What does the 'New Normal 'mean for Befriending?

Fri 22 May 2020

Living with Covid 19 is the new reality for us all.  Since lockdown began, we have all experienced some level of social isolation and loneliness, probably for most of us, like never before. This has been uncomfortable, stressful and sometimes extremely distressing, however, it has shone a light on loneliness and it’s impacts on individuals and wider society.  For many, it has made us reflect on what’s really important to us personally and in our communities.

As the governments across the UK aim to loosen lockdown, we need to consider the implications for befriending.  I would suggest that considering our collective responsibility to others and the rights, wellbeing and dignity of those most vulnerable in our communities, must be at the heart of our next steps. 

For befriending organisations, we have several roles; that of employer, host and supporter to our invaluable volunteers and provider of services often to those most vulnerable, many of whom are in the shielded group.  So where do we start?

My personal opinion is, with extreme caution and sound values.  Lockdown, due to necessity, was done to us all, a set of instructions backed by emergency legislation that we were required to comply with. Any changes in Befriending organisations should involve our staff, volunteers and service users. Being person-centred, beginning a new process of empowerment and building confidence and flexibility will be key.

We are very aware that befriending and voluntary organisations have worked really hard to get to this stage and to ensure current and, in many cases, new service users and volunteers have been supported and that the future holds many challenges such as:

·       how to provide a flexible approach

·       what happens if your new (or current) volunteers return to work and have less time to volunteer

·       much of funding available is for crisis support, but service users will need ongoing support long after the crisis 

Befriending Networks are already raising awareness of these challenges and trying to identify how we can best support you now and in the coming weeks and months. If you would like to share any of your experiences or bring an issue to our attention, we invite you to sign up to our popular Q&A sessions to join the discussion as we all move forward together.

In the meantime, please use our initial things to consider list:

  1. Stay informed: The UK Parliament and the devolved governments have different timescales and rules around easing lockdown, information is likely to change quickly, so ensure you are getting updates from credible sources: Click to visit government guidance from EnglandNorthern IrelandScotlandWales.
  2. Reflect & Plan: Take time to consider how your organisation's service users, volunteers and staff will be impacted by easing lockdown, involve them in identifying what support they made need during this time. Things will not immediately 'go back to the way they were'. Consider what your organisation has learned during this time and what aspects should be learned from and carried forward - this is a chance to make your organisation stronger & more resilient.
  3. Communicate: The easing of lockdown is not straight forward and messages can be nuanced and confusing. It is likely to involve your organisation exercising judgement.  It is important to make sure your volunteers are clear about your continuing support, expectations and to remind them of how you will inform them of any changes if/when they happen.
  4. Reassure: Service users, volunteers and staff will be eager to know what your organisation's plan for the future will be, so ensure your plan is shared transparently with all in a timely manner. Make sure to remind all volunteers, especially interim, ones how important their role is and that they are still needed at this time. 
  5. Understand: Service users, volunteers and staff may have widely different circumstances and feelings about new measures to ease lockdown and therefore may be effected in very different ways. Communications should encourage dialogue so that everyone can feel as comfortable as possible with any changes your service may make. Be understanding and flexible in your organisation's approach so that all parties are supported as much as possible. 
  6. Flexibility: All the devolved Government’s plans are clear that any easing in lockdown measures will be based upon a variety of factors and statistics, there is not a guaranteed timescale and it is unlikely to be a straight forward path from lockdown. It is therefore prudent for organisations to have contingency plans if lockdown measures are eased at a slower pace than planned or are even reinstated for a certain period of time. Continuing to support your communities in a consistent way throughout this period of change will be a challenge, but is ultimately the goal.

My final thought to leave you with is there is no rush (remember the tortoise and the hare), be cautious, transparent and involve as many stakeholders as possible.  How we manage this process now, can help individuals regain a sense of control, confidence and ultimately create better outcomes for the future and that is within our gift.

Keep safe

Sarah

CEO Befriending Networks