A Bold Move from Westminster

Former Lead Commissioner for Supported Housing and Rough Sleeper Services, Robert White, has made a bold move from Westminster City Council to join Mayday Trust, an organisation which has found that people are being institutionalised and trapped in social care systems. Robert joins Mayday as Director of Change to drive a paradigm shift throughout London and the South East, focusing on changing the systems people encounter when seeking help through tough times, such as homelessness. This new work is being funded by Oak Foundation and the Lankelly Chase Foundation, both renowned for investing in forward-thinking and radical new ideas.

Robert has spent the last six years at Westminster City Council, championing its brave and open-minded response to tackling homelessness. This includes commissioning London’s first Personal Transitions Service (PTS) team, which offers people experiencing homelessness the opportunity to work alongside a PTS Coach to recognise and build on strengths, similar to how top athletes are trained, while creating friends and connections in the local community away from homeless services.

As part of his work, Robert will continue to work with willing Local Authority Commissioner’s in London and the South East to launch the UK’s first Transitions Pilot, developing a new commissioning response for homelessness services. This new way of working will aim to eradicate the many systemic barriers people face when trying to move on from a tough time.

Robert White, Director of Change at Mayday Trust said: “Change is always daunting but seeing such progressive and confident investment from the likes of Oak Foundation and Lankelly Chase is a reassuring reminder that we are moving in the right direction. Now is the time for change, this funding further cements a joint commitment to reconstructing a system that works for the individual and I’m excited to be a part of that alongside Local Authority colleagues.”

Joe Doran, Lankelly Chase said: “This is an exciting step towards reimagining how social commissioning architecture could work for everyone. Mayday’s approach and values have disrupted how service providers work with people and we are curious to see whether using a similar methodology and the same values could have an equal effect on how those services are designed in the first place.”

Read Robert’s latest blog on his move from Westminster, or for more on Mayday’s work in London and the South East, please get in touch

A Move for Change

Mayday welcomes Robert White to the team.

“Are you nervous?” “Are you scared?” “That’s quite a change, what will you actually be doing?” These were all valid questions, but all they really did was make me increasingly concerned that I hadn’t made the right decision. Leaving the Local Authority and joining an organisation that is constantly evolving in major ways to lead on an ambitious vision across London and the ‘South East’ (a geographical term I found myself Googling the night before) – what was I thinking?!

Hello. My name is Robert White and I have just joined Mayday Trust as their Director of Change. I did start as the Director of Change and Innovation but on my second day, a colleague told me that the term innovation was wrong and the whole thing sounded “a bit wanky” – Director of Change it is, then.

I have just left Westminster City Council where I was the Lead Commissioner for Supported Housing and Rough Sleeper Services (I know). I had been at Westminster for six years, working my way through various versions of commissioner roles. I joined the Local Authority after a couple of years leading a team in a high support, 40-bed hostel for rough sleepers. As long as you could prove to me that you smoked enough crack, drank enough vodka, heard loud enough voices and that a commissioned outreach worker had seen you “sleeping, or readying for a nights’ sleep on the street”, you could stay in my hostel and I would fix you right up. You’re welcome. I knew at that point that something wasn’t right and that we could do better, and I figured if I joined the team that designed these services I could change these services.

I think we changed services for the better…No, we definitely did. We worked hard at making sure that trauma-informed practice, person-centred support, and psychologically-informed environments were at the heart of our service provision. As a team, we balanced the expectations of residents and businesses in Westminster with the ever-growing demand for houses, places of safety, and support that was right for the individual.  The scale at which we had to do this puts our country to shame. During some of our most challenging times, outreach services could expect to meet at least six new people a day, every day. Systems, pathways, hostels, support services were all creaking at the seams with demand. During my time at Westminster, we removed over £2m from the system due to the austerity agenda and, with the invention of the Rough Sleeper Initiative, we drip-fed £3m back in.

