Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

Consistency, creativity and collaboration are key to navigating the current crisis

Sue Donley, Chief People Officer at Achieve together

Today’s unprecedented circumstances have placed the work we do at the forefront of public attention. A brighter light has been shone on the life-changing work being delivered by our front-line heroes, with many making incredible personal sacrifices to support some of society’s most vulnerable people.

At Achieve together, we’ve always been led by the needs of both the people we support and our dedicated staff. This guiding principle has been more important than ever as we have come together to create a comprehensive, personalised and proactive approach to navigate the impact of this pandemic. Our constant aim has been to support our colleagues in every way we can, so that they can continue to provide high-quality and consistent support to those we serve – helping them to continue to feel safe, engaged and happy in the most challenging of circumstances.

Our duty of care to our teams and those we support is paramount, and so preventing and reducing the spread of COVID-19 has been our absolute priority. Providing around-the-clock care cannot be achieved with physical distancing, so we have given clear guidance and support to our front-line teams.

Alongside rapidly implementing all precautionary staff safeguarding measures, we established a dedicated 24/7 COVID-19 hotline for teams to call in relation to the people we support. It provides wide-ranging advice and assistance and has helped to reduce stress because staff know there’s a strong support network readily available. It has also ensured that we have a clear understanding of the impact that the crisis is having within our organisation and we can respond quickly.

To build on the collaboration we already foster, we have introduced additional support for managers and teams, helping to raise morale, share experiences and generate new ideas. We have also provided enhanced wellbeing support and resources and a dedicated helpline for those that need emotional support to manage the impact on their mental health.

To boost confidence, all colleagues have completed online COVID-19 training, with regular competency checks to ensure learning is embedded across our organisation. Our usual induction support for new starters has been enhanced with virtual classroom training to ensure that they are well placed to take on their roles with confidence from day one.

So that we are well-placed to face the various upcoming challenges, we have launched a new recruitment programme with over 700 paid job opportunities, to build a highly flexible workforce. We are also offering rewarding volunteering roles, working in collaboration with businesses such as airports and catering groups to offer furloughed staff the opportunity to make a difference. It is about helping to ensure we have the capacity to continue delivering high-quality and consistent support, no matter the circumstances.

For the 2,000 people we support, particularly those with complex autism and learning disabilities, it’s essential that we help them to understand the limitations on the way they want to live their lives. To combat anxieties that this can inevitably cause, our teams have created tailored communication systems, visuals and coaching sessions. Additionally, we are actively involving the people we support in our management approach, with some providing video demonstrations for staff on wearing their PPE, for example.

It’s our duty to provide as much continuity and engagement as possible, so we have ramped up our creative events and initiatives. Cooking, gardening and arts and crafts have always been essential activities across our services, but we’ve expanded to include virtual activities like music gigs and talent competitions. To support those missing friends and family we have also heavily invested in technology, including iPads, to help people stay connected.

Whilst we are undoubtedly facing unprecedented challenges as a sector, today’s circumstances present an opportunity for increased collaboration, innovation, and togetherness. It is time to think of new ways of working so that we can aid our front-line heroes to support vulnerable people at a time when they need us most.

Sue Donley is Chief People Officer at Achieve together, a provider of support for people with learning disabilities, autism and associated complex needs.

 

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