Author: Emma Wright

Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme officially launches

At the start of this year, Gateway and Age UK Birmingham were appointed to lead the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS). We were about to start planning our launch event when Covid-19 hit and the country went into lockdown.

Rather than holding an event to launch the new scheme, we dived straight into supporting community groups in the area. Our Asset Development Worker Sam, and seconded Early Help co-ordinator Marc, began co-ordinating the delivery of food parcels and other vital support to the local communities — and this is how the scheme has been running for the last four months.

Now, however, we are starting to move forward again and on 23rd June, we held the official launch of the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme — albeit as an online meeting rather than the physical event we had originally planned.

Around 25 people came together via Zoom to discusss the original aims of the ENNS: the ways in which we can help local community, activity and social groups to sustain themselves and, if they wish to, develop further. We also talked about how things have changed since March and how we can support groups to adapt to a post coronavirus landscape.

The event was attended by representatives from Gateway, Age UK Birmingham, the Adult Social Work team, Birmingham City Council, BVSC and other agencies, but also by a mix of community groups (also known as “assets”).

After introductions and some information about the ENNS and how it can help community groups, attendees split into three “breakout rooms” to discuss issues in more detail: funding, the “three conversations” social work model, and lessons learned from Covid-19.

Natalie Tichareva, from Age UK Birmingham, said, “I think it is safe to say we were all slightly nervous about how a digital launch event would go, but in the end I do not think it could have gone better! Thank you to everyone who attended and took part in our breakout room discussions following the presentation. We have made some great links through our launch event which will be able to strengthen our work in Edgbaston going forward.”

We understand that many people weren’t able to attend, and that some of those who did attend would like the opportunity to reconvene so that they can attend the other breakout meetings, so we’ll be planning more digital get-togethers in the near future.

In the meantime, click here to download the ENNS Welcome Pack PDF, which you should be able to print as a booklet. If you don’t have access to a printer and would like a copy of this, please email info@gatewayfs.org and we’ll send you a copy.

Supporting a group during lockdown: the Patient Health Forum

The Patient Health Forum (also known as the South Birmingham Long Term Conditions Group) is a social group for people who live with, or care for people who live with, a range of long term health conditions.

Patient Health Forum meetings would normally include a presentation, like this one from Age Concern.

It’s run by a committee of volunteers but the monthly meetings, which usually take place at a community centre in Stirchley, are supported and facilitated by Gateway.

The group has been going for years now and, for many of the Forum members, the monthly meetings are a lifeline: some members live alone, or with the person they care for, and would otherwise rarely get the chance to socialise. The meetings provide a chance to meet friends and other people who are in a similar situation, as well as access to information and advice from local agencies and groups. Plus, of course, the all-important buffet lunch!

So in March, when the meetings had to be suspended, we had to make sure that we could continue supporting the group.

Switching to remote support

In mid-March, when it became obvious that gatherings would need to stop, we contacted all Forum members with the offer of a phonecall in lieu of the regular meetings. At that point, almost all of the members accepted the offer of a monthly wellbeing check or social call.

However, as you probably remember, things escalated quickly at the end of March. A week after offering the monthly calls it became clear that most members would have to isolate because they are over 70 or otherwise vulnerable. So we made the check-ins weekly. Many of the Gateway staff who’ve helped out at Forum meetings know the members quite well, and others were quick to offer befriending support, so we were very happy to do this… but it did mean that we were making weekly calls to more than 50 people.

Over the last two months, some Forum members have opted out of the calls, as they feel they already have enough support from friends, family or neighbours. But we have gladly continued to make weekly calls to the remaining members and, right now, we are continuing to support around 15 people.

What do we talk about?

Most of the calls Gateway staff make to Patient Health Forum members are social, but many are also practical. Amongst other things, we’ve helped people to have their medication delivered, register as vulnerable on the NHS website, find out more about the benefits they are entitled to, get in touch with a chiropodist, and start online shopping.

But sometimes the calls are surprising. We have found that as well as providing support, we are also empowering people, giving them the chance to be helpful to others as well as benefiting themselves. Becky, a support worker who’s been making calls, says: “One woman was fantastic about sharing her local info about food and pharmacy deliveries with me, and I have been able to pass this on to others who have also benefited. She definitely saw herself as contributing to our community knowledge rather than receiving from me.”

