Serving the frontline

May 4, 2020 Blog - CEO Theresa Shearer - Group CEO

I have reflected many times since the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown about how connected I feel to the frontline. In the midst of a social care crisis, our culture of serving the frontline has emerged front and centre as our guiding principle.  Beyond traditional communications, our digital capacity has enabled me during Covid-19 to directly engage with our workforce – in every part of the country – and look people in the eye to ask if they are ok.  To ask if there is anything more I can do for them.  To hear their feedback, and to be able to do something about it in real time.

After one of my Zoom calls last week, I received an email, from a Team Facilitator who has joined ENABLE Scotland this year following a 20 year career in social care, which made my heart sing:

Until now I have never worked for an organisation where I have felt so valued as part of a team.  When I say team, I am not just talking about my peers & immediate line manager I am referring to the organisation as a whole.  I was prompted to write this the back of the ‘Zoom’ call that you held with various different functions that I was pleased to be part of.  Not only is it refreshing to know that you are willing to make the time to liaise with everyone but given the current global climate it was even more reassuring to know that the entire organisation are together in this goal to provide the best care we can.

I strongly believe that few other organisations would have been able to react as quickly and efficiently as ENABLE Scotland have managed to do so to ensure that staff are protected, supported and as well informed as is possible.


Investment in digital

Even if a global pandemic wasn’t something we had in mind at the time, investment in digital has righty been a major priority for ENABLE Scotland over the last few years.

In order to deliver the best support for our frontline staff, it has been obvious to us that a digitally enabled workforce is a vital step in delivering the highest quality self-directed social care and support to people who have a learning disability, and the measures we took to invest in new technology through The Piper Group has proven critical to our charity’s ability to adapt to the current challenge.

Before Covid-19, we had issued 2,200 smartphones to our staff team, and during our response to the often rapidly changing landscape in the early days of the pandemic, this allowed us to engage directly at every level, and keep all our frontline keyworkers informed with daily digital staff communications and our dedicated Covid-19 staff portal on Microsoft Teams, where we host a wide range of information and guidance which is constantly reviewed and updated as required.

Our investment in digital also made the move to home-working for non-frontline staff exceptionally smooth, and it is great to see recognition of our position as a sector-leader in digital transformation by one of the leading voices on charities’ digital innovation, Zoe Amar, in this article, featuring our Director of ICT and Change, Sudeep Chatterjee.

Keeping connected digitally

At ENABLE Scotland, participation and engagement at every level has become digital.  On Saturday, I was delighted to take part in a historic moment for us – the first ever digital meeting of ENABLE Scotland’s Scottish Council.

Our Scottish Council is elected by the charity’s members and includes individuals representing adults and young people who have a learning disability, families and carers, and our local branches. Their lived experience and wisdom helps ensure ENABLE Scotland’s campaigns, projects and priorities are truly member-led.

Scottish Council has met 217 times in our charity’s history, and at the end of the 216th meeting back in February, none of us could have imagined just what was about to unfold.  As our Convener Ivan Cohen said in his opening remarks, this was a Scottish Council meeting unlike any since ENABLE Scotland was founded back in 1954.

Yet bringing together 28 people from the different committees of members and from all over Scotland via Zoom worked remarkably well. The technology was slick, the format for presenting information and asking questions was really smooth, and our team supported our members to participate well.

In days gone by, a massive disruption like the Covid-19 pandemic would simply have meant meetings like our Scottish Council being suspended indefinitely.

But thanks to digital technology, we can maintain the connections and support that are so critical to everything ENABLE Scotland does for its members.

ACE Connect

Being a digital-ready charity hasn’t just meant our staff being better prepared for the current challenges.   For many of our members, their local ACE and ACE Youth groups – Active Communities of Empowered people who have a learning disability – are a lifeline, and may be the main routes they have to friendship, connection and support.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to suspend all face to face ACE and ACE Youth Group meetings. We knew this could be devastating to many of our members, many of whom have no other form of social care support and limited social networks, and we made it a priority to contact Group members by phone to check they were coping and to ask what we could do to help.

They told us loneliness, isolation, anxiety and mental health challenges were key issues for them, and they all wanted to stay connected through this difficult time.

So thanks to feedback and ideas from ACE members, ENABLE Scotland launched ACE Connect. This new digital network delivers at least 19 sessions per week for ACE members using Zoom, covering topics like the latest information about Covid-19, mindfulness, fitness and entertainment.

We also have an ACE Connect helpline available 50 hours per week to provide emotional support, and further support online through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.  It was great to hear so many ACE members saying incredibly positive things about this service on Saturday.

Stepping Up Live

The lockdown measures have also made it difficult for our employability arm, ENABLE Works, to engage directly with people who have disabilities who need employability support.

But I’m proud of how the team have found lots of innovative ways to keep in touch with people they’re supporting, not least through Stepping Up Live.

This project has taken the successful Stepping Up programme – which supports school pupils who have a learning disability with thinking about further education, training and work after school – onto a digital platform so that young people can still access this life-changing support, even when they can’t go to school.

In the last month, when young people across the country have found that they have not had the time in school they had expected to plan for their transitions, the team have delivered more than 100 sessions for young people and their families, with more than 60 new schools engaging with the programme for the first time!

This is evidence once more that investing in digital is not just about delivering existing services in a different way; it can itself be the gateway to our charity reaching and supporting many more people, and serving our frontline by supporting them during the most challenging of times.

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