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    One the biggest things we have learnt is the need to celebrate our achievements. Kerry Rowlands, Cadwyn Housing Association
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Q&A with Kerry Rowlands, Cadwyn Housing Association

As part of a series of blog posts in which our members talk to us about how the housing and support sector in Wales has responded to the pandemic and the lockdown, we hear from Kerry Rowlands, Assistant Head of Supported Housing with Cadwyn Housing Association.

Cymorth Cymru: Please introduce your organisation/service briefly - where are you, who are you working with, how many of there are you and what services do you normally run?

Cadwyn Housing Association run two supported housing projects based in Cardiff. Hafan is a 9-bed semi-independent project for young parents under 25 with children under 5 years old. Nightingale House is a 24/7 project with 26 bedrooms for families experiencing homelessness. Both projects are psychologically informed environments and we support residents and staff in a trauma informed way.

How did the arrival of lockdown in mid-March look on the ground to you? Tell us about your experience of that time.

As an organisation we had been planning for the possibility of lockdown measures being introduced for several weeks. However, we were very quickly thrown in at the deep end as the day before the measures were announced we had two separate residents in Nightingale House displaying Covid Symptoms. Both residents had two young children living with them also.  

It was very difficult from a practical and wellbeing point of view to try to enforce a Mum and two toddlers to stay in one bedroom for 14 days. We were acutely aware of the impact this was likely to have on their wellbeing. We were quickly able to make up activity packs for the two families which had board games, colouring books, arts and craft materials etc. Staff also continued to run activities to these children via facetime. We also ensured both families had enough food, prepared meals for them and had regularly phone contact to ensure they were ok.  A lot of this was outside our remit but we were happy to offer the additional support until alternative solutions were found.

Initially, I think it’s fair to say we were all in quite an anxious state about how to manage symptomatic residents as well as ensuring all other residents and staff were kept safe. There was definitely a fear amongst us all of the unknown, the potential of residents and staff getting seriously ill and how quickly it may spread.

We also had to make a number of practical changes to the hostel environment. We had to re-design our office and garden space and clearly mark out 2 metres distance to keep to the guidelines. We had to bring in changes to ensure residents weren’t using facilities such as laundry and communal kitchens at the same time.  

When lockdown measures were introduced, we had a number of staff who were displaying symptoms and a number of staff who had to shield for health reasons. As a result, in the first 3 weeks of lockdown only 38% of the team were available. This resulted in a huge amount of pressure being put on the team to keep the service at Nightingale House running 24/7. It was testimony to their dedication and commitment that the service was able to keep open.

Given the risks of the possibility of Covid spreading easily in hostel settings, within the first two weeks of lockdown, Cardiff Council were able to move 12 families out of Nightingale House into their own accommodation. We usually have approx. 3 move outs a month so this was a massive increase.  All of these move outs were to unfurnished properties so support workers had to try to ensure we could access some essential items for move outs which brought about challenges due to shops being closed/limited items available/delays in delivery times etc.

In addition, support workers usually provide 4 weeks resettlement support when a resident moves out. This usually involves helping the family register at a new GP, school, setting up bills etc. Support workers also provide a lot of emotional support when someone moves out of the hostel as it can be an isolating process. However, the team had to do this remotely via phone or video calls.

How has the pandemic and the lockdown affected your work?

The biggest change we have experienced is a change in our client group. At Nightingale House, before Covid, we primarily only worked with families experiencing homelessness. However, given the brilliant efforts to ensure no-one is sleeping rough during the pandemic we have been accepting referrals for single people and young people. Since lockdown we have supported 15 young and single people. This has brought its own challenges.

Some of the single residents have a long history of homelessness with the accompanying support issues of substance use and mental health. Given that we are currently working on a reduced staffing rota, this has meant we haven’t always been able to provide the intensive support needed. In addition, during this period we have had an increase in residents fleeing domestic abuse. We have also had 10 families who have had Children’s services involvement. We have had to balance the needs of families already living in Nightingale House alongside the new residents who have moved in during lockdown and ensure that the place is a safe home for all.  We have learned quickly and continue to make great progress on this and are seeing much better relationships between all residents.