Kath is one of the Gateway staff making wellbeing calls.

Kath, another staff member who’s been making wellbeing calls, pointed out that the crisis itself is also having some unexpected benefits. “Some of the patients told me they had reconnected with friends and family they hadn’t spoken to for a while,” she says. “One lady was pleased she’d actually had a two hour conversation with her daughter, who had previously been too busy to visit or pick up the phone.”

And Forum members have told us how grateful they are for the continued support. Some have told us they’d been feeling a bit forgotten by services, so a chat makes all the difference.

We’re very pleased to be able to help but it’s a worrying time for people who are already socially isolated. It’s not clear yet how the future of groups like the Patient Health Forum might look – but we hope that it won’t be long before we can start safely bringing people together again.

Some more comments from members…

“This call means the world to me. It breaks up my boredom and cheers me up. I enjoy having a natter and a grumble; it stops me from getting depressed, so I look forward to it. I miss the Patient Health Forum; seeing everyone there and the lunches.”

“I’m glad for the call. I don’t have a TV in my house, just a radio, but I’d usually be out meeting my friends. Not being able to chat much to people can get lonely, but this call helps me to speak to someone.”

“This call helps me if I need additional information, or when I am not sure about things like support for my disabled daughter. I’m happy to have a chat and you’ve helped me with your advice on how to keep myself busy doing jigsaws and mandala colouring. I really miss the Patient Health Forum gatherings so thank you for checking up on me weekly, it means a lot.”

“A big thank you to you and Gateway for calling me, especially in these difficult times.”

“It’s really kind of you to check up on me and make sure I am OK. It means a lot that you’re taking the time to ring me up.”

“Great to hear that someone cares; that we are not shut up and put away. I am happy I belong to some clubs including the Patient Health Forum. They are checking up on me which is a really nice thought especially in these difficult times.”

“It means a lot to me when you call. When you don’t see people it’s lovely to get a call out of the blue and have good chat. I have been feeling lonely, and isolating does not help the situation. Thank you, I look forward to next week’s chat.”

Mental Health Awareness Week: kindness matters

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year, the theme is kindness.

The recent months have seen a heartening number of support schemes popping up all over our region. It’s good to know that when times are tough, our community will step up and find ways to help each other. But did you know that being kind to others can also benefit your own mental health?

As the Mental Health Foundation’s Kindness Matters guide points out:

  • Helping others feels good
  • It creates a sense of belonging and reduces isolation
  • It helps keep things in perspective
  • It helps to make the world a happier place – one act of kindness can often lead to more!
  • The more you do for others, the more you do for yourself

Here at Gateway, many of our staff have recently had to change, adapt or add new elements to their usual roles. Last month we wrote about the new normal – the many ways in which we have had to change the way we work since the crisis began.

But we’re not the only ones! Many of the organisations and businesses we’re now working with were not originally set up to provide emergency support. Like youth organisation B32 Community, which now delivers food parcels; the Station Pub in Kings Heath, which has become a foodbank; and even Sunday League football club the Rubery Misfits, who have swapped kickabouts for community work – and about whom Sam, Asset Development Worker for the Edgbaston NNS, says, “Nothing is too much for them, they travel all across Birmingham, they deliver between working their full time jobs. The food parcels are very generous sized enough to feed a family for a week. The team are friendly, kind and caring family men who are putting a lot of effort into making sure nobody goes without.”

Rewarding

Perhaps surprisingly, many of our staff are finding the challenge of the new support work rewarding in itself.

prescription delivery – photo taken by a member of staff as they waited for it to be picked up by the householder

Paula is a Community Wellbeing Adviser for the Solihull Lifestyle Service. She says, “I am currently helping to collect and deliver prescriptions throughout Solihull, which has given me a much needed focus and routine during these uncertain times. I have also found the deliveries very rewarding as I engage with the public (albeit in a social distancing environment) and see people’s thanks and appreciation at having one less thing to worry about.”