It wasn’t until 2018 that I began to recognise that, politics and policy aside, there was something about the system that had to change. That year, we had received an effectively blank cheque from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.  They had been clear with us: do whatever you can, focus on the numbers on the street and reduce rough sleeping. The idea was, ‘if we can nail it in Westminster, the rest will follow’. The pressure was intense. We doubled the size of our night centre, housing 80 people instead of 40, we increased the size of our outreach team to reach more people, faster, we increased the capacity of the mental health team to assess and diagnose more people and get them into treatment. Housing First opportunities were doubled, and we continued to develop our assessment centre to process more and more people, as quickly as possible. All was leading to the annual street count, the questionable measure of success, a litmus test of progress; in 2017 we had seen 217 people, all services were full, teams working overtime to get people off the street, over £500k was thrust into the system to make it work…

The morning after the street count I remember feeling sad, overwhelmed and confused. We had found 306 people that night, a 30% increase in the numbers. All that work, all that time, all that money and it had made no difference. What followed was a lot of soul searching, involving, amongst other things: an inspirational trip to Scotland, a fact-finding mission to Bratislava, having a second child, a period of Parental Leave, and, dare I mention it 704 words in…coronavirus.

Where I arrived at was this.  It all boils down to one point: “change the system and not the person”. Until we truly challenge the status quo, until we collectively recognise that we are not here to fix people’s problems but to facilitate their strengths and work with them to grow in the way they want to grow, then we will continue to see numbers rise, more and more people institutionalised in a system of mass fixing and a revolving door of challenge and frustration.

I am proud of the work we achieved at Westminster, and the tenacity, passion and belief of my former colleagues is unquestionable.  But moving to Mayday Trust is a move of activism, a move to a place of true change, surrounding myself with the most incredible people who believe in a world where systems work for people going through tough times. Yes, I am nervous, yes, I am scared and yes, it is quite a change. Deep breath.

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Mayday is Changing!

In 2011 Mayday did something that we hadn’t done before – we deeply listened to the people working and living with us. We didn’t ask the usual questions about people’s needs or what services they thought they needed, instead, we started each conversation with a single question, what do you think of the services you receive? And then we listened. The fascinating results have been widely circulated in the form of a publication called ‘Wisdom from the Street’.

Mayday has spent the last nine years changing every aspect of what we do as a result of what we heard, learned and experienced. We have evolved a wholly new approach to tackling homelessness called the Personal Transitions Service (PTS), and we have transformed from a medium-size supported housing charity to a national influencer for strategic change.

As part of our ongoing adaptation to respond to what we learn and experience from working in a person-led way, we will be transferring our current work at Bruce House and associated properties in Westminster to Changing Lives, one of our first PTS Innovation Partners in 2017, who have adopted the PTS approach across their work and have been modelling person-led change in the North East of England. We will be continuing to work closely with Changing Lives, making the transition as seamless as possible for people currently working and living with us.

Mayday will be continuing to work in the area, as alongside Westminster City Council, has received investment to evolve a new commissioning approach. This will be built around the person and their transition through a tough time, as opposed to a system divided into silos focusing on problems. This is a very exciting next phase for the work and we will be further developing our work in London and the South East.  This change will take place on the 1st October 2020.

The reason for the change is that Mayday’s focus will now be on System Change. With a huge level of support and backed by a number of investors, we will be soon launching our new work and partnerships from across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland with individuals and organisations who share our passion in creating a new person-led system for those going through tough times, such as homelessness. So watch this space!

For information on the PTS services now offered by Changing Lives in Westminster please contact Amy.middleton@changing-lives.org.uk

Please contact marsha.rule@changing-lives.org.uk for housing referrals which are accepted via The Clearing House.

New Chair and Vice Chair for Mayday’s Board of Trustees

Mayday Trust is delighted to announce the appointment of Julie McEver as the new Chair of its Board of Trustees and Vincent Bowen as Vice Chair.

