When I think back to March last year, I remember being filled with a sense of dread about what the pandemic could mean for communities.
A perfect storm had been created overnight with the very real potential to impact disproportionately on anyone already living with some kind of adversity. The idea that this phenomenal event was a great leveller always jarred with me, and still does.
Looking back I felt nervous about the scale of what we were facing as an organisation, and what it might mean for the wellbeing of colleagues. I know I miss those unplanned water cooler moments with my lovely work pals when I’ve had a rubbish day. I can’t imagine how tough it must be to support another human through suicidal thoughts or be first ears on someone’s disclosure of childhood trauma, without that immediate peer support element of working from an office base.
It's fair to say that lockdown demanded a massive mindshift overnight about how each of us now needed to approach our work. So with all of us facing new personal and professional challenges, honing in on our own mental wellness had never been more important. Fortunately for us, wellbeing in the workplace has always been an organisational priority at Penumbra so we already had well-established resources and supports. I guess the challenge was about evolving all of those to fit this new way of working (a testament to our practice development, and learning and development teams). Harnessing digital tech was crucial in this process, but all of it has been a learning curve for everyone. Despite the physical distancing, we’ve managed to maintain those meaningful connections.
Fast forward to nearly month 22 of this new pandemic world and I feel super proud of all our teams. Their priority has always been the wellbeing of people accessing our support. They’ve worked their absolute socks off to keep our services going and to support each other at the same time. And they haven’t just kept the wheels turning, they’ve used every ounce of creativity and lateral thinking to offer meaningful support in new ways for the 6,250 adults and young people who rely on our often lifesaving support every year. They are, and continue to be, exceptional cheerleaders for people experiencing mental ill health.
It goes without saying that team wellbeing should always be a priority for any organisation, and I feel really lucky at Penumbra that those human connections and supports have created a safe space to talk openly with colleagues about how you’re feeling. But it’s also important not to be distracted from the fact that the wellbeing of the social care workforce goes beyond individual employers.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the provision of good quality social care is built on a diverse and dedicated workforce.
As the conversation on the new national care service gets underway in earnest, lockdown has put a welcome spotlight on people working in caring and supporting roles. But it comes with a health warning. We mustn’t allow the Covid narrative around the social care workforce to become dangerously romanticised with hollow language about our everyday heroes pitching in together. Our colleagues are everyday heroes, but they’re also skilled professionals who pride themselves on continuous training and innovation so they can provide compassionate support well.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the provision of good quality social care is built on a diverse and dedicated workforce. If we want society to be a good place where all of us can thrive whatever our circumstances, then any new national care service needs to reflect the wellbeing, the ambitions, and the worth of the people who make up this incredible population.
Fiona Brown is the communications officer for mental health charity, Penumbra.
This article features in the December 2021 edition of TFN Magazine, which is available to read in digital format here