And the acts of kindness that our staff are involved with are, in many cases, creating a ‘virtuous circle’.

Marc, who’s leading the Edgbaston Early Help scheme, says: “There are two food providers I’ve been working with a lot: B32 Community and the Station Foodbank. As they’ve been so good to others in the locality, dropping food parcels to vulnerable people, I wanted to show some kindness back so I made a donation to both. When I shared their donation pages on my social media my brother in law, an ex-Quinton resident, also donated because he was happy to hear that people were being supported back where he used to live.”

Becky, a Social Prescribing Link Worker, has added extra phonecalls to her rota, supporting people from some of Gateway’s other services, including the Patient Health Forum. But she has found that the support she is giving people is often just the beginning – the people she speaks to get a lot out of sharing their experiences and helping others themselves. Becky says, “One woman was fantastic about sharing her local knowledge about food and pharmacy deliveries with me and I then passed this on to others who have benefited. Another chap said, ‘I hope I can help you one day’. He may not be able to help me personally but I have a feeling he will ‘pay it forward’ and help others in the future.”

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself

Whilst it’s lovely to hear stories of kindness from others, we should add that it’s also important to be kind to yourself.

Sadaf, also a Social Prescribing Link Worker, said, “Whilst working with patients its often clear that there is a sense of low self esteem, feelings of not being good enough and often blaming themselves for certain situations. I would like to highlight that perhaps if people were kinder to themselves it would reduce anxiety and a variety of other issues.”

And the Mental Health Foundation agrees.

“Whatever you can manage today is good enough. Some people feel that the lockdown is giving them the time and chance to learn new skills or try new things. That may be you, and if so, enjoy and celebrate that. If this isn’t you, try not to beat yourself up about what you see others doing. If things are hard right now, try and find some small things to celebrate each day. Getting up and washing your hair can be just as much of an achievement as someone else posting about a 5k run on Instagram. Try to tune out the voice of judgement and comparison and tune in to the voice that says you are enough.”

Read more in the Kindness Matters guide.

What a difference a year makes: Social Prescribing Day 2020

Today is the second ever Social Prescribing Day, highlighting the importance and significance of social prescribing within healthcare.

What a difference a year makes

This time last year, we celebrated the first Social Prescribing Day with a story from Healthy Futures. We told how Wellbeing Navigator Ralph had helped Alia and her disabled son to meet new people and put down some roots when they moved from temporary accommodation into social housing.

Healthy Futures was a social prescribing service that we funded ourselves and this was a typical client story, showing just how much a Social Prescribing was needed in Birmingham. However, although Healthy Futures was highly successful from a healthcare perspective — supporting over 200 people with tailored non-medical support, and saving time and money for local GPs — eventually, a lack of external financial support made it unsustainable.

Since last year’s Social Prescribing Day, though, we’re pleased to say that things have changed considerably.

This year, the concept of Social Prescribing is much more widely known and understood.

NHS England have rolled out Social Prescribing services nationally, funding PCNs (Primary Care Networks, which are groups of GP practices) across the country to offer a model that is very similar to Healthy Futures. Many GPs, practice staff and other primary care providers can now refer patients to a Link Worker, who works one-to-one with the patient to offer direct support and signposting.

Now, people in Birmingham like Alia will be able to once again access support from a trusted para-professional, trained to support people with all sorts of social, non-clinical needs. Gateway is working in partnership with SDSmyhealthcare to deliver a Social Prescribing Link Worker service to 11 PCNs across Birmingham and Solihull, and our new Link Workers are already settling into their surgeries.

Gateway Social Prescribing Link Workers

We have a team of 11 Link Workers, all of whom have a wide network of community contacts and experience and knowledge of their local area. You can meet the Link Workers and read more about them here.

Each Social Prescribing Link Worker works from a number of different surgeries throughout the week, offering patients one-to-one, person-centred support.

GPs and Practice staff can refer anyone who needs non-medical help, and the Link Worker will work with that person to help them take control of their own health and wellbeing and increase their active involvement with their local community.

  • People with social rather than medical needs
  • People needing help to access or navigate services
  • People experiencing social isolation or poor mental health
  • People with issues relating to advice, housing or income

“Sure, we can walk with you through a door – but ultimately it is your door.”

