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A Year of Covid

Published on 22 March 2021 01:40 PM

CEO Teri Stephenson reflects on a year of Covid

Age UK Lancashire were at the forefront of the covid pandemic very early on, due to the over 70’s being asked to shield themselves first.  As CEO, how did this make you feel personally and what impact did it have on your team?

Initially, it was all overwhelming – I never expected to have to live through a global pandemic personally, never mind be leading a charity running services that impacted so significantly on older people.  Having said that, we pretty quickly realised that services which had already been vital to older people across Lancashire – became even more so and to people who had never needed us before. 

Me and my team met multiple times a day early on, did briefings for the teams and worked harder than we ever have before. 

On a personal level, my overwhelming feelings have been of pride. From the very get-go, our staff have stepped up, stepped out and made a massive impact every day.  They continued to go to work when they were frightened and uncertain and have continued to do it day in and day out.  For me, being CEO of a charity doing this with such amazing colleagues is a real privilege.  It might be a privilege I wish I hadn’t had – nobody would have wished for Covid,  but being able to lead the organisation to achieve what we have has been a huge privilege.

How did the national lockdown impact the services Age UK Lancashire offered and how were you able to continue to support people? 

National lock-downs have had a varied impact, but everything has been impacted in some way.  In the first lock-down, we stopped our Day Clubs due to the unknown risk for a vulnerable group of people, but we know that these people have deteriorated disproportionality and did manage to keep these services open during subsequent lock-downs in a Covid secure way.

Other services continued face to face and staff adapted to working in PPE.

We introduced new services to support people, such as Good Day Calls.  Our initial vision for this was a daily phone call to isolated people and a bit of a chat.  What we have learned is that actually there was much more needed for that and we identified safeguarding concerns and additional needs that we have worked hard to address.  We do the chats too, but this service has turned into so much more than we ever envisaged and it’s a real shame that money to fund this is about to run out as it’s been a real lifeline for some of our customers as they’re so vulnerable and isolated.

We had to close our charity shops, which has had (as for so many charities) impacted on our income and so the support that we can provide.

One of our services supports over 50’s into employment and the team were so committed to continuing to provide a service (in a Covid secure way) that they were meeting people in parks to ensure we could give continued support.

In a challenging economic environment, how were you able to maintain your services during the pandemic and how do you think the economy will affect your ability to operate in the future?

We maintained the majority of our services during the pandemic, but we are facing challenges into next year.  We had to sadly cancel a number of important fundraising events during 2020.  We’re making plans for 2021 and hope we can pick up our fundraising so that we can generate income to allow us to continue to meet the needs of older people who have never needed us more.

It’s a real challenge for us, contracts and grants have focused on specific areas during Covid and we don’t yet know what funders will prioritise in the coming months, but are working hard to maintain our income.  I hope to not need to stop vital services as we start to understand the legacy for older people of the Covid pandemic.  For example, mental health is already a huge issue, which is expected to get worse – poor mental health affects older people to and they need our support, but we can only do this with the funding in place.

In what has been an extremely challenging year for everyone, do you have any particular highlights that stick out that reflect the positive impact Age UK Lancashire has had?

This is so hard, there have been so many during the year.  I’ve been overwhelmed by the thanks we have received from our customers and their families and the impact they describe that our services have had on them.

If you’re going to force me into only a few highlights;

  • Our commitment to moving services online – our Dementia Hub was moved online and has been a valued service for our customers and just as importantly, their carers who continued to need support when they and their loved ones were no longer able to attend our face to face hubs, which has been so excellently attended prior to Covid.
  • One of our staff shared before and after pictures with me from our Toe Nail cutting service, which we had closed during Lockdown – this person must have been so uncomfortable before we were able to visit them and I doubt could even get shoes on as their nails were so long – things like this and how important it is doesn’t occur to anyone who can cut their own toenails, but it made a huge difference to our customers.
  • The many letters and cards we have received thanking us for what we have done – comments like “I really cannot explain in words how your services have helped me through this very hard time in my life” evidence the impact that we’ve had.
  • Our Home Help service has continued throughout Covid and we’ve had such positive comments from our customers and their families about the positive impact that these visits have had on them. In addition to the service, we provide so much more in terms of support and wellbeing checks, which families have valued and a cheery hello has never been more important!
  • Our corporate partners have been fantastic and helped us to meet needs, for example, Softcat and MY Total Office Solutions both donated equipment so that we have been able to keep older people connected to their families. One example of a lady we provided kit to sticks in my mind and we have a photograph of her speaking to the family in Australia she hadn’t been able to connect with them before.  Another example of a lady who was able to see for the first time where her grandson lived via video camera and to be told face to face that she was going to be a Great Grandma was wonderful as we have screenshots shared from those moments and they’re priceless!

Helping people maintain their independence is at the forefront of Age UK Lancashire’s work. with restrictions easing are you feeling positive about being able to continue to provide support to people after covid, and do you need to do things differently?

I wish I felt more positive for us and the charity sector generally.  We will of course continue to provide services and to reach as many people as we possibly can, but most of the Covid funding is coming to an end whilst many people are still dealing with the legacy issues of Covid, such as decreased mobility, confidence and poor mental health. 

We’re working hard to find additional funding so we can meet needs, but it’s a challenge. 

We’re looking at how we can work efficiently and use technology more, so are exploring options around that.  Some older people have had to adapt to using technology more during Covid and we want to make the best use of these new skills by providing virtual services where appropriate.  At the same time, some people are struggling to engage digitally and we want to provide support around this as many things are now only accessible via digital means and we need to ensure that older people can have access to the same things as everyone else.

A full year on after the pandemic, what do you feel you and the charity have learnt the most?

So many things. 

We learnt that we can adapt quickly, cope well in a crisis and keep our customers as the primary focus at Age UK Lancashire when the world feels like it’s gone crazy and we’ve lost control of our lives.

We’ve learned how fantastic our corporate partners are, they kept up their support for us when their own business were facing challenges and uncertainty – we’re hugely grateful for their continued support.