If you run a community group or organisation in Birmingham, it’s important for you to know that voluntary sector activity is still allowed, and that you can continue to support those in need in the city, as long as you do so safely.
In most cases, you will simply need to follow the government guidance for that activity. However, some activities do not clearly fall into a set of guidelines.
Please note that the document sets out the understanding of the current situation from BVSC, but each venue, organisation and activity lead needs to consider their own circumstances and current official guidance.
Current official guidance
The single most important action we can all take to fight coronavirus is to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives. When we reduce our day-to-day contact with other people, we reduce the spread of the infection. That is why, from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December, you must:
Stay at home, except for specific purposes.
Avoid meeting people you do not live with, except for specific purposes.
Close certain businesses and venues.
These new measures will reduce the growth rate of the virus, which will:
prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed
ensure schools, colleges and universities can stay open
ensure that as many people as possible can continue to work
An outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been identified in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull. That means some local restrictions are coming into place this week:
New local guidelines from 15th September
If you live in Birmingham, Solihull or Sandwell: from tomorrow, Tuesday 15 September, you should not:
host people you do not live with, in your home or garden, unless they’re in your support bubble*
meet people you do not live with, in their home or garden, whether inside or outside of the affected areas, unless they’re in your support bubble*
*A support bubble is where a household with one adult joins with another household (on an exclusive basis).
New national guidelines from 14th September
From today (Monday, 14 September), residents will also need to comply with the new ‘rule of six’ national restrictions, where it is against the law to meet people you do not live with in a group larger than six (apart from specific exemptions listed in the national guidance).
Residents should follow government advice around ‘hands, face, space’ and getting tested, including:
Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitiser
Wear a face covering in appropriate scenarios (if you’re not exempt)
Be aware of others not in your household and manage your space as much as possible. Always stay 2 metres away from people you don’t live with – or 1 metre with extra precautions (such as wearing a face covering)
If you, or someone in your household, have Covid-19 symptoms, it is very important that you stay home and book a test by calling 119 or visiting nhs.uk.
We thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the real life cases our Social Prescribing Link Workers have worked on since they started in February. We’ll be publishing a selection of these over the next few weeks and you can read the first one, about Wayne and his patient Linda*, below.
But first, a little note about the last few months…
Social Prescribing Link Workers and lockdown
Based at GP practices, Link Workers take referrals directly from GPs and other practice staff for Social Prescribing: offering one-to-one “whole person” support for non-medical and social issues, and helping people to access local activities and services.
We started putting together our Birmingham Social Prescribing Link Workers team in February; however, they had only been working with their local surgeries for a few weeks when Covid-19 hit and the country went into lockdown.
As more and more people started to need help, the referrals came flooding in and our Link Workers went into overdrive. As well as continuing to build relationships with their local GPs and care staff, they also continued to build their networks of local organisations and agencies, including making contact with the hundreds of new volunteer organisations and foodbanks that were popping up. And of course they were still getting to know each other as a team, albeit remotely. All work was done via video and phone calls, with occasional visits to foodbanks, shops and pharmacies to help patients out.
It has been tough, but they have done (and continue to do!) a tremendous job. In the five months they have been in their roles, our Social Prescribing Link Workers have already supported more than 400 people.
“Help me to sort this out”: Linda’s story
In February, Linda’s* GP referred her to the surgery’s Link Worker, Wayne (pictured), because of her issues with hoarding.
“A hoarding disorder is where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner, usually resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter. The items can be of little or no monetary value.” (source: www.nhs.uk)
When he received the referral, Wayne contacted Linda straight away and they arranged to meet up at the surgery for a chat.
They spoke for over an hour. Linda, who’s in her fifties, explained that her relationship with her parents was at the heart of her hoarding problems, and that although she was getting help from the Mental Health team, it was only short term. She told Wayne she felt alone and helpless, saying “there’s not much anyone can do to help me. I don’t know how to solve this.”
Wayne asked Linda to talk about what she really wanted. How could they work together to make her feel happier? She said, simply, “help me to sort this out.”
