Demonstrating how locking down can free up space for new ideas.
It’s no secret that the effects of Covid-19 have posed an enormous challenge for the voluntary sector, not just in terms of its continued survival, but also in how the needs of service users can continue to be met under lockdown.
For organisations running projects through the Active Inclusion Fund, which is managed by WCVA and supported by the European Social Fund through Welsh Government, the task might seem daunting when you consider the wide ranging and often complex needs of participants, but Innovate Trust show that it can be done.
Prior to lockdown, their AIF project aimed to provide a range of activities, training and support for disabled people to enable them to gain skills and work experience for employment. Even with lockdown restrictions in place, this has remained the goal, though this obviously required some adjustments to be successful.
Walking before you can Zoom
Wellbeing was the top priority; before they could even think about settling into a new routine, they had to ensure participants were coping as best they could with the drastic life changes everyone was now facing. They’ve run wellbeing sessions online over video messaging services like Zoom; doing things like teaching participants to use worry jars, where you write down your worries and put them in your ‘worry jar’ to keep them safe.
They’ve also learned how to make comfort boxes, which, as the name suggests, are boxes in which participants can place the things they find comforting. One, Brett, showed his, containing some glowsticks and a tablet installed with some games he enjoyed. It’s an approach that seeks to tailor learning and coping strategies to people’s specific needs, working with participants and their carers. They also plan to run classes on hygiene and how to socially distance effectively, helping make sure their participants stay safe, and of course, it wouldn’t be lockdown without some online exercise classes as well.
Using digital to gain Insight
The bespoke approach doesn’t just extend to online courses though – Innovate Trust have taken the unusual step of designing their own unique social media platform, Insight. Designed as a safe online space for participants to interact and socialise with each other, it’s let everyone keep in touch while minimising the risk of the more unsavoury elements other platforms might face.
They’ve made the digital approach work for people of all ages. Jennifer is in her 70s, but has been enjoying the activities Innovate Trust have been thinking up for her. While she still misses the bingo sessions she’d enjoy when she could still visit their premises, she’s been relishing the opportunity to keep busy while in lockdown – ‘I am happy, you know’ she said ‘doing things and that, trying to do the things that Arwen (at Innovate) wants me to do. I get by. She is good, but they all are.’
Alex is at the other end of the birthday calendar but gets a similar level of enjoyment out of it. A keen gamer, he’s been taking part in gaming groups over Zoom with other participants. Emma at Innovate had been speaking with his mum, who’d voiced concerns that the large amount of downtime lockdown created.
Emma explained ‘with lockdown, there’s no reason not to spend hours gaming, but you just end up even more isolated because you’re on your own. I thought “wouldn’t it be good to at least have a social group that talks about their interests” – it’s important to have a platform for shared interests, because that’s how you make friends.’
Before lockdown, Alex was a regular volunteer at Cardiff Museum – he got a lot out of being able to help people with questions about the exhibits, especially when the Museum was hosting the Dippy the Dinosaur exhibit. He has to make do with dinosaur documentaries now instead, but still hopes to one day work as a museum guide full time.
He’s also been helped to find new avenues to pursue his interests – a big heavy metal fan, he’d just signed up for the Gig Buddies programme before Coronavirus hit the UK, but since being stuck at home he’s taken the opportunity to learn guitar through online lessons instead. He’s already learned the classic hard rock anthem ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motörhead, and maybe he’ll be putting on his own gigs by the time this is all over.
‘I’m really enjoying it’ Alex said ‘it really has boosted my confidence a lot.’ Even with the restrictions we’re all facing, flexible thinking and a carefully tailored approach have allowed Alex, Jennifer, and others at Innovate Trust to flourish, proof for the voluntary sector that it can be done despite the most trying of conditions.
You can find out more about the Active Inclusion Fund here. Organisations already on the Approved Beneficiary List are eligible to apply to a special Covid-19 round to help in the struggle against coronavirus – with a simplified and shortened application process.