The Bridge and Parker House are two of our purpose-built schemes based in Chorley offering accommodation for single young people aged 16-24 who are experiencing homelessness. The average age is predominantly 16 to 17-year-olds with social care; this can be leaving care, a child looked after or a child in need. All referrals for this service come via the Social Care Access to Resources Team. However, additional referrals where the housing authority has a duty to the tenant come to us via the Housing Solutions Team at Chorley Borough Council

Tony Devlin, Homeless Services Manager, describes what it has been like for the residents and staff year during lockdown:

In January we started 2020 as usual as any other, then we hit March, and it all changed. At the end of March 2020, the Prime Minister declared lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The news delivered by the Prime Minister was difficult for colleagues to endure; however, it was devastating to our tenants as they were not fully aware of the expectations and what it meant to isolate socially. This was when the extra work began for our teams. Keyworkers have continued to work throughout the pandemic, keeping ourselves safe and providing the tenants with physical and emotional support whilst ensuring we kept them updated with ongoing changes regarding government announcements.

As a team, we developed a rota to ensure that colleagues were on duty every day throughout and looked at what support was in place and what further support was required through these challenging times for our tenants. Here are a few measures that helped us continue working effectively to provide a continuous service to all our tenants:

  • We devised a temporary support plan during COVID-19 for each tenant across all schemes, which discussed coronavirus, isolation, food status, ideas for keeping busy, mental health, and wellbeing.
  • We continued to offer weekly support meetings and to review support with social care and other external agencies.
  • We helped our tenants to access food from the local food banks and looked at the community support available (such as free takeaway meals).
  • We helped tenants to access health services and to collect repeat medication.
  • We offered access to Chromebooks and the telephone so that they could stay connected with family and friends and access to social media.
  • We supported the tenants with gardening, colouring, arts and crafts, Wii games, and apps with games they could access on their phones/laptops and DVD loans.
  • We provided cookery books and recipes for tenants to make basic meals and smoothies with support from colleagues initially with a view they could carry on making them on their own. We encouraged exercise and daily walks.
  • We supported tenants with their mental health by providing links to online support such as 'The Wall' and offering tenants time to discuss their issues.
  • We also helped them clean their flats to improve their mental wellbeing in a relaxed approach whilst observing social distancing.

The team worked closely across all our schemes to ensure consistent and relevant information was shared whilst working closely with our Health and Safety Team and managers.

Colleagues liaised with tenants daily and were issued lots of informative posters, with easy to read guidelines and instructions. These were displayed on the walls, and notice boards and staff reiterated to tenants the importance of following government COVID-19 guidelines. As with the rest of us, it took some time for the tenants to grasp the importance of following the COVID-19 guidelines and that these guidelines were being set by the government and not by us. Many conversations have been had with colleagues regarding this, and we are continuing to do so.

As a team, we took a holistic approach to what effects social isolation could have on our tenants and felt it was important that tenants had access to the world outside whilst being isolated. We liaised with the IT Team and had Wi-Fi installed for tenants across the schemes to help alleviate the boredom and look after the tenants' wellbeing as they were spending lots of time indoors. All the schemes were able to access the internet and having conversations with friends, relatives, playing online games and accessing the world online has helped them along the way. This internet access also helped with accessing apps and online mental health support services.

We recognised that we would have to be adaptive in our approach to providing support so that we kept our tenants and ourselves safe and followed all recommendations that were being issued. With this in mind, we changed the nature of our weekly support plans, focusing on mental health and wellbeing and lockdown survival. We were also adaptive in how this was delivered, using larger spaces to enable social distancing, and delivering support meetings over the telephone where appropriate or necessary.

Colleagues continued to explore different ways of working with the tenants and their activities which was sometimes challenging to manage as the guidelines kept changing and were confusing for everybody. The tenants tried their best in such a challenging environment, and we also ensured that they had adequate food supplies and prescriptions were in place for those tenants in need of medication. As a team we are all very proud of each other, the improved support network that we have created across the schemes, and most importantly proud of our tenants who throughout their own frustrations have tried their best to work with us which has created a safer environment for us all.

We have also continued to keep our void days to a minimum during all of this, ensuring we have liaised effectively with referring agencies before a void occurred. We have continued to assist tenants with their income and set up appropriate benefits where necessary to ensure those rent payments are made, ensuring regular income to the tenant and the organisation.

No matter how difficult and testing the year has been, it has helped people think differently about how they work, what they do, and what changes are needed to achieve them. Change is inevitable and will continue to be so, however, once grasped; we can make the impossible - possible and become part of the ongoing process in the future.

We have learned something along the way. We have identified that when people pull together, we can achieve, an example of this is our colleagues, partners, and most importantly, our communities.

As we approached the Christmas festive season, we were happy to end this difficult year by being provided with the following for our tenants:

  • The Hinds Head Pub, Charnock Richard, Chorley, kindly donated 18 Christmas dinners for tenants to enjoy a Christmas meal in the comfort of their own home.
  • Gifts from the Wish Tree Appeal were generously donated by Progress Housing Group employees, local communities, and agencies.
  • Donated food parcels from Living Waters Storehouse foodbank for 18 tenants and the foodbank has also supported them throughout the year.
  • Lancashire County Council Children's Social Care donated Christmas trees and trimmings to all the tenants to put some Christmas cheer in their own flats.
  • Nykkie Burrell, Progress Housing Group's Group Marketing and Communications Manager, with the help of friends and family, donated a fantastic hamper.

We were so happy that the tenants had Christmas gifts, meals, and food to help them enjoy their Christmas and make it that little bit more special after the hectic year they had been through. It is important to remember that we are all different, and the pandemic's impact can affect us all in so many different ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things, including various ways of communicating, the importance of open conversations, respecting each other, improved community spirit, and that being there for each other can help us get through the difficulties whatever changes that 2021 may have to offer us.”

“Myself, my colleagues, and the tenants were extremely grateful for all these kind and thoughtful gifts and would like to take this opportunity to say thank you.

Tony Devlin