As the pandemic has changed how we all work, we have decided to ask a few of our member organisations how they adapted in order to continue to provide vital services to people of Norfolk. The videos not only provide information on available services in Norfolk but also help to share good practice.
MAP runs a young person’s drop-in for advice on various issues including housing benefit, sexual health, employment, education and training – they are happy to signpost to other services if an issue is outside their remit. Counselling is provided from 11 to 18 but MAP acknowledge that young people still need advice while transitioning into adult life, whereas many services stop suddenly when the service user reaches 18, so they provide advice up to the age of 25.
During lockdown, when it was no longer safe to provide a face-to-face service, the advice team worked together to quickly set up a home-working system using a Freephone number, to ensure the service was accessible to all young people in Norfolk. They also set up an email service for those uncomfortable with phoning and, impressively, they were providing phone and email advice after four days. Once that challenge had been navigated, the advice team had to familiarise themselves with the new challenges caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and they worked closely as a team to research and share information, including government guidance regarding lockdown.
At first a lot of queries were received about furlough: what did it mean, should people accept it, should they look for other work, would they be made redundant? A week later, a lot of housing enquiries were received as family relationships became strained and people needed to leave home. With the private rental market effectively closed down, advisors used government guidance around how no one should be rough sleeping during the COVID-19 outbreak and how local connection rules had been relaxed, and were able to make referrals to get young people immediate help to keep them off the streets and help avoid spread of COVID-19.
Throughout COVID-19, foodbank referrals and benefits advice have been a constant, due to people being furloughed or losing work, and being unable to navigate universal credit. Enquiries about PIP and ESA have also been carried out over the phone, which has been challenging but has worked well. A lot of mental health enquiries were also received. This had been a struggle before lockdown with funding cuts etc. but the stresses of lockdown increased this, and where previously people could visit friends and family for support, this was no longer possible.
The team had to learn a lot very quickly about working from home, providing advice by telephone and email, as well as finding out what other services are doing during lockdown. However, with everyone in the same situation, organisations have been pulling together and sharing good practice, and the good relationships built through this will hopefully continue after COVID. They are very happy to hear from other organisations, to discuss coping in lockdown and share good practice.
1:30 to 5:30 Monday-Friday outside COVID
10:30-5:30 during lockdown for phone and email advice
Phone: 0800 0744454
Rupert and Charlie are senior engagement workers for YMCA Norfolk, looking after different geographic areas. Normally they provide sports, support services, advice and also work with the police. YMCA do a lot of partnership working including heading up the Youth West Partnership, providing open-access youth clubs, and working with Active Norfolk and the Garage, Norwich.
Normally Rupert and Charlie travel around Norfolk, meeting young people in youth clubs etc. face-to-face. They had plans in place months in advance and were getting good attendance at youth provisions, but of course all this changed when lockdown was announced.
Most of March was ‘putting out fires’ says Charlie, because needs were still there but there was no platform to support them. They put a plan together within a day and started building it within a week. By April they were able to move forward with the platform, rather than just firefighting.
Initially they upped their social media activity, starting with short motivational videos. They also provide a weekly challenge for young people, and online gaming sessions, which can be accessed through Twitch (a live streaming platform for gamers). Then they started the Friday Feelings Podcast, to ‘jargon bust’ COVID-19. A lot of information coming out on social media wasn’t accurate, and young people were feeling anxious, so the fully-interactive podcast every Friday was designed to tackle this. They now run a Wednesday update as well, which has had good feedback from young people.
Soon they had many things going on, on disparate platforms, but realised they weren’t linked together so it wasn’t easy for young people to see everything that was available. They then developed The YMCA Norfolk Youth Suite website (www.ymcanorfolkyouthsuite.org) and pulled all the material together there. Membership is free and young people and professionals can access all the content. They have put up posters letting people know it’s there in newsagents around Norfolk.
Safeguarding has been a big issue, as always, but safeguarding face-to-face is very different from safeguarding digitally. To protect young people, the Norfolk Youth Suite website has no interaction, but social media needs to be monitored, so all interactions with one staff member are monitored by another.
They’ve had over 900 people on the platforms and 1,300 individual unique engagements, and Rupert’s hope is that they have provided a platform that will allow young people to look back on their life in lockdown and think fondly of it; in a time of crisis they’ll remember there were still people that cared and fun to be had.