Video update and blog from Together Chief Executive Linda Bryant

Our Chief Executive Linda Bryant shares a video update and a blog on her experience of Covid-19, lock down and how our teams are continuing to support the people who use our services.

A lot has happened since Covid-19 became a daily feature of our lives.

Words like lockdown, self-isolating and social distancing (an arm and a broom – who thought of that?) are common in our conversations.

We now connect with each other through screens; adhering to a newly accepted and necessary etiquette at work and at home. Interrupting and talking over each other on conference calls or video conferences and wondering why nobody is responding to anything we say until realising that the mute button is still on.

Normal feelings like anxiety and fear can be experienced with greater intensity and in unexpected situations. When there is a knock on the door, we now peer suspiciously around the curtain to see a package abandoned on the doorstep. A previously everyday activity for our teams in Together like travelling to the service they work in now induces concern and we’re all worried about what the day will bring.

These are extraordinary times we are living in and I know how differently we are all being affected.

Since I wrote my last blog to all Together staff and volunteers three weeks ago, I’ve had good days and less good days which I’m sure is the same for many of us. Easter was difficult and strange – as a catholic, it is an important time of year for me. Whilst the Pope was on Youtube and I watched the 1973 version of Jesus Christ Superstar again (it’s still fabulous), I deeply missed the peace and tranquillity of being in a church with others and saying mass. I was also due to get hitched to Teresa, my partner of 24 years (so it’s taken a bit of time for us to get around to it). The lockdown was announced the evening before and that was the end of that. We exchanged rings in front of the dogs. Not sure of the legality of that, even under the current circumstances.

On a daily basis we are bombarded with news and an overwhelming amount of information both from here in the UK and from across the world. Much of that is upsetting and difficult to comprehend and it is with great sadness that I have been reading of the vulnerable older people dying in care homes as a result of Covid-19. Thankfully we are not currently experiencing anything like that in our accommodation services within Together. Our staff and service users alike continue to follow advice from the NHS and Government and we’re taking precautions and making plans in case that does happen. We can empathise, though, with the staff and residents in those care homes as they come to terms with the loss of people who they may have known and cared for over many years.

Government policy, legislation and guidance has also been swiftly changing over the last few weeks, sometimes on a daily basis. Our Senior Leadership Team at Together have been closely monitoring the situation. By keeping ourselves updated on key, critical areas we can ensure we are ready to implement changes and be prepared for any impact on our organisation, our workforce or the people who use our services. This could be around access to and use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), highlighting the benefits available to our employees as key workers or analysing changes to legislation like the Mental Health Act or the Social Care Act. We recognise that those legislative changes are temporary and have been made for pragmatic reasons to enable people to receive care and treatment when they need it. At the same time though, some very important safeguards for service users have been removed. We will closely monitor how the changes may impact on the people we work alongside.

I have also been talking on a weekly basis with CEOs of other voluntary sector organisations within the health and social care sector. We experience many common challenges but the biggest challenge for many charitable organisations is their immediate financial viability. Organisations that are particularly reliant on fundraising have seen their incomes drop overnight and that has directly impacted their ability to continue to serve their communities. At Together, we deliver the majority of our services through public funded contracts and, as a result, our income has stayed the same. We are also in direct and regular contact with the commissioners we work with so that we can provide the very best care and support we can in these exceptional times.

Together, and the work that we do, plays an even more critical role in our civil society at a time of crisis, providing services that people want and need. This is why I have also felt it important that we actively support campaigns to ensure the sustainability of the charity sector and that the voice of vulnerable people within our communities is heard and listened to. We have joined with others in calls for additional government funding for charities as well as focusing on specific vulnerable groups in our communities, including women at risk of domestic violence.

We cannot be sure what lies ahead for us, but it is likely that the road will be rocky and there will be difficult times in the face of a global recession. I am confident though that Together will come through this stronger. I have witnessed so much in Together that has kept me smiling and optimistic in the brilliant ways people are working together across the organisation and in partnership with others. We are being creative and resilient, we are sharing ideas with each other and we are learning from trying new things (I have just about got the hang of Microsoft Teams). We are also talking about our own mental health and emotional wellbeing and being encouraging and supportive of colleagues.

But most importantly, as I knew all of our staff would, we are never giving up on the people we work alongside. They need to be involved now more than ever in leading their own care and support, in having a voice about the things that impact their lives and ensuring they are supported to make the choices that are important to them.  Tanya, a service user in Norfolk, recently shared her experience of being supported by our peer support service and gave us permission to share this publicly. For me she has described beautifully all that makes me so proud of this organisation:

“Together is the invisible hands holding my sanity in place for which I have never been more grateful. Clare, Elona and Ethena turn thunder into sunshine and darkness into light. They are literally saving my life at a time when I feel like falling to pieces and giving up. I am deeply touched and overwhelmed at the length of their kindness, thoughtfulness, understanding and compassion through such a difficult time and without Together I know for certain I would not be here.”

I hope that Tanya’s words bring a little bit of light and sunshine into your lives and I enclose her full note below.

Linda Bryant
Chief Executive
Together for Mental Wellbeing