Julie McEver is Deputy Corporate Director (Programmes and Projects) at Local Partnerships with responsibility for a wide-ranging set of programmes and projects. Local Partnerships is a joint venture between the Local Government Association, HM Treasury and the Welsh Government. They occupy a unique position in the public sector, facilitating change by working impartially and collaboratively across all parts of central, local and regional government, and the devolved administrations. Julie has been with Local Partnerships since its inception and has been a Mayday Trustee for the past four years, and was voted into her new position by fellow trustees.

Mayday’s outgoing Chair, Andrew Meehan, has been instrumental in getting Mayday to where it is today. Andrew joined the Board in 2015, and, together with his fellow Trustees, led Mayday through the successful development of Personal Transitions Service and has bravely supported the mission when many would have faltered.

Vincent Bowen, a director of CMC Consulting Ltd, will take over from Stephen Brown as Vice-Chair. Stephen has kindly agreed to remain on the Board and work alongside his fellow Trustees as Mayday enters a new chapter.

Pat McArdle, Mayday CEO said: “I am delighted that Julie and Vincent will lead the next stage in Maydays development and sincerely thank Andy and Stephen for making a real difference over the last number of years.”

Mayday would like to thank all of its trustees, both present and past, for their continued support, expertise and guidance.

People Just Do Nothing

Reflections on COVID-19 Lockdown from Rebecca Nelson, Mayday PTS Manager

Last week after restrictions were lifted, I emerged from my house, with my bad COVID-19 hair, which has strangely grown into a 1980s style mullet and I went on a social distance walk with someone who lives in a Mayday property.

While we were walking and chatting he said to me “Becks, I’ll tell you what, I love this COVID.”I enquired why and received the following response; “because up until all the COVID stuff people have been telling me that I’ve got to go out more and stop watching so much TV, now everyone is saying well done for doing nothing, also I’m getting free food delivered every day so I’ve got loads more money to spend on blow.”

I have missed out a few of the expletives and his delivery carried far more humour, but it was a really interesting statement which led me to reflect on what has happened over the last few months.

About 10 weeks ago I became ill – I suspect it was COVID-19 based, but can’t know for definite. As soon as people were aware we were self-isolating I was inundated with offers of assistance. People I wouldn’t normally hear from were phoning and messaging their support. I also noticed that a friend of mine, who is usually very morose, was suddenly alive she had a purpose, she felt needed, she was happy. I am incredibly grateful for everything everyone did during that time and feel very lucky that I have such a great support network, but the truth is I felt uncomfortable accepting help and at times accepted it when I didn’t need it so that I didn’t appear ungrateful or rude. When I finally started to recover from my illness, I was delighted, but also extremely pleased to take back full control of my life again.

When I returned to work I began to open my extensive, unread emails, as I worked my way through them it was full of services offering resolutions to a variety of COVID-19 related issues, some examples being:

  • home food deliveries
  • Collecting and delivering medicines
  • Funding solutions for a variety of equipment

The list went on. My initial thought was this was great; people had access to various support requirements, where they had, like me, had fallen ill and needed to self-isolate. Particularly people who did not have access to the support networks that I did.

During the early days of my return to work, I started talking to people I coached and responded to some of the messages I had received from them. The majority of people I engaged with were bright and healthy, and most of them were more worried about me! One person, in fact, the man I went on the social distance walk with, said: “I think I had better stay in touch Becks – I mean I’m used to being isolated; I’ve been doing this for years, but I think you might go mad!” He had a very good point. I started to realise that maybe what was happening to me felt different from the people I coach. I needed to ensure I responded to the people I worked with, and not to the Crisis.

Due to lock down we are forced to work from home, therefore unable to meet with people face to face. We needed to work out how to do this effectively, how best do we coach virtually? This is where we had to be creative. We tried to ensure everyone had access to a phone. We then had a conversation to resolve the best way to keep in contact, should this be desired. We have used FB Messenger, WhatsApp, phone calls, whatever contact method that the individual felt comfortable with. We then reviewed constructive things we could still share with people, even though we weren’t meeting with them:

  • Online games
  • Facetime walks
  • Reading the same book

Within those examples, some were more successful than others.

