Interview with Senior Managers on COVID-19

Earlier this year, Dennis Jones, turned the spotlight onto our Senior Management team and asked them to reflect on what has happened since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They discussed first reactions to lockdown 1 and their initial fears, shared stories from the frontline, and talked about how proud they are of everyone involved.

Dennis kicked off by asking the Senior Managers what their first thoughts for SSJ were when Boris Johnson stood in front of Downing Street back in May 2020 and announced a full lockdown for the whole of the UK.

Unsurprisingly and unanimously all Senior Managers reflected on the immediate need to keep staff, residents, and service users safe but to also keep as many services as possible running. They talked of how almost immediately resources were pushed to the frontline with a flurry of activity to try to secure and install PPE and IT equipment. 

Operations Director, Nicky Wilsenham, reflected on the need to find ways to “give an unclear message some clarity” She remembers thinking “how do we control this, how do we police this, do we police this?

For Operations Director, Mike Taylor and his teams, they were facing the immediate problem of how to meet the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ directive and how to immediately house the 30-40 people known to be living on Portsmouth’s streets. Mike stated “we couldn’t have been in a worse position” and remembers feeling somewhat in shock.  

For Operations Director, Tony Keall, his immediate concern was for SSJ’s care home where “we can’t distance people, they are in a shared environment, we have to give intimate care and we cannot withdraw the service”. Tony said it was a ‘scary time’

For Chief Executive, Trevor Pickup, his attention was turning to quick solutions, and even shared a desire to develop festival-type encampments in City Parks to provide tents for those who were street homeless. 

Trevor laughs now that the councils did not take too kindly to this idea and thankfully better solutions were sought including hotels and student accommodation being taken over by our staff to support those who were homeless and vulnerable.

Trevor remembers trying to “grapple with how fast the virus would progress” and questioned, “how wild and creative could we be to solve some life-threatening problems”.

Dennis asked the Senior Managers to recall some of the success stories from the last year.

Both Trevor and Andy, Director of Finance and Central Services, spoke of the adaptability of staff to deal in such a reactive way to the pandemic. Trevor applauded the new ways in which staff quickly adapted through the use of technology (for example online meetings) and how staff quickly restructured their work and places of work to ensure our services could continue safely. 

Trevor said he saw a “huge sense of collaboration and commitment.”  

Andy said that despite the pandemic “we kept the organisation moving forward in a strategic way. We bought a new care home. We bought new property to house even more vulnerable people – incredible!”  Whilst at the same time adapting property to keep people safe in super-quick time and reacting to ever-changing government pandemic advice”

For our Ops Director’s stories were more operational. Tony spoke of how immensely proud he is of how staff, residents, and service users kept Covid-19 out of the vast majority of services during 2020 and recounted many “individual acts of resilience and bravery”. He remembered the heat of summer 2020 and despite the heat, the care home staff turning up day after day in full PPE.

Mike talked about how SSJ’s Substance Misuse workers, within a matter of hours, were “delivering methadone directly to peoples’ addresses” rather than meeting them in the Recovery Hub. He is hugely proud of how his Portsmouth team, alongside partners, opened 2 hotels and housed over 200 people safely in those hotels which was “just astonishing in the timeframe”.

Nicky talked of her teams in Southampton and how they quickly accommodated incredibly vulnerable individuals in the hostels. “Staff went above and beyond”, “an outstanding job,” she said. She talked of how adaptable the criminal justice team was to changing circumstances, later demonstrating increased engagement with service users during the pandemic. Nicky also praised the central office for keeping everything going and talked of how we “Really pulled together as an organisation

On asking how supporters can help our work….

The Senior Management talked of the importance of supporter donations to our charitable work. Trevor explained that donations are used in a couple of ways from “small scale items of expenditure” for example “for residents who need help with soap, towels, items of clothing.”. 

Trevor explained that we run a residents welfare fund at SSJ which is really important in supporting recovery. 

He then went on to talk of the importance of donations to our acquiring new properties to be ring-fenced for those with a history of homelessness. He explained that “the houses are purchased using government grants however we need to cover the costs of furniture and additional building costs, so some donations will be invested in this”.

Tony went on to explain the importance of monetary donations to ensure “we can do things that really make a difference” going on to talk about the online music sessions that are about to roll-out across our Care Homes in Partnership with The Soco Music Project. Tony also talked about non-monetary donations and how they can make a real difference explaining that during the hand sanitizer shortage, in March, we were hugely grateful to Bombay Sapphire Gin for their donation of hand sanitiser. 