Wayne went online and spoke to his network of contacts to find out what was available. He quickly discovered that West Midlands Fire Service hold regular meetings run by Clouds End, a specialist organisation that helps people with hoarding behaviours.
Wayne encouraged Linda to attend, and even offered to accompany her if she wanted some support. She decided to go on her own and found the meetings to be a positive experience. The other attendees were people like her and the group sessions had a non-judgemental atmosphere. She told Wayne she felt encouraged by the support.
In the meantime, Wayne found out more about what the Fire Service could offer. The priority was Linda’s safety; because no-one had been able to get into the house for a while, there was no way of knowing if it was safe. They arranged a home visit where WMFS carried out a fire safety check and installed a new smoke alarm. Wayne also found out that WMFS have a Specialist Team who support people just like Linda. When he told her, she was over the moon and started planning for them to visit.
The next step was for Linda to start reducing the clutter in her home. She started selling items online, which has been going well; she is happy to see some cash coming her way.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the Fire Service Specialist Team hadn’t yet been able to visit due to the Covid-19 isolation measures, but Wayne is in regular contact with them and they will start working with her as soon as it’s safe.
Wayne continues to contact Linda every week for a chat about her wellbeing. She remains pleased with her progress and tells him she feels positive about her future.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and we thought we’d mark it with a story from one of our Social Prescribing Link Workers, Becky (pictured).
Becky is one of 15 Link Workers employed by Gateway in partnership with SDSmyhealthcare and The North Solihull Collaborative. Each one is attached to a PCN (a group of GP surgeries) and, in ‘normal’ times, would be working from surgeries to provide support to patients at face-to-face appointments. Link Workers are there to help with people’s social, rather than clinical, needs: listening, understanding, and connecting people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support. Currently, all of their support is done over the phone or via video calls.
Last week, Becky told us about Brian*. We thought that the story, although sad, was a reminder that “support” can be as simple as being there for someone, and noticing if they go quiet. It’s also a really good example of the importance of good relationships between our Link Workers, local community groups, and the patient’s GP.
Brian says Social Prescribers have been a ‘lifeline’
By Becky Cuthbert, Social Prescribing Link Worker
More than six weeks into lockdown, and it’s starting to take its toll. We are all feeling it and so are the patients I’ve been supporting.
I had been phoning one patient, Brian, every other day, but one day I just couldn’t get him to answer. This was a cause for concern because during previous conversations Brian had gone into a lot of detail, sharing his mental health struggles over the years, previous suicidal thoughts, chronic anxiety, drug use, insomnia and what he described as his ‘mental breakdowns’. Why wasn’t he picking up, or messaging me? What if he was relapsing?
I phoned a contact from the local art-based social prescribing group who had referred Brian to Gateway’s Social Prescribing service. She had not been able to get hold of him either and had similar concerns. This confirmed that it was time to get in touch with his GP and ask them to do some follow up.
I’m grateful that, of the various practices I work with, Brian belongs to a surgery where the Practice Manager and GPs understand my role and value Social Prescribing’s contribution to holistic care. I emailed the Practice Manager and the Clinical Lead about the safeguarding concerns I had.
The next day I received a reply letting me know that they’d been able to contact Brian. He had apologised for the lack of contact and shared that he had been retreating into himself more and more, telling the GP that my colleague (from the art project) and I have been ‘lifelines’ for him recently.
Brian has decided that he needs more support for his mental health and the GP is now working that through with him.
This shows our system working and joining up to provide a safety net. Most importantly, Brian knows he is cared for and that he hasn’t been forgotten – and that means a lot for his mental health.
Since then, Brian has texted and had a long call with me. He says, ‘you don’t know what it means that you care and that you notice’.
It is wonderful to contribute to a very caring, human network of care. Brian can see that I work closely with other partners and with his GP, and that we have a high level of trust and a shared vision between us: a ‘community of care’. I believe that our patients can perceive this and it all helps convey the important message, ‘you matter’. We are not claiming that a few phone calls are enough to bring full health and wholeness to Brian’s complex mental health issues, but they could have been enough to prevent deterioration, and been the start of him getting more help. Like he said, it’s a ‘lifeline’.