I am lucky as I am not a full-time coach I have other roles within Mayday to make me feel purposeful and useful. Even with that added variety, this has not been an easy time to be a coach. People like to help others, which can manifest in a sense of satisfaction during a crisis. It’s natural to want to do something to help fix a problem. Coaches do this job because they love working with people and enjoy that direct interaction. Unfortunately, due to lockdown, they’ve found themselves stuck at home trying to find creative ways to connect with people. It has been difficult, but they have managed to achieve it, and at the same time always put the people they work with first and listened to what was happening within their lives.

What has been even more difficult is to watch how other organisations and support agencies have responded; being busy, rushing around responding to things that were happening during lockdown. Delivering food and completing a variety of other tasks for people, even when it wasn’t required.

During the first few months of lockdown, although it was strange, I was hopeful that when we got through this, we would see change for the better. I saw it as an opportunity to rethink the way we deliver services. As a society, we were experiencing what it was like to be isolated. I thought COVID-19 was going to be a leveller and we could take our experiences and start to resolve the “us” and “them” we have created within the services we provide. We could stop “doing for” and we would gain practical experience from what was happening around us. My hope was there would be change and that we could rebuild services that actually work for the people using them.

The conversations with some of the people I coach have changed and those who have had lots of experience of social isolation have called me asking “are you ok, I’m worried about you?” This has provided me with a support outlet to stay sane in a situation that was alien to me but is a way of life for the individuals we work with.

Unfortunately out of kindness, a slight knee jerk reaction and desire to help, I think that services may have just pushed people even further away, into the realms of “them” and “us.” So for coaches to sit back, remain calm and remain person-led has become more important than ever.

I received a call from a young person I coached last week “I’ve got myself in a mess; I don’t know what to do, I’ve been an idiot, sold all my furniture and now I need to go back to my flat and have nothing. I’ve got loads of bills to sort; you’ve got to help.” She is a lovely young woman and every bit of me wanted to say – don’t worry I will sort it out, but I didn’t. We chatted and I reminded her how much she had achieved since I first met with her, we talked about how she might be able to resolve this problem on her own; yesterday I received a phone call from the same person, and a very excited voice said “Oh I’m so glad to speak to you, I wanted to tell you, I have sorted it all out, I did it all myself. I am so happy.”

Of course, we applaud front-line workers, who have been out delivering key services and fixing issues during these times, for their efforts and bravery.

However, I would also like to applaud all the people who just do nothing – those who show warmth and kindness by listening and responding and remembering that we are just all muddling through this together. I would like to applaud everyone delivering services which are truly led by the people they work with. Most of all, I would like to applaud my colleagues the PTS Coaches who have been frustrated and at times, felt trapped and scared by this themselves, but have never failed to remember why they do what they do. They have trusted that ALL people have skills and abilities, and with the right support, these strengths will manifest themselves to assist them through this pandemic.

So, thank you for responding to the people you work with rather than the crisis.

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The Epidemic of Mass Fixing

By Pat McArdle, CEO of Mayday Trust

The instant that you say ‘a woman with a drug problem’, a ‘man with a mental health problem’ you have failed. You have become part of a systemic problem; you are on a very slippery slope to becoming a problem fixer and are embarking on a journey where you remove power, control, and choice from another human being. The end result for the person is seldom positive, and for a generation, it has created mass dependency upon ‘state fixing’.

The mass expectation is that everything from noisy neighbours, exam stress, misbehaving kids, sadness, unhappiness, everything that we experience as negative in our life, must either be solved by a service, state intervention, or a drug. If you are unwilling to go down this path you are choosing not to help yourself and must live with the consequences.

The biggest disability in our society is the removal of agency, power, choice, and responsibility from people and from communities. In Dublin mothers on an estate said no to drug gangs and services played only a small support role. This worked. In a town in the North East of England people living in estates looked to the police, social services, and schools to save their children. Sadly the evidence shows that services, with their fixing approaches, restricted interventions, rigid timelines, and their lack of understanding of the real problems, will never be as successful as a community response; communities with decent housing, secure employment opportunities, and happy residents.