Zeshaan is one of Gateway’s new Social Prescribing Link Workers. He works with GP practices in the NSAR Primary Care Network, covering Nechells, Saltley and Alum Rock. Find out more about his role, and how he feels about social prescribing, in this short video.

Rewarding and fun: working as a Peer Educator

Over the last few months we’ve been blogging about the work our Straight Talking Peer Educators do in schools, drawing on their own experiences to educate young people about early parenthood and helping them learn about making healthy choices.

But the scheme has a lot of benefits for the Peer Educators themselves, too.

That’s because the point of Straight Talking’s Peer Educators scheme is not only to reduce teenage pregnancy and child sexual exploitation in the UK, but to support teenage parents to achieve economic wellbeing and quality of life.

Paid work with training

The work is paid (including expenses), with full training, and flexible enough to fit around childcare and other needs – so it offers really good work experience for young parents, many of whom have not had a career before, and opens the door to potential longer term employment.

As well as the training the Peer Educators receive through Straight Talking – which includes things like classroom management and presentation skills, and workshops on the subjects covered in the sessions, including child sexual exploitation – they can take advantage of further training through Gateway. This includes things like our own Safeguarding and Health and Safety courses, and courses from external providers, such as Umbrella sexual health services.

Two of our Peer Educators, Che and Casey, have already moved up to become Assistant Co-ordinators, a salaried part-time role with more responsibilities, including things like interviewing new recruits and calling schools to book sessions.

“Sometimes problem-solving in the classroom means managing challenging groups of students; having behaviour management training from Straight Talking has made me more confident when overcoming this problem and has helped improve my decision-making skills.”
— Natalie, in her latest feedback

New confidence and new friends

When delivering sessions in schools or youth groups, the Peer Educators are the experts. With the support of their colleagues and the training they’ve been given, they use their own experiences to share knowledge and open up discussions with the children, and get the whole classroom listening to and engaging with the topics they cover. All of our Peer Educators say they find the work empowering and rewarding, and that it is helping them to build confidence in other areas of their life, too.

And, importantly, working for Straight Talking also offers the opportunities for new friendships. Being a young parent can be very isolating, but working for Straight Talking means they have the opportunity to meet and work with others who understand what it’s like and can empathise. Many have gone on to make friendships outside work with other young parents, which could otherwise have been difficult.

Overall, the Peer Educators that have worked for us so far have found it an incredibly positive experience. Don’t take our word for it, though: listen to our Peer Educators talking about what it’s like to work for Straight Talking!

New Lifestyle Programme has given Karen her cooking mojo back!

After a period of illness and a series of surgeries, Karen (pictured above, left) found it hard to bounce back to her old self. Although her physical health was generally improving, she was still feeling low.

The 12 week course is part of Gateway’s new Solihull Lifestyle Service

“I’d always managed to maintain a good weight before my illness,” Karen says, “but even though I’d recovered from my operations, things weren’t the same. I had no energy, I felt low and suddenly I couldn’t seem to keep the weight off like I used to.”

One of the things Karen used to enjoy was cooking. But since her illness, she’d stopped spending time in the kitchen and instead would grab something quick and easy.

“I was tired all the time,” she says, “so I just wanted a quick fix. But those quick fixes had to be cheap, too. So instead of cooking from fresh, I was just grabbing a snack or a ready meal at the end of the day.”

Karen mentioned how she was feeling to her GP during a routine appointment, and her GP asked if she’d be interested in a free 12 week Lifestyle Programme.

“I jumped at the chance!” says Karen. “I’m on my own at home, with quite a tight budget, plus I work all day so I’m short on time, too, but I could fit in an evening class. And it wouldn’t cost me anything! I felt like I was being offered a chance to take advantage of free help with all the things I’d been worried about, so of course I said yes.”

The 12 week course

The Lifestyle Programme is part of the new Solihull Lifestyle Service. It replaces the Solihull Lighten Up service, and is designed to be a distinct 12-week behavioural change course, rather than a slimming group that people continue to go to indefinitely. The group Karen went to was at the Bosworth Community Centre in Fordbridge, North Solihull, but we hold meetings at a number of community venues in the borough.