Tony mused “we probably had the best smelling hand sanitizer”. Nicky added that thanks to our supporters’ things were happening in the hostels that helped to pass the time during lockdown such as “Decorating communal spaces – getting everyone involved”. She went on to say “without support and donations we wouldn’t be able to do that”.

Andy talked about how donations kept us running during lockdown, IT kit for example so staff could continue to work from home. 

The charity is very proud that so few people were furloughed during the pandemic and that is in part due to our supporter donations. “Additional funding is invaluable to fund these things”. Andy went on to talk about our plans to improve WiFi across the organisation not only to improve the way we deliver our services but also for service users as well. 

Any donations towards this will be extremely helpful.

The charity will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary next year and the ‘Time Served’ at SSJ by the Senior Management Team varies greatly so Dennis asked the team if they had any stories to share. Quite an emotional and heartfelt response followed…

Tony, having been with the organisation for # years reflected on the changes the organisation has been through. He remembers that there were “30-40 people when I started, we were just in Southampton with a handful of houses and a hostel”. He went on to say “to see the organisation we have grown into – it’s quite something.  In the olden days we used to make it up as we went along – in a good way. We’d identify the need and just go out and meet it.”  Now Tony feels “we have been drawn into a more professional environment, and it sometimes feels a bit more constrained. “ Having said that he felt that because of this the “Organisation had become more professional, more accountable and all of that is a good thing”. His final wistful words were “it’s been quite a journey”.

Mike joining SSJ at a similar time to Tony gave a more recent and emotional account of early last year when he was involved, with staff, in the “setting up of Havant Road for incredibly medically vulnerable individuals and seeing how relieved they were when they were housed with us. They were off the streets, out of shared of accommodation, and fearful for their lives of getting Covid cause these were the people that were dying back in March. And they came into accommodation, lovely room, self-contained, food was being brought to the service, so were their medications from the substance misuse team, and it all happened within 10 days.”  

Nicky as the “new kid on the block” talked of her love of visiting the projects and meeting the clients. She went on to say that what “impressed me since joining SSJ is that Trevor, being the CE actually knows quite a lot of the residents and clients”.   She went on to say that “everybody is just so supportive of each other”.   She recounted her recent experience of doing a shift at one of our hostels “plus doing a shift at 10 Southampton Street is awesome, doing a shift when it was just me and student on donation day”.

Dennis then asked for any final words and, now warmed-up, the Senior Management team were extremely keen to give thanks to all those involved in our efforts over the last year…

Andy said “a massive thank you to our staff. They have been incredible this year. We asked a huge amount of our staff both in services and outside of services. We’ve asked people to put themselves literally in the face of the virus, put up with the fact that they might end up getting it. The response to that has been amazing”. Andy went on to thank the staff in the “back-office environments where we literally closed the office one day and said you are going to have to work from home tomorrow. People have made do in their bedrooms, and their kitchens, on their laps whilst potentially trying to home-school their children”. 

Nicky echoed that “everybody worked above and beyond. Dealing with challenges our residents have thrown up” and wanted to say thank you for the ”help and support from my team and colleagues”. Tony highlighted that the “incredible effort that staff have put in has come at no small personal cost.  Our staff did an amazing job before this started and then they have had to manage this additional level of anxiety and stress”. Tony wanted to recognise the managers who “have done an amazing job. They have been councillors, listened to peoples’ fears, come up with solutions whilst at the same time managing all those same emotions themselves”.  

Mike thanked the board “because they allow us to take a lot of risks”. He went on to explain that “Setting up these hotels, moving as fast as we were with some of the housing, relies on us being able to spend the money upfront”  

And as the final note, Trevor said he was “Hugely proud of what we have done as an organisation. Staff have been fabulous, the board have been fabulous”. Trevor reflected by to 1972 where SSJ started a “night-shelter where we had 15 men living in a communal hall, all living in an open way as a fundamental basic night-shelter”. He went on to say that “Moving from there over 50 years we have bee been able to develop hugely, we are still focussing on providing services to vulnerable people and are optimistic about what we can do going forward.

Since filming this video we did we did have a outbreak of Covid in one of our care homes which was dealt with admirably by members of staff. We will cover this in a video soon.

The video can be viewed here