New horizons?

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Will the coronavirus pandemic give us an opportunity to confront society’s problems, adopt radical policies, and emerge with steadfast solutions, asks Martin Blakebrough.

Martin Blakebrough is CEO of the Kaleidoscope Project
Martin Blakebrough is CEO of the Kaleidoscope Project

A crisis such as this forces pressing issues to the foreground, issues that governments have long avoided taking sufficient measures to solve. Our under-funded health surface, often cruel welfare system and unacceptable numbers of street homeless are now frighteningly visible to all.

But, as the country faces a shutdown unparalleled in living memory, we are reminded of our mutual dependence, our fragility and indeed our ingenuity. We are buoyed up with the rhetoric that ‘we are all in this together’, but in less turbulent times this oratory is absent. The heroes of the health and social care system, alongside the vulnerable and marginalised they protect, are left off the agenda.

I remember the shock I felt as this virus hit China. For me China is not a distant nation, but the country my son has made his home. He kept me updated as his daily life changed drastically. Now we must deal with this awful virus. Indeed many of Kaleidoscope’s staff are on the front line, whether supporting people in our residential facilities or at medical services that demand face-to-face contact. Our OST services and clinics remain operational, with pick-up regimes carefully managed and outreach coordinated by colleagues who are required, by virtue of their vocation, to put themselves and their families at increased risk.

Staff like myself are the lucky ones, able to work from home (although I’m married to a paramedic so my chances of avoiding the virus are even less assured). The frustration of frontline workers at Kaleidoscope, and across social care, has been the lack of available safety equipment, and we are doing all we can to resolve this. So as we try to keep ourselves safe, equally we must help our clients to survive amid impending lockdown, adapting our service delivery at pace, and offering increased virtual support to ensure our service users remain connected.

I am amazed by our staff and how they have risen to the challenges before us. Now is the time for creative thinking, so how do we stay solution-focused when we find ourselves in such unfamiliar territory? We rely on new ideas, so let’s share information and, where we can, pool together our resources and tools. Please, let us know of anything that is helping you, so we can share with our team and support each other.

The pressure on some staff will no doubt be heightened by having extra childcare duties in light of school closures. We of course welcome the government initiative that supports key workers without the added support of a partner, so their children can continue to attend school. But we recognise this may not apply to all staff, and for those struggling, we can only expect they work flexibly from home and do what they can.

Social media is often portrayed negatively, but we are seeing its value today. It is important we use it to our advantage, and instead of staying glued to the constant churn of headlines, we encourage our teams to stay genuinely connected with colleagues – I have never known so many different ways to communicate.

The world we walk back into will be very different, and maybe we will see how it is a better place if we have learnt to care for each other. As we settle down to the new reality of life around us we need to keep safe, find time to laugh and also time to share our worries, and I am optimistic we will come through these difficult times. In China the shops are opening and many people, my son included, can now enjoy the company of friends in a restaurant or a bar. So if you are working in the field then keep as safe as you can and follow medical guidelines. And hopefully in the heat of summer we may be like Luke, sitting out in the open with life seeming a bit more normal once more.