By the end of 12 weeks, we hope the people who attend won’t only have lost weight (and all of the participants on Karen’s course had indeed lost weight by the final session) but will have made the changes required to keep the weight off. We don’t want the people we work with to be attending weight management groups forever; we want to give them the tools they need to make the changes themselves.

“A real boost”

Karen says that she enjoyed the programme because she didn’t feel pressured to lose weight.

For the final session of the course at the Bosworth Centre, attendees celebrated with a buffet – including a few treats!

“The course leader was really supportive and I liked the fact that it wasn’t all about getting your weight down – it was much deeper than that,” she says. “It was really educational. It’s not just buying branded diet meals or allowing yourself a certain number of ‘naughty’ foods. I feel like I’ve actually been on a proper course and learned a lot about food and how the body works.”

One of the big revelations for Karen was the fact that her low energy and low moods might be caused by the type of food she was eating.

“I thought I was knowledgeable, but a lot of the things I’ve learned here have shocked me. It turns out I was in a vicious circle. After learning about healthy fats, and salt and sugar levels, I realised that the quick meals were just sapping my energy and making me feel worse.

“I’d also stopped buying some of the things I really enjoy eating, like smoked mackerel and avocado, because I was under the impression that if they contained fat, they must be bad. Now I’ve learned that they’re OK and you actually need some of that in your diet.”

Thinking about food in a new way was the kick-start Karen needed to get back into healthier eating habits and to start cooking again. She says she’s already got more energy than she has had in years, which has stopped her downward spiral and given her motivation.

She says, “This programme has given me a real boost. It’s made me go back into the kitchen and spend time making nice meals again, from scratch, with the type of fresh food that I really want to eat. And the more I do it, the more energy I have to do it – it’s like I’ve found my mojo and I’m doing what I love again!”

Eye openers

Here are some of the things that attendees learned on the course, which they told us were “eye openers” for them:

  • The “traffic light” food labelling system, showing how much fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt is in your food
  • Portion control, with examples and easy ways to measure out the right portions of popular foods
  • The importance of drinking water, and how staying hydrated helps your body to process everything
  • Cooking healthily on a budget: simple recipes including a pizza that costs a quarter of the price of a takeaway
  • The Change4Life mobile app, which you can use when shopping to scan food items and make healthier choices

The Lifestyle Programme is part of the new Solihull Lifestyle Service, offering a range of tailored health and wellbeing advice and support to help you make positive lifestyle changes. If you live in Solihull, or have a Solihull GP, call 0800 599 9880 and ask about signing up — or complete an online referral form.

Sue and Tracy

“You believed in me”: when Tracy met Sue

At Solihull Lighten Up, Gateway’s call centre staff support people who want to lose weight. As well as referrals to our own weight management course “Lighten Up For Life“, and vouchers for commercial groups Slimming World and Weight Watchers, Solihull Lighten Up offers extra telephone support – regular phonecalls to check in with people, making sure they’re happy with the help they’re getting, talking through issues, and hopefully providing a bit of extra motivation for people on their way to achieving their goals.

One thing our Solihull Lighten Up call centre team rarely do, however, is meet their clients in person.

This week, six months after first contacting Solihull Lighten Up – and now an amazing 3st 8lb lighter! – Tracy came into the Gateway office and met Lighten Up Administrator Sue for the first time. It was emotional for both of them.

Tracy’s story

“This time last year, I was unhappy with my weight. I’ve always struggled with it, on and off, but nothing has ever felt permanent.

Tracy in July 2017
Tracy in July 2017

“I’d been to Slimming World before and by the summer I was wondering about going back – even going so far as having a conversation with the consultant I’d had before – but I hadn’t quite made the decision to go. I had also picked up a leaflet for Solihull Lighten Up at my GP surgery, and thought about contacting them, but after carrying the leaflet around for a bit, I eventually threw it away!

“The turning point came when I was invited to my friend’s barbecue, on the August bank holiday weekend. I knew there would be people there I hadn’t seen for years and, to be honest, it scared me. The last time I’d seen them, I’d lost a lot of weight thanks to a meal replacement diet and at that time, they’d made comments like, ‘you’re looking much better now,’ and ‘you used to be so big!’

