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    I cannot write about Llamau’s experience without expressing deep gratitude
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Adapting, nurturing and giving thanks: Llamau's response to the pandemic

Sam Austin, Llamau's Deputy CEO, writes about the organisation's response to working with the people they support through the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

An oft-repeated mantra at Llamau is ‘it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’ And, oh boy, have we all had to change, and change quickly, this year!

One of Llamau’s strengths, and indeed a strength for much of the sector, has always been our adaptability. We are not the ocean liner turning, we can often be far more agile.

Thankfully, we had started planning the impact of coronavirus before lockdown. This meant that we already had PPE on order – although the delivery timescales were horrendous even then. We had also set up our Coronavirus Response team and reassigned tasks, on top of day jobs, to many colleagues. Despite this planning, sending people home and closing down offices felt hugely emotional.

Many times during lockdown we’ve had some real ‘thank goodness’ moments. These have included: "thank goodness we invested in an electronic case management system" - so support colleagues can easily work from home; "thank goodness we are on Office 365" - so MS Teams kept us connected immediately; "thank goodness we have invested in becoming a psychologically informed organisation" – our PIE principles and practice along with our psychology team have been invaluable.

At the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we committed to the following priorities: to keep our services going, to promote our prevention and early intervention services and to support the wellbeing of colleagues and those we are so privileged to support.

There is not one part of Llamau who failed to step up to the challenge, from our HR, Finance, maintenance, Health and Safety, training, fundraising, comms, admin and of course our amazing support teams. I cannot write about Llamau’s experience without expressing deep gratitude and thanks to those project based colleagues who kept on keeping on, day and night to keep the women and young people in our 24hr projects safe, supported, engaged and entertained.

To do this, as so many have across our sector, whilst also worrying about their own health and that of family and friends has to be acknowledged, commended and applauded (which I and others did every Thursday on my doorstep). Other support colleagues, family mediators, advice workers and tutors adapted to new ways of working from home. Getting to grips with juggling technology and dodgy WiFi connections with caring for children or other relatives.

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In the couple of weeks before lockdown one team moved offices and two new projects opened. In the first half of lockdown we opened three, yes, three new projects! Some of the teams had not even met each other, yet they created a supportive and nurturing home for young people who had none and were scared.

For some of the people we support, they found the additional nurture and support beneficial, something they had not experienced previously, and relished the more frequent communal meals and activities. But for many, lockdown has been, and still is, a re-traumatising experience, bringing flashbacks and memories from a far more difficult time in their lives. We have seen a huge decline in the wellbeing and mental health of people we are supporting and have struggled to access specialist support for those that need it. 

Our focus on wellbeing has definitely helped both colleagues and the people we support. Throughout this period, we have continually told colleagues it’s ok not to be ok and we’ve all opened up about our own ups and downs. We set up a confidential wellbeing line, run by our psychologists, who were able to listen and provide support to those who were struggling, felt overwhelmed and were scared or worried. One colleague said having the wellbeing line was “like owning a hot water bottle, you know the comfort is a boiling kettle away.”

Supporting colleagues has of course also helped the people we support. The first ‘rule’ of being PIE is that we need to be in the right space ourselves to support others. Helping young people, women and children to abide by lockdown regulations has been no easy feat of course, but support colleagues have shown innovation, imagination and creativity, supported by our brilliant Involvement and Engagement team, fabulous donations and amazing volunteers, to create a range of wellbeing support, activities, competitions, sports and hobbies.

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In addition, we’ve had record numbers engaged in Agored Cymru awards in projects as well as over 70% engagement from our remote learners, higher than most schools. Our psychology line has allowed colleagues to contact our psychologists for group reflective practice and formulations, which has significantly helped support those we support who are in the most distress.

It’s also been really important for us to know what our colleagues and those we support think about the actions we’ve taken and what we need to keep hold of, going forward. Reassuringly, colleague satisfaction rate in all areas has been at 97% or higher! Our Feelgood Friday emails and fortnightly CEO videos, along with all our other changes, have helped make our ethos and culture stronger than ever and however far apart we have been physically we have not been socially distant. Our #teamLlamau family is still strong, determined and passionate. Equally our survey responses from the people we support have been overwhelming positive and it has been humbling to read their responses. "Wicked" and "tremendous" sums up most them!

So as lockdown slowly eases we are continuing with our consultations on forward plans, keeping hold of what’s worked, acting on our learning and continuing to prioritise service delivery and everyone’s wellbeing.

At Easter, in the height of lockdown, someone we supported 10 years ago sent gifts and a letter to each of the young people now living where he used to, writing; “I have walked away from my experiences with some memories I will cherish forever…. The support never ended. I’m 28 now and still the office know who I am 10 years later! I’ve always gone to them at times of struggle – more so a few years back, they are all great people! – if when you leave, they are always there for you too.”

The late, great Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

For me, this letter brought a chink of brightness at a very dark time across the country and really emphasised to me that every day my amazing colleagues help people remember what we said, remember what we did and most importantly remember how we made them feel.

Get in touch if you'd like to tell your lockdown story, or talk or write about anything else from the world of housing and support in Wales for the Cymorth Cymru blog.

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© Cymorth Cymru 2020
Company Registration No: 5093332
Charity No: 1116774