"This situation has given us a huge opportunity to look at how we deliver services"

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Home Works Support Worker

I want to provide clients with the opportunity to be able to talk and to be really heard.

I’m a Home Works Floating Support Officer in Hastings and St Leonards. I’ve been in the role for 15 months and I really love it.

Home Works is a housing support service which helps people in East Sussex find and keep safe and affordable accommodation. 

I love being able to support and guide and listen to clients who are having a tough time so they can alter their current circumstances. There’s a quality of support we can give them that they’ve never had before. I like to think my work has an impact in a holistic way.

Since the pandemic, the majority of my work is telephone support. I’m used to doing assessments face-to-face so when I make that first call it’s really important to give time to establish a relationship so they feel comfortable and safe. For a lot of clients, being on the phone to a stranger and opening up about their life can be extremely daunting.

Sometimes the assessment will take longer and take place over two calls. I don’t want to hurry the call. I also get as much information from the Home Works Gateway referral before the telephone session so the client doesn’t have to start their story from scratch again and repeat everything to me.

At Home Works we have started to see clients face-to-face again if the visit is essential and we discuss it with our manager first. An example might be that a client has been evicted from their property and they don’t have a mobile or access to a landline.

I did my first face-to-face meeting a few weeks ago with a client who has a brain injury and was viewing a housing association property. We followed the guidelines and met outside while wearing masks. A representative from the housing association also wore a mask. The client went in to view the flat on his own whilst I stayed outside.

It was really strange after such a long time of telephone support! The weird thing about working remotely is I rarely get to see someone’s face! I’ve been working with someone for six months and I have no idea what they look like - I could be wandering past them in the street and have no idea! It’s kind of a beautiful thing that you can have this very intimate connection with your client and never see them.

Some of my clients are willing to interact by video call and I would like to do more of these because it can help to build rapport when we see each other’s faces.

A lot of our clients have a higher level of anxiety as a result of the coronavirus. Like many people, they don’t know what’s happening. I’ve referred an awful lot to our Wellbeing Centres for support around their mental health.

Accessing the DWP has been really difficult and the decision making around Universal Credit applications is taking longer with delays. The pandemic restrictions have impacted clients’ access to finances, mental health services, and secure accommodation.

For others, the lockdown has been positive. One client who was due to be evicted was given an extra two or three months to figure out what to do and then take action due to delays. Another had suspected Covid-19, and because he was so ill - he lost his sense of taste and smell and felt wretched, he got clean from smoking and taking diazepam. He’s now only taking anti-depression medication. That’s been such a brilliant thing.

At Home Works we are able to meet clients on a level where they’ve never really been met before. They might have a fear around statutory and non-statutory services and it’s really good for them to know we are not judging them and that we’re here to find out the best way to support them.

It’s important to speak from my own humanity to another’s and say, “I really do care about what happens to you and want to make meaningful work with you so your life improves.” I want to provide clients with the opportunity to be able to talk and to be really heard. I want to acknowledge that what they feel is valid.

During times of high anxiety, it’s important to acknowledge, validate, and give a client time and space. I can’t emphasise enough how important that is especially at the moment.

Since the first lockdown, I’ve been working from home. I’ve had to become more aware of my wellbeing. Back then, I was at home with my children and husband and that was really challenging. I wasn’t having any breaks and I wasn’t going outside.

My kids are back at school now which has been helpful. I’m looking to establish a designated place to work at home because I tend to hot desk around the house. It’s also important for me to pack things away and put work aside at the end of the day.

There are practical issues that have added an extra level of difficulty, like going to a council office, getting forms, making photocopies. I’m adapting constantly to the circumstances and making it work. Before the recent lockdown, one morning I had to drop off a form at someone’s door and go to the post office. Afterwards, I went to a café to work there like I used to. It was so lovely. I thought, “I should probably do this once in a while.”

One of the things that appealed to me about this job was working in the community. That’s one aspect of my job I really miss – being out and about. I don’t like to be behind a computer all day. That’s something I’ve had to adapt to but I accept it won’t always be like this.

But I am discovering there are benefits. Adapting how we work has meant we can be more efficient and make a difference to our clients and their support outcomes. I can make better use of my time cos I’m not driving somewhere. And I have experienced a better connection with partner agencies like housing officers and social workers - I feel like I’m working in much more of a team with them than ever before.

I have coffee with Southdown’s Chief Executive every six to twelve weeks where he asks me about what it’s like to work on the frontline and I ask him questions and propose ideas. It’s been great. He really makes himself available.

I do miss the banter in the office but one of my colleagues arranges regular Zoom meetings where we come together. We also have a Whatsapp group I sometimes dip into which is very playful. I sometimes call colleagues to see how they are and we’ve also been having productive conversations around clients and ways to make things better for them.

This time has been a great opportunity to reflect on our own challenges and bring that reflection to our work with clients. It is a tricky time for everybody at the moment but I always think that where there’s a challenge there’s an awful lot of ways to grow and expand ourselves. This situation has given us a huge opportunity to look at how we deliver services and the technologies we use.

 

Home Works is our housing support service in East Sussex. It provides focused support to people aged 16 to 59 years. Clients may be single people, couples or families who are at risk of losing their home, have no permanent home or need help to live independently.

To protect the safety of our clients and staff, our teams primarily support clients by telephone, email, messaging and other online means. Where face-to-face support is absolutely essential and in agreement with managers, staff will endeavour to provide this, whilst following stringent social distancing and infection control measures.