“But since then, I’d put a lot of it back on.

“I couldn’t face it. In the car on the way there, I had what I can only describe as a panic attack. The thought of seeing the people who’d commented before … I couldn’t go. I remember my son saying, ‘what’s the matter, mom?!’ I really panicked.

“It was a lightbulb moment for me. I’d had depression in the past and I could see that the signs were there again. That experience really shook me into action.

“I knew I wanted to join a group again, but I liked the idea of extra support, so I found the details for Solihull Lighten Up and I phoned as soon as I could.

“I spoke to Sue the day before my birthday and she was just amazing. She really listened to me and we talked about how I was feeling, which I hadn’t really expected … but Sue made it easy. I found I could be completely honest with her and I hadn’t done that before. I ended up pouring my heart out to her for what must have been 30 or 40 minutes and I felt a lot better. It had already helped.

“When Sue told me that I was eligible for support from Solihull Lighten Up, I was a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. I was certainly surprised – I’m in full time work and I had thought that only people on benefits would be eligible, but she assured me I fit all the criteria and deserved the help.

“I started at Slimming World that weekend.

Tracy in April 2018
Tracy in April 2018

“The thing is, though, it feels really different this time. I’ve done diets before, and I’ve been to Slimming World before, and I’ve had successes – I’ve lost weight. But it didn’t feel like a long-term change. I’d lose the weight, and then I would put it back on at the first sign of stress (and at the time, I did have a lot of work stress). I was always up and down.

“This time, everything feels like it’s come together a lot better. I feel even more responsible because there’s someone who believes in me, getting in touch and giving me that extra push.

“Before, I would eat the right number of ‘syns’ and lose the weight, but this time round it feels like I’m doing more than that. I’ve certainly changed the way I eat – I’m having my five a day as a matter of routine now. I’m making fresh, healthy food, and enjoying it! Slimming World is really good but with the support from Lighten Up on top, I feel like people have invested in me, which makes me feel more motivated.

“I’ve actually changed my lifestyle. It feels sustainable.”

Pregnancy Outreach Worker interviews: Shazia

As the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service comes to an end, we’re reflecting on the last decade by interviewing some of our POWs about their work.

Jacque
Jahanara
Shaista
Shazia
Sophia

Shazia’s story

Shazia

Shazia has been a POW since the start of the service in 2007. At the time, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do – she’d done some teacher training but knew it wasn’t for her. However, as part of teacher training she’d met someone involved in the health sector, and felt immediately that she would be more suited to this sort of work.

Soon afterwards, she saw an advert for the new Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service and liked the idea of it. “I liked the fact that there would be no routine and I would be doing something different every day, and that I’d be in charge of my own caseloads. I always knew I wanted to help people and that’s exactly what I would be doing.”

Shazia puts her ability to engage with people down to her sense of humour. “I’ll make fun of myself if I have to. Helping clients to see the humour in situations breaks down barriers and brings people closer together.”

Shazia’s most memorable clients are those who have had issues with substance misuse. “When I started, my knowledge of drugs wasn’t great – I knew a bit about it but not much – but over the years I’ve learned a lot from my clients. Now, I understand the phrases people use, and the way users think.”

She continued, “the thing about addiction is: there’s no point in patronising someone or telling them they shouldn’t do what they’re doing. They know this already. They feel a terrible amount of guilt. They deserve to be treated nicely.”

She went on, “the pull of addiction is really, really strong. If the only people you know are dealers or addicts themselves, and they all have your number and know where you live, that’s a hard environment to get away from. Most of the addicts I’ve met started using in response to abuse or trauma from a young age – things they’ve never had any real support for – so the problems go very deep.”

Shaz recently bumped into someone she supported six years ago. As they chatted, the woman thanked her, saying, “you were the one who treated me like I mattered, and didn’t look down on me”.

Shazia says, “This person’s journey was special to me because I was the one who communicated with her the most, explaining what was happening and often being the person who had to give her bad news. She had a social worker, who was very good, but she didn’t trust her… So it was me who was her birthing partner, staying three nights in the hospital with her. And then it was me who explained to her that, because she hadn’t had four clean drug tests, it was unlikely her baby would be going home with her.”

