Providing support to vulnerable people

| 10 June 2020

Summary: We spoke to Senior Care and Support Worker, Joseph Woods, about our Southwark Wellbeing Support at Home (SWiSH) service in south London and the challenges of continuing to provide services during the Covid-19 pandemic, when much of the interaction with customers is usually face-to-face through home visits.

What is SWiSH?
We help vulnerable and/or frail clients in the Borough of Southwark to live their lives as they wish, as safely and independently as possible. We’re a ‘floating support’ providing short-term (usually for up to 12 weeks) preventative support in people’s homes. Customers may be housebound, struggle to move or be in too much pain to go out.

What services are provided?
It’s wide ranging – customers could have problems relating to re-housing, finance or benefits. We support them in various ways including signposting and linking them to appropriate services, advocacy, personalised practical support and, prior to the lockdown, home audits to assess the physical home environment. If, for example they needed legal advice from a solicitor, we’d work with Legal Aid. (We’re not carers who provide life sustaining services like feeding and personal care).

How does it work?
Southwark Social Services make direct referrals to us. Customers needn’t be a certain age, nor have a physical disability, and they can live in any type of housing…whether that is extra care, sheltered housing or anything else. Customers change all the time…we serve the community at large, regardless of the landlord, so at any one time it could be a mix of council residents, MTVH residents, and residents of other housing associations. Our services are also not restricted to social housing.

What does your normal day look like? How has it changed with lockdown? It would usually start in in the office making referrals to other organisations to help customers with benefits, housing or a home befriending service. Then I’d visit customers at home, perhaps helping them to call the GP, querying their entitlements with the Pension Services or accompanying them to an appointment, a foodbank or to a day centre if they’re visiting it for the first time. But now, it’s obviously different. Like housing officers and support workers our role is front line and face-to-face with customers, so social distancing does make everything harder – even on a basic level.

Can you give some examples of the challenges? Normally we’d be able to gauge things by observing how people carry themselves in their homes or pick up on nuances. But now, with new cases you could miss out on information at the beginning; you have to make up for that by calling them regularly to gather information as effectively as possible. Sometimes customers worried about their finances would show us bills or bank statements on house visits, but now we have to rely on technology, and where customers are not digitally savvy or don’t have a smart phone, we have to work out ways to get the information safely and speedily so we can help them. It may mean teaching them how to use technology or we may still have to visit their homes, but stand outside and pick up and return paperwork using social distancing. We’re also having to rely on a lot of mutual aid groups or volunteers offering new services, which is great, but they may not be as accessible, or we may not have an existing relationship with them.
What are you noticing with your customers during the corona virus pandemic? Our customers are vulnerable to start with and usually don’t have a social circle, so whatever independence they had has been eroded. They’re lonely and are really looking for the human touch…they’re telling us they enjoy a phone call, even if it’s just a conversation about how they’re feeling. People’s health is a huge concern – if lockdown continues their mental and physical health will be detrimentally affected. Also, there’s a lot of misinformation about how the corona virus is spread… people are fearful. When we call they say: “You’re not coming to visit, are you?” Others are scared of opening their mail.

How many are in your team? Eight people, we operate out of a MTVH office in Bermondsey and we all love our jobs.

What do you love most about your job? It’s so satisfying to support customers and help them achieve their independence. It’s amazing to see lives transformed in a short time. It’s fast-paced and challenging. Because customers can only be supported for a period of 12 weeks, it can be a struggle. That’s not long for those who’ve experienced difficulties for a long time. They would like us to be able to fix everything and, of course, we’d love to – but it’s not possible to walk in and make someone’s life perfect. We enable them – and the impact of that is apparent very quickly.

What do you get out of it personally? Every day is different, every day is challenging, but it’s a role that speaks to my heart – I literally get paid to do what I want to do and what I love to do. I’ve always wanted to do something to directly help those less fortunate, vulnerable or unrepresented and make a positive contribution to people and communities. And now I have it at MTVH. It’s nice to know I’m making a difference to people’s lives.