Nightingale House has continued to remain open 24/7 throughout the pandemic. We have reduced to a skeleton staff rota with 2 members of staff in the project at any one time with the remainder of the team working from home. We were able to secure funding from the Welsh Gov Emergency Pandemic Fund to secure items such as tablets for the residents to help them stay connected during lockdown. This has been really beneficial so the team can continue supporting residents even while not on the premises. Due to the introduction of remote working we have had to adapt nearly everything we do.

How has the situation affected the people who use your services?

For residents the biggest impact has been on their relationships with staff and each other. We pride ourselves on having excellent relationships with residents and our ability to build a sense of community in our projects. We know that relationships with staff are really important to our residents (and vice versa). Residents tell us that, sometimes, their relationship with staff is the only positive relationship they have in their lives. We know all our residents will have experienced, or currently experiencing, trauma and adversity and the importance connections and relationships can have to help build resilience and overcome this.

Some residents initially struggled with the fact support workers aren’t always available in the traditional sense. In addition, residents form really positive relationships with each other. We are aware of how beneficial this can be for residents so we wanted to try to ensure the opportunities to continue building relationships are still there.

Initially residents were concerned that ‘social’ distancing meant they could not leave their rooms. We have done a lot of work with residents alongside Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership to look at what residents need to keep to the guidelines, what strengths they have and what is driving the behaviour of residents not keeping to guidelines. We have tried to reframe the language to ‘safe’ and ‘physical’ distancing so residents still have the opportunity to come together safely.

Tell us about any positive or inspiring stories from your work during this time, if any.

I think the resilience of our residents has been incredible. Like all of us they have struggled at times during the pandemic, but I think they have coped really well given they don’t have access to spaces a lot of us may take for granted. As a team we are really proud of how engaged residents have been and their willingness to help staff to make the projects as homely as possible during the pandemic.

Before Covid-9, we ran a lot of activities within the projects especially for the kids. We have continued doing this whilst adapting activities to ensure they are in line with guidelines. We have found that residents are really engaged in these activities and have been really keen to take a lead in arranging and running them. The kids have also created some fantastic artwork for the hostel alongside sending birthday cards to elderly members of the community and sending letters to a neighbouring care home. We’ve also created Tiktok and house party accounts so residents and staff can still engage in the more fun side of quizzes and challenges. Our activity attendance has increased with some activities having 95% of residents taking part.  This has really helped to ensure residents aren’t bored during lockdown whilst helping to build relationships.

What have you learnt?

The pandemic has definitely been the most stressful thing most of us in supported housing have experienced in our working careers. Whilst there have been numerous challenges and a rapidly changing environment, we also have had the opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves, the residents and our service.

We are now working in a way we had not considered before. The introduction of technology has meant we can offer a range of ways in which residents can be supported. Some residents have been able to have virtual viewings of properties which we hadn’t considered before. In addition, those of us with caring responsibilities have been able to work from home. We would like to continue offering greater flexibility for home working when lockdown measures ease. The team all work different shifts including weekends and nights which means we don’t have one time when all members of the team are on shift. The use of video calls has meant we have been able to get everyone on a call at one time which we hadn’t considered doing before.

One the biggest things we have learnt is the need to celebrate our achievements. I think its human nature to focus on the negatives at times. We have been doing work as a team to help us all reframe our thoughts and reflect on our successes alongside learning from what we could have done differently.

What do you think the future will look like for your organisation, over the coming weeks and months?

Over the immediate next few weeks we are looking at how the introduction of track, trace, protect may impact on residents and staff. We are continuing to work on the best way to ensure the service continues running at a high standard whilst ensuring everyone is kept safe.

Staff wellbeing has been a focus for the organisation throughout the pandemic and this will continue to be a priority. In supported housing we know that we all need to be in the right place with our own wellbeing in order to support residents. We have continued with our reflective practice throughout and this will remain an important part of our ongoing response.

We anticipate, as lockdown measures are relaxed, we will see an increase in families presenting as homeless therefore we anticipate that we will see an increased number of families referred to our projects.

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