Oct 20

Life Under the 'Clapping for Carers' Radar – Part One

Posted: 13 October 2020

Tina Turnbull is Chief Executive of People Matters, and also holds voluntary roles as an Inclusive Growth Ambassador for Leeds City Council, is a director of Leeds City Credit Union and a governor at a local NHS Trust. In the first of three blogs Tina looks at the impact of the virus on her organisation.

Facing Lockdown...

I didn’t ‘clap for our carers’ on a Thursday evening, there I said it. Not because I didn’t care but because I do, too much, the clapping just felt too easy and simple in comparison with leading a social care charity through the lockdown of the past few months.

There has been so much in the news about the challenges faced by the NHS and residential homes and now the changes needed. Social care is so much broader than residential care for the elderly though, and so much less expensive than healthcare too, despite what is said about care home fees in the press. As the country considers the need for change in a sector reported to be in so much difficulty, we need to remember the diversity of what we do, and the challenges we have been and continue to face.

People Matters is an example of just how different social care can be from the shorthand of the ‘private care homes’ label, but of course also has lots of points of similarity too. We’re an award winning, medium sized, member led local charity and social enterprise. There are about 50 staff, providing care for people with disabilities, especially those with learning disabilities and those on the autistic spectrum, in the community.

So, no residents, no beds, no nursing staff, no uniforms and virtually no clients over 65 (or members in our terminology) making us all but invisible to the outside world in the past few months. People with learning disabilities have a life expectancy similar to the state pension age but that’s a whole different story. More importantly People Matters is a community for our 400+ members, both adults and young people, where we support everyone to have their best life.

Our staff have varied backgrounds many hold degrees and work as tutors, support workers and job coaches plus of course having an office team like any organisation. The support we provide is varied, including personal care, for individuals to maintain their independence, social opportunities to reduce isolation or opportunities to learn, seek and/or keep work. Over the years we have supported members to get married, move home, manage their finances, go through end of life or face bereavement themselves, go into hospital or deal with long term health conditions, find and make friends, build new skills, keep fit or lose weight, seek and find work and so much more.

The charity is CQC registered because some members need personal care in their own homes, and provides statutory social care on behalf of the local authority, and is well above average in size for the sector with 90% of care organisations having 50 staff or less.

I sometimes say we are an SME with a heart, our charitable status means we use grants to provide opportunities for members that the local authority, and our members themselves, just can’t afford, and our staff turnover is less than half the sector average at about 13%.

At the beginning of March as the virus began to become an issue I dusted down our business continuity planning and brought out our infection control policy and took a critical look. They weren’t going to do what it looked as though we might be facing, fire and flood yes, pestilence beyond flu not so much.  Several fourteen hour days later they were in better shape, the management team had informed their development and changes had been approved by the board of trustees.

PPE was the next challenge, we didn’t own a single face mask (we didn’t need to) and the glove stock amounted to a few boxes purchased from Amazon on an occasional basis. We had no account with any specialist supplier and things were hotting up. Hand sanitiser was rapidly disappearing everywhere (the order we placed then was eventually fulfilled in July but Leeds third sector organisations help each other out and two different ones donated some to us). 

We built PPE kits for staff by rushing round different suppliers in the city and pounding the keyboard online as supplies melted expensively away. A local academy trust donated the safety glasses from their school laboratories which we shared out in return.  Everyone in the organisation did infection control training as lockdown arrived as a refresher. We started using Microsoft Teams for the first time, left the office staffed by a single person on a rota and largely the office team started to work from home.

As our group activities were closed and many of the members we support individually withdrew into their own homes, some with family support and some without, our concern was for people’s physical and mental health.  We also wanted to keep our support workers safe as they faced carrying on working.

More on what happened and the challenges we had to tackle in my next blog.