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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Launching a new support service in the time of Covid-19

This opinion piece is almost 4 years old

Flexibility, collaboration and clear communication are vital, writes Laura Andre

Over the past few months, the world as we know it has changed immeasurably. For the team at Health in Mind, we were faced with the challenge of launching a new support service, Bridge to Support, against this backdrop of uncertainty. The service looks to support people living in Scotland who have experienced childhood abuse by a Jesuit, a member of their staff, or a volunteer. The service was launched in April 2020, one month into lockdown.

Along the way, we have taken some key learnings about how to navigate these unchartered waters and successfully launch a new support service in the time of Covid-19. Here are some of the key things that we’ve learnt and what we wanted to share with others.

Be flexible and agile

During Covid-19, we all watched as things shifted and changed almost every day. Restrictions were enforced, new guidance was put into place, and different measures were implemented. In response, we had to stay as agile as possible. Our small team reacted quickly. We reviewed service plans and ensured the right measures were in place ahead of the official launch. We also adopted a phased approach to our activity, using monitoring systems to track progress so that we could change our approach if things weren’t working.

Looking at how the needs of people using our service might be shifting was important to us too so that we could be flexible in the ways that we support them. This included offering practical support to cope with Covid, as well as counselling and psychological support.

Laura Andre
Laura Andre

Communication is key

We had to clearly communicate our plans and protection measures to our staff, the people who would potentially use the service, and our partners. With lots of other support services temporarily shutting down, we needed to make sure people knew that we were open and offering online support during this time. To do this, we tapped into Health in Mind’s existing networks and shifted our communications activities around the service launch to online spaces. We let people know that we were here and that people could come to us for support, despite Covid. This was vital in these early stages of the service launch.

Collaborate with your stakeholders

With some of our usual avenues to promote the service being closed to us, building relationships with our stakeholders was even more essential. Developing new relationships with other support services in the middle of a pandemic, however, was no easy feat. With stakeholders struggling to adapt to Covid themselves and trying to look after their beneficiaries as best they could, hearing about our new service was not going to be a key priority for them.

We, therefore, took a collaborative approach to all stakeholder engagement efforts. This included sharing key learnings about what is and isn’t working, and how we can best support and reach people during this time. We chose to hold online engagement events that people could easily drop into to hear more about us and we saw a fantastic turn-out. Following the success of these online events, we’ve since rolled out similar engagement events across the whole of Health in Mind.

Take a needs-led, risk-aware approach

Finally, a needs-led, risk-aware approach has underpinned all of the work we have done so far in setting up and launching the service. This included undertaking Covid-19 risk assessments to ensure appropriate measures were in place to protect our staff and the people using our service. The team also regularly monitor and review all risk measures to ensure our work and any decisions we make are risk-informed with the needs of people using our services at its heart.

In the early stages of Covid, this resulted in us adapting to provide digital services in line with online safety and data protection practices. This has now moved to providing a more blended approach to support, and we will be taking a gradual and phased return to in-person delivery in line with the needs of people accessing our services.

Looking ahead to the future

As things are slowly starting to return to ‘normal’, the team is now looking ahead to what the future holds. While we will undoubtedly face further challenges, we are proud of what we have achieved together. I hope some of what we have learnt during this time will go on to help you with any challenges you may face in the coming months.

Laura Andre is communications and engagement officer at Health in Mind