Stopping young people carrying knives misses the point; how do we stop young people from being afraid?

Quick fixes are rarely effective. What we need are investments directly into people and healthy environments, which facilitate and nurture positive connections and opportunities for people to contribute. This is what it will take in order to stop young people from becoming disenfranchised, vulnerable to criminality and drugs. Young people need to feel they belong and have purpose and connections that are strong and positive in their lives. Connection means we have people to go to during the tough times and purpose gives us the confidence to cope. We become less dependent on ‘fixing’ and more internally and externally able to deal with life, and importantly to understand the wider context and barriers we face.

But if we can individualise and quantify the problem, we can target resources to where they are most needed, right? Wrong.  A woman may have a drug problem because of personal trauma caused by living in poverty, because of a lack of opportunity to have a real purpose, or as a result of surviving homelessness. A multitude of possible reasons – so to start with a drug intervention may work as a temporary sticking plaster for some, but won’t have a long term effect and misses the point. How can solving an individual’s drug problem-solve their poverty or give them hope or motivation that life could be different? The only thing you have done in stopping their drug use is to take away their survival strategy, coping mechanism, only pleasure or release.

Money and resources are being channelled into industrial-sized charities, services and mental health provision to cure the ills of individuals, whilst the problem today is more often structural.

Systems have been established to focus on the individuals’ complex needs with mindsets firmly on finding ever-growing ways to ‘fix’ these multiple needs. The most illustrative, crazy example I read recently was a council who hired Pastors to help people who were being evicted from their homes with ‘their stress’, as the council was selling the land off to developers. People didn’t need the church or help with stress, they needed a good lawyer and a right to remain in their home and community. But while this is an extreme example it demonstrates how our focus is not on the real problem, which is a broken system, but on the symptoms experienced by individuals which appear easier and less costly to fix.

We have evolved cultures and systems that are only designed to solve problems and categories of misery. As a result, people have internalised feelings of blame, hopelessness, and weakness through the continual and persistent failure of ‘fixing’ or failure to offer real-world explanations and solutions for their experiences.

Only when we say to people: it’s perfectly understandable that you will feel anxious, you are living in a scary hostel; everyone makes mistakes and so that doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to your own flat; I would react in the same way if I was told at 45 years old to be in bed by 10 pm; only when we actually walk alongside people, deeply listening and seeing life through their eyes; only then will we learn that it is not their failure, but a system failure. There is no way to fix this broken system, instead, we must embark on the challenge of building a new one.

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A Message from Pat McArdle, CEO Mayday Trust

This week the murder of George Floyd has reminded us of the institutional racism that exists not only in the US but in this Country. The oppression that is experienced by black people all over the world. Many are speaking out but the question raised within Mayday is what follows the pain and outrage

Can we create something now that survives beyond the hashtag?

I have felt distraught, ashamed that I haven’t done enough but I am determined to do more.

I am inspired by the advice of Dr. Muna Abdi:

  • Own your privilege
  • Talk about the uncomfortable
  • Be strategic in your activism
  • Figure out where and how you can do the most good
  • Start where you are
  • Ask yourself what do I want the future to look like
  • Do your research
  • Resist the white savior complex
  • Start with your own circle
  • Be brave

Reference can be found here

Mayday Trust believes that #BlackLivesMatter

Mission Impossible

Pat McArdle CEO of Mayday Trust shares a raw account of navigating COVID-19 as an organisation offering supported accommodation and working alongside people experiencing tough times.

On March 11th Mayday Trust transformed from being an accommodation provider, an advocate for system change, walking alongside people going through tough times discovering system barriers, to JUST keeping people safe from COVID-19.

This required a change of mind-set, an understanding of working to a different purpose, a different environment and new processes – a fundamental shift, whilst staying true to our ethos of being person-led.

It required instant, not a gradual change. We didn’t have a six month plan to introduce a new virtual communication strategy, we didn’t have a focus group to explore the best ways to work with people with ‘complex needs’ online (not that we believe we work with people who have complex needs, but still you get my drift).

