only mitigations in place being free lateral flow tests (for another week) and the vaccination programme, I catch it through community transmission.
Those first few months in the spring of 2020 were an extraordinary and unprecedented period for us. Never have we had to make so many adaptations to the way we delivered our services and to our world of work as we did then. Within a week of the announcement all staff at MAECare were working from home. We were fortunate that both our IT and telephone systems enabled us to do so. The office closed and staff started the herculean task of ringing 1,000 service users in our area to check that they were ok and had the support they needed to get them through what we were initially advised would be a 13 week period. It quickly became apparent the biggest issue was shopping. If you had access to the internet, getting a slot for on-line shopping and delivery was almost impossible to newcomers. And so many of our service users did not have access to the internet.
Within a week the council had also requested that we become one of 27 Community Care Hubs across the city, funded to provide support for the basic needs of local people in our ward who were struggling. On the first day that the council helpline was launched we were overwhelmed with referrals from people wanting help with shopping and in a few cases collecting prescriptions. In partnership with the Access bus, we set up a Doorstep Delivery service to provide basic foodstuffs to both our service users and to Hub callers until the council sorted out their own shopping service which was accompanied by over 40 brilliant new volunteers recruited solely for this purpose.
With basic needs being met, we were able to start experimenting with delivering services and activities remotely: the MAECare Zoomers started and became a virtual coffee morning for many months; a weekly whats app quiz; for those who struggled with IT we used telephone conferencing or our singing, creative writing and book groups; the doorstep delivery expanded to the lockdown library. We delivered fish and chip, alongside test and taste activities; we created activity packs for people living with dementia and arts and crafts kits for anyone. As restrictions eased we resumed some small scale outdoor activities such as walks, walking football and doorstep visits.
There were times in the first couple of months when I felt quite isolated; our trustees, most of whom were older people, needed time to adjust to the impact on their personal lives, before they could resume their roles as directors of a charity. My daily task was reading the government guidance and trying to interpret what it mean to us as a Neighbourhood Network. Turns out we were all going through similar experiences. We learnt as a staff team how flexible and creative we could be as we endeavoured to meet the needs of our service users. Staff and the hub volunteers were amazing (and I really do mean ‘amazing’ in the old fashioned sense of the word!) in how they responded to what was one of the most if not the most challenging times they will ever have experienced. The resilience and humour of our service users was an inspiration.
Two years later…most of our activities have resumed although we are still restricting numbers and asking service users to wear masks when attending activities. Some ask us why ‘when it’s all over’. We gently point out that the number of people testing positive is at the highest its ever been; that it isn’t all over; and that whilst we want to get back to some kind of normality as soon as possible we still have a responsibility to keep our service users, volunteer and staff as safe as possible. And that for most people wearing a mask is a minor imposition for the sake of wider public health. So far no one has caught covid through attending one of our activities in spite of the extraordinary high rates of community transmission – how much longer we can maintain that from April I don’t know.
Manager, Moor Allerton Elderly Care