Gloucestershire Funders’ Spotlight is a series aimed at raising awareness of some of the organisations we have helped to fund. Each week we speak with a representative and ask them questions about what it is that they do, what they have learned during the last few months, and how else they might be supported to ensure they can keep making a difference to lives in Gloucestershire. This week we spoke with Ali from Headway Gloucestershire.
Q1: What does Headway do, where are you based and who do you work with?
What does your organisation do, where are you based and who do you work with?
Our mission statement is to provide services that make a positive difference to the lives of acquired brain injury survivors and their families in Gloucestershire. All of our services are open to brain injury survivors and their families and friends who are aged 18+.
We offer a centre based Enablement Service where survivors can meet, share their experiences and support each other as they participate in activities that help them work towards their recovery goals. Our programme of activities is broad and constantly changing; examples include independent living skills, arts and crafts, cognitive skills, reading and writing, budgeting, fatigue management, memory workshops, anger and anxiety management, communication skills, gardening, woodwork, and multi media skills. Our activities get great feedback from our community but the real magic happens by providing a safe space for survivors at different stages of their recovery journey and with different physical, sensory and cognitive outcomes to come together and support each other as they develop and refine strategies to manage unwelcome change. They inspire us every day.
Our outreach support service is called Community Links and we have two advisors who cover the county and provide issue based advice and support. This might include recovery advice, or advice to resolve practical issues such as housing, welfare benefits , employment, equipment needs or finding out about opportunities in a particular community. Many of the survivors we work with tell us they feel misjudged by their communities and that this is a barrier to joining new activities. An important part of our mission is to raise awareness so that we can minimise the misjudgement, and to find community opportunities that provide a safe opportunity for survivors to enjoy new challenges, develop new skills, build confidence and participate in new social groups.
Our Supporting Families service provides an opportunity for family and friends caring for a loved one with brain injury to come together to share their experiences and support each other. We host bi-monthly events and an annual conference as well as social events through the year.
Q2: How has Headway Gloucestershire and the people you work alongside been affected over the last 3 months?
The survivors we work with have faced enormous challenges since March 2020. There has been an increase in safeguarding concerns for members of our community; some have become socially isolated, or at risk of self-neglect, or experiencing difficulty in maintaining healthy routines (eating, drinking and sleeping regularly). There has been an increase in substance misuse, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Some families have struggled to cope without access to the resources they would usually use to help them manage care needs. Some families have broken down under the pressure. Many members of our community needed help for essentials (groceries and medications) during the first lock down and their vulnerability wasn’t always recognised or understood by others. Some members of our community experienced a wonderful sense of support and inclusion from their local communities and some of them were inspired to help others themselves.
In order to manage the risks posed by COVID 19 we have had to make some radical changes to our services. Our Enablement Service is no longer able to bring large numbers of survivors together; we are hosting small sessional bubbles for survivors who want to access face to face services and a menu of remote services for survivors who want to continue to shield at home. Our Supporting Families meetings are now small groups and virtual meetings. Our outreach work has been more in centre and virtual than ever before. This has meant investing in new furniture, equipment, training and procedures. It has been a steep learning curve and we have been worried that our community would loose their sense of ownership of Headway Gloucestershire, but they have been supportive of our changes and are working closely with us to inform continued development.
Q3: Have you learned anything or been surprised by anything during this time?
Some of the changes we have made we will keep in the longer term. Offering the choice to access advice and/or activities via a digital platform or in person is something we will be pleased to retain. We are still experimenting with the scope of digital activities and are working with our community to pilot a wide range of activities. We are also piloting mixed groups where attenders can join a building based group virtually. This is also a means of introducing our services to new attenders. We now have a number of small peer groups using a digital platform to meet, hosted by survivors for survivors, in operation. This is something we have wanted to develop for a long time but we had never considered a digital model. This is action research led by experts by experience and is an exciting development that we think we can learn a lot from.
We will also continue to provide regular resource packs as we have found that members of our community welcome exercises and challenges to do at home. There is plenty of opportunity for our community to shape and develop this resource and we’re enjoying their input.
There have been some wonderful experiences of partnership working over this time and we want to continue to build on those links and work collaboratively where there are shared goals.
Q4: How will the money from Gloucestershire Funders be used by Headway Gloucestershire?
The funding from Gloucestershire Funders has enabled us to invest in new furniture and equipment that meant we could open our doors again at the beginning of September and welcome members of our community seeking face to face support back to a COVID 19 secure environment. It has also enabled us to increase our capacity to offer a broader menu of services to those still shielding. In our building we now have hygiene stations, safe outdoor space, individual, physically spaced workstations for survivors, a full stock of personal protective equipment, laptops and new communications tools for liaison between ‘bubbles’ . We have also developed a ‘Zoom Room’ for broadcasting and begun a programme of training survivors and volunteers to lead in hosting activities with confidence.
Q5: Are you still fundraising? How can people support your organisation?
We are still fundraising and we put every penny we raise to hard work. We are a small local charity and we appreciate every bit of support we are given. You can support us in many ways – by donating, or by organising a sponsored challenge or event or by volunteering your time to help us. There are more ideas on our website and Facebook page.