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Lockdown presented unique challenges for Andrew Provan House; Carol, the manager, explains how they

What is your role with Field Lane?

I’m the family services manager at Andrew Provan House (APH), which offers safe accommodation and support for vulnerable women and young families. I’ve been with Field Lane for nine years. I’ve always been in this line of work. The most important thing for me is bringing positive change – that’s exactly the ethos of Field Lane, giving hope. At APH we’re very clear with our residents, many of whom come to us scared and isolated, about how they can make positive, sustainable changes to their lives.

What have been the main challenges for APH over the past three months?

We had to quickly adjust our procedures and find new ways of working that enabled us to continue with our statutory obligations as well as our duty of care to residents whilst still keeping them and our staff safe.

The role of key workers, who provide one-to-one support, is crucial for our residents. These staff provide ongoing support and guidance for our residents, many of whom are extremely vulnerable. Lockdown, especially being so sudden, increased residents’ anxiety; finding a way to continue contact was essential. Staff switched to phone contact to conduct regular sessions, instead of face-to-face. As well as this telephone contact with their individual key workers, I also phoned all our residents from time to time, to check in and answer any questions. As things start to ease, face-to-face meetings will resume, where appropriate, but still maintaining social distancing.

We issued very clear guidance to both staff and residents. We also brought in strict rules for how residents should behave, for example restricting residents’ use of the shared living space, which was strictly enforced. Each resident has their own flat, but parts of the house are used by everyone. Once it was clear what we were doing and why most residents followed the rules. We also issued everyone with masks and gloves and set up sanitiser stations around the house.

It’s been difficult having to introduce ‘barriers’, eg. stopping our open door policy for residents wanting to pop into the office; staff wearing PPE; not having face-to-face meetings. The whole thing has felt like a military operation. But as long as we had complete transparency and clarity about what was happening and why, residents felt safe. We have tried to keep as much personal contact with residents as possible, although not face-to-face, they know we are contactable 24/7. It’s being really important for all our residents to know that we are ‘present’ and available, despite lockdown.

How have you managed to keep residents and staff safe?

In addition to the practical changes, we had concerns about our residents’ wellbeing in terms of being able to cope during lockdown. Many have mental health issues and it has been a real struggle for them not being able to see friends and family. One of our mothers has a school-aged child, who she has struggled to home school. We needed to find a way to help our residents cope better. We used Zoom technology to provide training around wellbeing strategies. Although initially sceptical, most of our residents did take part.

The priority is always to keep both residents and staff safe. With the heightened state of anxiety and fear about what was happening, it was imperative we explained every step and reinforced the guidelines.

What are your plans for coming out of lockdown?

Coming out of lockdown will be a gradual process and things are still quite volatile. We have prepared the house for staff coming back, ensuring that social distancing can be maintained. We’ve started to allow residents to have visitors and create small ‘bubbles’, but following strict guidelines, such as booking in prior to the visit and giving contact details (for track and trace). However, many residents still feel anxious about coming out of lockdown. We are taking a caution approach – safety remains our number one priority.

How will this experience affect how you operate in the future?

Communication has been critical to managing during lockdown. Not only with residents but amongst staff too. Through increased use of technology we have had more contact with each other and it has really focused our minds. I have also felt very well supported by my managers too – with weekly meetings online. The support network around us has been really good. As a team, at APH and beyond, we have grown closer.

Despite being absent from the house, I have still felt completely in tune with everything and been able to oversee the management of the house during lockdown, working closely with the deputy manager. I’ve been so impressed with how my team has risen to the challenge and made things work. They’ve been amazing and it’s down to them that residents have generally stayed calm and worked with us.

Residents have also been given more autonomy, for example, having to take responsibility for doing H&S checks in their flats. We are even preparing for a local authority inspection, which will be conducted virtually. Working from home for staff has also been effective.

We’ll be looking at incorporating these things as we move forward. It won’t replace face-to-face but will add to it and help us build in more resilience and flexibility for the future.

What are you looking forward to doing most as we ease out of lockdown?

It’s been a scary time and I’ve really missed being in the house. I’m a very hands-on person. I like being accessible to my staff team and the residents. That’s the thing I miss most, the face-to-face time. I’m really looking forward to seeing and chatting to everyone again, in the flesh!

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