Our accountability became about keeping people alive and Coronavirus free. The three day turnaround to fill an empty flat or room and the discussions on managing arrears faded away. People began to refuse accommodation in shared houses, terrified of becoming infected. People were also struggling to pay service charges as limited funds had to be spent anywhere food was available, usually in more expensive shops.

The things that are making this change easier are:

The passionate people that make up Mayday. We were once described as the ‘Mayday Brand’ but Mayday isn’t a brand – it’s better described as a group of passionate individuals who often have the characteristics of a dysfunctional family, but when the heat is on, everyone comes together to go many, many extra miles. Team before self.

But not just the teams, the people living in Mayday accommodation and working alongside PTS Coaches stepped up, many calling and checking in to see how we are. People living in shared housing explaining how they are getting on better as they have the opportunity to get to know each other and individuals keeping an eye on neighbours and telling us how things are going.

We have a leadership team that ‘got it’. In a few short hours we had named it our ‘Mayday Creative Phase’. We needed to, at speed, get teams to understand it wasn’t business as usual. New rules now applied!

Mayday made the decision that teams needed to limit face to face contact, but at the same time needed to increase the level of contact. The Personal Transitions Service (PTS) is led by the individuals we work with and many chose to contact their Coach through social media, gaming, or by text and phone. By providing people with phones, laptops and top up credit, connecting with people virtually wasn’t the task it could have been.

Our strong relationships with a small number of people in Trusts and Foundations who have known us long enough to know we would be ‘doing the right thing’ not just ‘covering our backsides’, offered some financial support to help us through. I honestly don’t think we would be surviving without their support. While emergency funds pour out money for individual essentials and for organisations that are working at scale, although much needed, equally no one is out there listening to what we really need.

Coronavirus has meant our income is down because we have more empty rooms. Security costs are increasing as teams have to tackle people and property being targeted for cuckooing, at a time when police have limited and stretched resources. Contracts due to start have been suspended, leaving income down and fundraising activities at a standstill.

Even with a lot of support on our side, it still isn’t easy

This is an extract from my daily diary (informal log) and gives a flavour of a day in the life of the Mayday Housing Team (incidents are anonymised to protect the identity of the individuals):

Sexual assault of a disabled woman. Team managing this but obviously distressing. Police involved.

Failed attempts to contact female tenant. Police now in attendance and two arrests made from flat. Two males, likely to be cuckooing, taken away by police due to possession of Class A drugs along with a stolen bike. 

Trying to find accommodation for woman due to give birth. Advice from council to either evict to emergency accommodation or source private rented sector. No estate agents open so answers on a postcard. 

Recent non-related COVID-19 deaths. Team managing reporting requirements, internal investigation and compassionate response to families, who are in pain with not being able to be there. Team facing their own distress in losing people they have connected with. 

Urgent need to re-house people from Travel Lodge. Housing Officer concerned that as Mayday has referrals from those going through their most chaotic time, the stretch on resources may be too much with two team members down and managing a high level of incidents while having to produce more and more reports for commissioners. 

Of course, these are only some of the situations that I am aware of from talking to the team and yes generally Mayday sees a lot of activity as we seldom say no to anyone going through a tough time within a very broken system. But the adjective the team used to describe the current situation is ‘relentless’. One team member took 75 phone calls yesterday, statutory services are on skeleton cover and asking the team to maintain contact when they aren’t around. Charity shops aren’t open so those who could move into their own accommodation are finding it hard to buy the basics to do so. The challenges are endless, the work scary, terrifying, physically and emotionally exhausting, stressful and hard.

As CEO, I can tick all the boxes of how we are providing extra support, online counselling, PPE etc. I could and do tell people to stop working so hard (and I know I’m being ignored), I could pay tribute to the great work going on and I certainly do, but in true Mayday way, with honesty and integrity, I can only say it’s a crap time and we need to work together to somehow get through.