I often say to people that Social Prescribing is simple really, there’s nothing very big or clever about it. It’s about doing small things, but doing them well. It’s a challenge when working from home, but going forward I know I need to continue to invest in my relationships with all the Practices I work with and to spread the vision of the big impact that Social Prescribing can have.
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?
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.
In Birmingham and Solihull, Social Prescribing Link Workers are also delivering prescriptions and food parcels, and making befriending calls, as well as continuing to support their own clients.
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.”
Perhaps surprisingly, many of our staff are finding the challenge of the new support work rewarding in itself.
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.”
Over the last few weeks, like many third sector organisations, Gateway has completely changed the way we work. All our staff are now working from home; our internal meetings are held over video and face-to-face appointments have had to cease.
Our overall strategy and ethos, however, has not changed a bit.
As we have done for the last fourteen years, we are still providing community-based support, helping people to manage their own health and wellbeing in a sustainable way.
Right now, though, we are doing this not only through our regular services, but by responding to the immediate, urgent needs of people in our community — many of whom are having to shield or self-isolate.
New services, fast
In March, when it became clear that everyone would soon need to start social distancing and working from home where possible, it was obvious that our services were going to have to change quite substantially. We understood from our capacity planning that, in order to provide support for the public whilst keeping our staff safe, many of our functions would have to switch to remote working. But we also saw that there were going to be huge needs around isolation and helping people to get the basic essentials.
We knew we had to work fast.
In collaboration with our outreach teams — in particular our Social Prescribing Link Workers, who were already having these conversations with patients — and drawing on our skills as an organisation, we put together some offers of help to Birmingham and Solihull Councils and Public Health. These prioritised:
the distribution of food and medication
social support over the phone to listen and reassure people, and
linking people to sources of advice and help.
In response to these offers, some new services were very quickly requested and developed. We are now running these new services in addition to our regular services.
In Solihull, as well as continuing to take referrals for the Solihull Lifestyle Service, and supporting people over the phone, we now run a medication collection and delivery service. This is a team of drivers who collect prescribed medications from pharmacies across Solihull, and deliver them to people who aren’t able to get to a pharmacy themselves.
The team of five is made up of Link Workers and Community Wellbeing Advisers and they do this on top of their already busy caseloads.
This service, like seemingly everything else at the moment, was developed at breakneck speed. New policies were put together, new processes designed and approved, responsibility allocated to a manager, and staff briefed and trained, very quickly. Normally it would take several meetings and weeks of talks to create something like this, but thanks to the urgency and willingness from Solihull Public Health and everyone else involved, it has been done in days.
ENNS and support for Quinton households
While other Neighbourhood Network Schemes have been running for a year or more, we have only recently been appointed as lead for the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme — and because of the Coronavirus, we have had to hit the ground running.
We’d only been getting to know Edgbaston, Harborne and Quinton groups for a few weeks when Birmingham City Council and BVSC asked all the Neighbourhood Network Scheme leads to co-ordinate their constituency’s Covid-19 response.
So in the last few weeks we have got to know lots of new organisations very quickly!
The Edgbaston NNS is now a central point of contact for people in need, and for groups that need help to be able to do even more than they were already doing. We now have an emergency asset register, where we are logging the creative ways in which groups continue to support their members, and the extra support that groups and individuals are able to offer.
We have anticipated that Quinton, which has the highest levels of deprivation in our constituency, will have the highest intensity of need. So our NNS team and our local Link Workers are working closely with community groups like The Quinton and Oldbury Foodbank, and the B32 Group, whose volunteers are organising and delivering food, as well as local Councillors, to co-ordinate support here — and we’re also helping to promote a designated grants programme in the area. We have the support of our MP, Preet Kaur Gill. And we’ve set up a group that meets weekly by Zoom to keep in touch, share ideas, and check on progress.
Gateway’s Social Prescribing Link Workers have only been in post for a couple of months, but they have already seen massive changes in their job role. Originally set up to be based at GP surgeries and working directly with patients, the Link Workers are now all working from home.
