By Kelly Round (Our Place Support CEO)
Our Place Support have been delivering established face-to-face support services for 9 years including a Mentoring Scheme, Advice Service and Training Scheme, most of which are delivered from our Community Hub facility.
Naturally, the 23rd March significantly changed how our services could be delivered and we had some challenging decisions to make as Directors, in order to ensure we could continue supporting our service users and remain financially sustainable!
Like many organisations, we had briefly considered offering our services online over the past two or three years, but it had never become a priority. As the waters were so unchartered, it seemed as though there were enormous, insurmountable barriers, not only regarding our vital human interactions, but also relating to our policies, procedures, the cost of IT changes, and the safeguarding of our service users. After having ‘parked these issues’ as considerations for the future suddenly they were all we had to think about! As Directors we spent many an hour discussing how we could continue to support our service users safely whilst also maintaining our organisational values….it is here where we began to change!
Change brings challenge and elements of loss.
When we begin to do something differently it’s important to recognise what we are losing as a result and what that means for everyone involved. With this in mind we knew we needed to pivot our service delivery but that this had to be carefully managed to ensure we brought everyone along with us on this journey – our team, our service users and our partners.
The culture within our organisation was key to managing this change and our first priority was to be certain that our staff, volunteers and service users would all feel safe, supported and valued as we made this transition. So, to support our team we:
- Began regular remote meetings on Zoom in order to encourage confidence in the tool and build new skills.
- Hosted peer training sessions to test out technology and resources together
- Made it fun! Trying out games and hosting quizzes!
- Provided choice, options and flexibility wherever possible
As a result of the encouragement and support our team gave to one another combined with their passion and generosity to continue to support those in our care, we were able to completely pivot our services within two weeks of lockdown and resumed essential support to our service users.
Our Training Scheme was no different and inspired by our remote support offer our Training Facilitators refreshed our accredited training courses making them suitable for online delivery and by May we were delivering our full Level 3 Award in Mentoring Practice online and now able to reach learners across the country and few a few across the world reaching people in Jamaica Portugal and Italy!
As we have rapidly adapted to remote service delivery, we have been careful to recognise the impact digital services have on inequality, particularly in areas of poverty and disadvantaged- not every child, family or adult has the technology at their disposal to access remote support. Just one support session requires wifi/data and a laptop/tablet or mobile device. I recall a fellow social entrepreneur refer to the term ‘Data or Dinner’ in relation to digital poverty, whereby parents are sacrificing a meal to buy data for children to access home learning.
To ensure our support remained accessible we looked at each project and where necessary each service user and asked:
- Does remote support meet the service users needs?
- Do our service users want to engage remotely?
- Are there any risks associated with service users accessing remote support?
- Do service users have the technology to engage in remote support?
- How does this change impact the wellbeing of our service users?
After careful consideration it was agreed that our services would be delivered in a number of ways to ensure everyone has access to some level of support. Our Mentoring Scheme offered sessions by Zoom or telephone and all mentees received posted resource packs. Our Advice Service provided telephone and email support and our Training Scheme moved to a full online delivery method with hard copy learning materials bring posted to learners homes.
Whilst remote support has an absolutely valuable place in the future of support services, as organisations we have a responsibility to ensure our services are accessible to all and that a move to remote working doesn’t create barriers and exclusions for some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
Thank you team Our Place!
The willingness of our staff and volunteers to ‘try’ new ways of working, to be creative in their roles and to trust one another has been overwhelmingly heart-warming and definitely the key to our success in remote service delivery.
A huge thank you to our Directors, Staff and Volunteers for their ongoing support and encouragement along with the time, passion and energy they continue to give to Our Place Support and our service users.