(Here’s to a team of nine Mayday Housing staff currently doing the impossible)

Through the Eye of the Storm

Sarah Tully, PTS Manager at Cherrytree shares a personal account of her own tough time, the realisation of what is really needed from people, organisations and the system during these times.

So, the last few weeks of Coronavirus has been one long.. I hesitate to say rollercoaster ride, because that is actually fun. No, it’s been one long spiralling ball of loss, plummeting down a depreciating hillside.

First it was the small inconveniences. No pasta, or at least only yucky wholemeal pasta! The possibility of no loo roll – I warned my kids we might have to cut up newspaper like in the “olden days,” but the need never really materialised. Then it was “don’t mingle.”  I was a bit reticent to give up my right to gather, after all it’s my human right isn’t it?

At that stage it was still almost fun, novel even.  A group of us went into the woods with some bevvies to celebrate my daughter’s birthday- yeah look at us being resourceful but still managing to enjoy ourselves!

And at work it became how to navigate the changing unknown and create policies to make us feel in control.

In the background we had the uncomfortable facts coming from China – that’s a long way away.  Italy is a bit closer, but maybe it’s just because they’ve managed it wrong.

Then my dream family holiday got cancelled and I grieved that. Three weeks in Sri Lanka; a special time for my family to get together. I’d been planning it for the best part of a year.  I was devastated.  This was more than inconvenient.

And then the schools shut – WTF!

And then my dad got ill.

He wouldn’t go to hospital and the paramedics wouldn’t take him.  I tried to stay away for fear of bringing him an unwelcome present, but last Friday it became too much to bear listening to his and his wife’s distress, so I pegged it down the motorway to London to find him close to death in his bed.

“I don’t feel well enough to go to hospital,” his words barely audible.

“Dad, you’re not supposed to feel well when you go to hospital.  Don’t worry I’ll stay with you dad,” I reassured him.

I went with him in the ambulance kitted up like anonymous cybermen.  He was sat up on the trolley, but I had to hold onto him on the bends for fear of him falling off, he was so frail.

When we got to the hospital we waited in a queue.  It was like a scene from the Handmaid’s tale.  Men with walkie talkies in charge of our liberty.  And then came the news that I wasn’t allowed in.

I haven’t seen him since and that was Friday and it’s Monday now.  The only news we’ve had was yesterday on the 100th call we made someone answered and clumsily told us that dad had Coronavirus and is on oxygen.

We wept for him and for what it means for us.

The hardest part is thinking of him on his own.

So, we visualise him comfortable and warm and getting the help that he needs.  That’s all we have.

I find myself waiting to hear of my father’s lonely death.  I am worried my step- mother will also fall ill, or me.  I can’t say I’m not afraid.

I am confined to this small flat, sleeping on the sofa without my things, without my food and without my children and family.  And I can’t go home.

I am on my knees.

I could say that this is a living nightmare and it is, but that wouldn’t be the whole picture.

In between the grief and worry I have got to know my step mum better…like really better. We’ve laughed a lot and I’ve had the opportunity to wait on her for a change.  Her having looked after my dad these last few years and her mum before that.  I’ve discovered Wanstead flats where the blossom’s out.  I’ve made two new friends, downstairs-virtually- who have offered to get us things and an amazing ex-military male nurse who has fully taken this on, organising rotas etc.

What I thought I needed to get through this was to close my front door and baton down the hatches and hope for the best.

I thought I just needed it to all be over, quickly, so I could have my friends round and get drunk again.  I thought I needed a three week holiday on a tropical island to get close to my family – It would still be nice, but this has made us closer, if not physically.  Even my 15-year-old has been texting me and he rang me to ask about his pocket money –  I think he’s grieving his old life!

My friends and family have been fantastic.  Really empathetic and sympathetic and there for me.