Thankfully, they are a creative and resilient bunch! They’re continuing to receive non-clinical referrals from GPs and Practice staff, and they’re also helping with the new services — so not only are they supporting patients over the phone, they’re also sourcing food parcels, delivering medications, and doing other odd jobs for people who need help.
But they’ve also helped us to discover an extra need. Lots of people need food parcels because of financial hardship, but what about people who can and want to pay for their food? There are many people who can’t get out to the shops and whose usual support networks are not able to help. Supermarket deliveries are either unreliable, or not viable for other reasons, and it means some people are going without.
So we are setting up a shopping service. This will be led by our Link Workers and made available to those we support who really need it, and we hope to have it in place within the next few days.
When everything is moving so quickly with so much uncertainty, we are grateful for our dedicated teams of staff and our community’s strength. It has felt important for us, as an organisation that supports the people of Birmingham and Solihull, to be able to say we’re happy to muck in. But it’s even more valuable to know that our staff will respond in the most responsible, empathic, co-operative way, and that there are many community groups and individuals that we can work with to support those most in need.
Recently, Gateway and Age UK Birmingham were appointed to lead the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS).
We hoped to announce the launch of Edgbaston NNS this week, but of course, current events have overtaken us. Instead of a launch event, we are diving straight into support for community groups in the area.
The Council and BVSC (Birmingham Voluntary Services Council) have asked us to focus purely on how organisations in the Edgbaston constituency are responding to Covid-19 and how we can provide the necessary support to those who need it.
What is a Neighbourhood Network Scheme?
Neighbourhood Network Schemes are designed to support older people in Birmingham to connect with individuals, groups, organisations, activities, services and places in their local neighbourhood.
As part of Birmingham City Council’s new community social work model they are constituency based, so the Edgbaston NNS covers the areas of Edgbaston, Harborne, Quinton, Bartley Green, Shenley and Weoley Castle.
At the moment, however, every NNS in Birmingham is focusing on support for community organisations as we all adjust to events relating to the coronavirus and the resulting isolation.
How is your group managing?
To help us build up a picture of what’s already happening and what more may be possible, we are asking community organisations and groups in the areas of Edgbaston, Harborne, Quinton, Bartley Green, Shenley and Weoley Castle to get in touch with us by email or phone (details below) and let us know the following:
Has your group had to close or otherwise change in terms of what you normally do? We know most meetings have been suspended, so how has this affected you?
Is your group in a position to offer help? Let us know if you are doing something, planning to do something, or are willing to do something to help with the response.
If you’re not in a position to help, do you have any worries? Are you concerned about members of your group and how they may be coping?
It’s clear that a lot of work is already underway locally to ensure that vulnerable people, and those made vulnerable by this situation, get the help they need. We are here to build on this by coordinating, and potentially resourcing, support.
Over the next few weeks, Gateway and Age UK Birmingham, working together as Edgbaston NNS, will be:
Continuing to contact existing groups to find out your approach to the Covid-19 response
Monitoring new offers of Covid-19 support
Providing guidance and support to groups which are providing Covid-19 assistance
Connecting groups which are providing Covid-19 support to ensure they work together, maximise reach, avoid duplication and fill in gaps
If you run a community group in the Edgbaston constituency, contact Katherine at Gateway Family Services via email: email@example.com, or phone: 0121 456 7820, to let us know how we can help.
Given the most recent government advice, and for the wellbeing of our staff and the people we work with, we are moving towards home working over the next couple of days. However, all of our services are still running, and you should continue to contact us in the usual way.
Our outreach services — including the Solihull Lifestyle Service and Social Prescribing Link Workers — are continuing to take referrals and to support people over the phone and via email. If you would like to refer into these services you can, and if you are currently receiving support, you will continue to do so, albeit remotely.
All face-to-face group activities have been suspended, so the MVP meeting scheduled for 26th March will not take place and the Patient Health Forum is not currently running.
Solihull contact information
For the Solihull Lifestyle Service, including the Solihull Stop Smoking Service, please call free on 0800 599 9880 and you will be put through to an adviser as usual. We are still taking new clients and referrals.
Other contact information
For other queries about any other services, or for general information about Gateway Family Services, please call our Birmingham number which is 0121 456 7820.