Neighbourhood Networks: balancing risk and meeting need in lockdown

Our first November SkillsShare brought representatives from eight of the Leeds Neighbourhood Network Schemes together to look at service delivery during the second national lockdown from 5 November to 2 December.

Providing ‘support’ within available guidance and Covid-19

Neighbourhood Networks have been getting to grips with what official guidance and the latest law mean in terms of permissible service delivery and meeting the needs of service-users.

The new regulations (Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020), which came into force on 5 November, mention that small support groups can continue for a range of groups including ‘the vulnerable’. Many of the Neighbourhood Networks present understood that this includes some of their service users.

The guidance isn’t the only issue that Neighbourhood Networks are grappling with. There is the question of balancing risk, and achieving a level of risk that is comfortable for each Neighbourhood Network as an organisation, ensuring staff, volunteers and service users remain as safe as possible, while meeting the needs of the most vulnerable older people and ensuring that they are fully supported to make an informed choice about taking part.

Here are some of the comments and thoughts from Neighbourhood Networks at the session, which we have anonymized:

One organization is carrying on with some services such as lunch clubs which they view as a support group for vulnerable older people, but will not be continuing with exercise classes. They have taken this decision in light of a range of risk assessments: organisational; meeting the requirements of the venues they are able to continue hiring room space from, and meeting the needs of specific groups of vulnerable people.

”You need to feel completely solid in your decision making…
start small, do a little test and put the brakes on if needed”

Men’s mental health is one of their concerns. A male service user of one network had recently committed suicide, and they are concerned about the mental health of men who don’t come forward to attend services.

Another service they’re hoping to continue with, as long as the weather allows, is a drive out into the country. Using their minibus they have been taking small groups out on 20-30 minute drives, ensuring that the ‘hands, face, space’ message is adhered to, with the minibus well ventilated. It enables people to get out, talk, be in company and enjoy nature.

Balancing risks and meeting need

Not all Neighbourhood Networks are currently going ahead with face-to-face groups. One explained that groups were to restart that week after much thought and risk assessment, but had now been put on hold. Meeting the concerns of the board, staff, service users and their families are all key in balancing out risk. Their approach demonstrates how important it is for each Neighbourhood Network to move at a pace comfortable with them. They are reviewing their actions.

Another Neighbourhood Network explained the process they have been through from risk assessment, talking with the team, safe transport options and taking into account the needs of the most vulnerable and what they are actually about as an organisation. They explained that it’s tough and about taking risks within a context and likened it to balancing out risk for continuing with delivery during exceptionally bad winter weather.

“At the back of the risk assessment is our preventative message,
if we don’t do it what will happen?”

They pointed out that in meeting the needs of older people it is important not to infantilise older people. What the Neighbourhood Networks are doing in continuing to deliver services is not ‘enforced medicine’ but a choice for them to engage in an activity to support their wellbeing. It is important to provide service users with information to allow them to make an informed choice and to explain that if they don’t want to attend, then the space can easily be offered to someone else.

The representative of another organisation added that a letter like this provides an audit trail and allows Neighbourhood Networks to check in with people about how they are feeling and if they have any symptoms.

Neighbourhood Networks carry out a symptom check when service users arrive at groups, which opens a conversation. Some take temperature checks to ensure environments remain as safe as possible for everyone, as well as ensuring service users register with track and trace.

One of the Networks said they provide two phone bingo groups a week using The Phone Co-op. These allow people to hear other’s voices, and enjoy a shared experience.

Another organisation also uses this phone service to continue running their creative writing group, which works well for a small group who know each other.

One Neighbourhood Network will be providing support groups for up to six people, which will focus on mental health and wellbeing, providing group chat and support. The main worry is the mental health of their most vulnerable service users at the present time

Revisit at the next session

Neighbourhood Network Schemes recognise they’re working with a moveable feast and that decisions can change on a more frequent basis that in non-pandemic times. This was a valuable discussion with space to think things through and share ideas and understanding.

It was agreed to revisit this theme at the SkillsShare on 18 November.

Ali Kaye Third Sector
Development Manager, Leeds Older People’s Forum

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