But through all of this these are the things that I want and from people and systems:

  • For someone to hear me say I’m not ok
  • For someone to believe me when I say I am ok
  • Information
  • For people to send me funny stories/videos
  • To hear about other people’s stories
  • For people not to feel so sorry for me they can’t tell me about them
  • To ask me what I need
  • To be real
  • Dark humour, especially about death
  • Those texts which say you are amazing/ you are strong/ you can do it
  • For people not to transfer their own grief onto me
  • Expertise and connection from professionals
  • Practical help
  • Not having to keep repeating my story
  • Exercise
  • Nature
  • Activity
  • Counting my blessings
  • Acknowledging that there are people worse off around the globe e.g. In Syria
  • For people to not need “updating,” if I don’t want to
  • If I break down, to not think that’s the only way I am
  • For me to help others too
  • Netflix
  • Love
  • Music

Yesterday I felt shite.  Really shite.

Today my new London neighbour has bought me an avocado (I know, poncy under the circumstances but this reminds me of my old life).

For now I have chosen to reframe my situation.  I am on a reading and writing retreat and a holiday from the daily load of washing my family produces.  My dad has gone away to the best place possible for the best treatment in the world to give him the best possible chance.

Reflecting on what I need during this time has reinforced how important it is for us, as individuals and organisations working alongside people experiencing tough times, to be person-led, to listen, to be real and do our best to provide the support that a person needs, rather than the support the system predicts is needed.

(Ring any bells PTS?)

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The Impact of COVID-19 – The New Normal

Sarah Tully, PTS Manager at Innovation Partner Cherrytree Support Services, looks at the impact of COVID-19, broken systems and the new restrictions on how we live our lives – but is this ‘new’ for everyone?

We’re all struggling with the impact of COVID-19, but don’t underestimate the people we are working with..

My dream holiday’s cancelled, my friend’s son’s new wife from USA can’t get a visa, the family down the road have got the virus – everyone has a personal story, everyone had a few facts to fling about in the last halcyon minutes of face to face communication.

Everyone feels vulnerable, everyone is vulnerable, this virus transcends class, race, borders, reason even. Every slight cough leaves everyone on tenterhooks including the cougher- have they got it? have I got it?

And yes, sure there are some people more vulnerable than others. The elderly and people with underlying health issues are two obvious categories. People living on their own are at the mercy of neighbours, friends and family if they get ill.

Never has the concept of home been so pertinent with the latest direction coming from Central Government to “stay at home,” and for people experiencing homelessness or people going through tough times this has huge implications. If they are on the street or in a hostel, they are compromised by the probability of not being able to self- isolate. There are a whole list of potential inequalities and disadvantages.

And for this reason, we have made adjustments to Cherrytree Personal Transitions Service (PTS). The PTS Coaches have made themselves more available by telephone and video link. They have tried to check in with everyone we’ve ever worked with. We have decided that if one of the young people gets ill and needs supplies in the name of support and prevention, we will deliver a bag of shopping compliments of CherrytreePTS.

But make no mistake it is not the people we work with who are panicking. They are not making bizarre knee-jerk decisions or fretting about their lives going to hell in a hand cart because systems are not working for them. They have a huge long resume of systems not working for them. So, they can only go shopping once a week- what’s new? On sanctions you can go weeks with no money to go to the supermarket.

Whilst we lament our pub gatherings with friends, our career saving childcare, our favourite artisan bread or latte made with oat milk, the people we work with are getting on with it in a way they have always had to.

So, a Coach had a call from someone she worked with. She has two small children and one on the way. She chatted and mentioned that she had no nappies. No nappies! Exclaimed the Coach immediately donning her cape and going into rescue mode in a way that is understandable, kind and familiar to us all in the “caring” sector. Within a day the young women had used her resources and connections to source four packs of nappies herself. These people are survivors. They are used to living in a social state of inequality and deprivation.

Another coach reported a sense of resigned calm from the people she works with. There is something vaguely satisfying that this shit is happening to everyone, equally!

So, I am not saying the people we work with are not vulnerable, but it is still necessary, vital even that you don’t diminish their power by going into unnecessary rescue mode. We can learn from people who have or are going through tough times about resilience, resourcefulness and patience – because let’s face it they are the experts.

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