When support ends, Shazia says it’s important to close cases properly by ending contact and making sure that clients are self-reliant. “It’s not fair on them if they continue to rely on me afterwards,” she says.

(Shazia went on maternity leave last month. When she returns next year, it will be to a new role within Birmingham’s new Early Years Health and Wellbeing service.)

Pregnancy Outreach Worker interviews: Jacque

As the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service comes to an end, we’re reflecting on the last decade by interviewing some of our POWs about their work.

Jacque
Jahanara
Shaista
Shazia
Sophia

Jacque’s story

Jacque came to Gateway at the very start of the POW Service in 2007. For her, it was the ideal job.

“I have a degree in Family Work and before I joined POWS I was working with families as an outreach worker and social therapist. Working one to one with families is ideal for me.

“I love helping people face to face, helping them to find balance and meeting their needs. Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them, and even just a fifteen minute chat can have a big impact. This kind of social support is vital.

“One of the great things about POWS is that we are from the communities we support, so we know what’s out there and can engage at a community level. The women we work with trust us, because there’s a mutual understanding. We can have a real heart-to-heart … it’s mom to mom.

“Over the years the POWs have supported thousands of women between us. The original remit for the service was to support ‘marginalised’ women – those who have experienced domestic abuse; women with mental health issues; families with no recourse to public funds – and over the years the needs have become more acute.

“The women we’re supporting now are more vulnerable than ever. They include refugees and people who have been hit really, really hard by the recession, so we are dealing with a lot of homelessness, and language barriers.

“Although on paper we do a lot of the same things that other support workers do, the difference is that we are more available; more accessible than most. We will come out to see people wherever they need us to, whether that’s at home, at a Children’s Centre or at the shops, and they can call us at any time.

“It’s our job to make sure baby is born healthy, and to reduce inequality. And the way we do that is to make sure mom has support from as early a stage as possible. If she’s smoking or drinking, or if she isn’t eating properly, perhaps because she doesn’t have the finances to support herself – then of course the child will be born into inequality.

“Some of the happiest times with POWS have been seeing people’s excitement at a new house, or seeing women breastfeed happily when they never thought they’d be able to.”

Pregnancy Outreach Worker interviews: Jahanara

As the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service comes to an end, we’re reflecting on the last decade by interviewing some of our POWs about their work.

Jacque
Jahanara
Shaista
Shazia
Sophia

Jahanara’s story

Jahanara has been with Gateway on and off for many years. Like many of our POWs, she originally joined as a Community Family support worker, but as a speaker of different Punjabi dialects, including Mirpuri, she’s also worked as a Gateway Interpreter.

As a POW, Jahanara works with a mix of women, but over the last couple of years has seen more and more women with mental health problems.

Recently she supported a client who has suffered severe depression and mental health issues after being raped. She had never told anyone about it – not even her husband – and it was only when she became pregnant with her husband that she finally started talking about what had happened.

“She’s in such poor health that she hasn’t really been able to look after herself,” says Jahanara. “But it’s my job to make sure that she will be able to look after her baby when it arrives. We have spent a long time talking and her husband now understands that he needs to really look after her at the moment.”

Sometimes it will take a while for women to admit they need help. On one visit to a new client, the pregnant woman told Jahanara everything was fine – but Jahanara noticed that her other children were going barefoot and wearing ill-fitting clothes. So, on the next visit, she took along some items from Gateway’s baby bank, including children’s clothes, baby clothes, toiletries and nappies. “She couldn’t believe it,” says Jahanara. “She said, ‘I only get £90 a week and it goes so quickly. You can’t believe how much you’ve helped me.’ It gave me peace in my heart.”

Often, women will have a number of support workers, but don’t feel like anyone is there to support them, themselves. “Sometimes women just need someone to make them smile, or to pop to the shops with them,” says Jahanara, “and provide a bit of moral support in everyday life. Most support workers are there for the child, but we are there for mum, giving her someone to rely on and a number to call in times of need.”