Member insight: Experiencing local lockdown in Leicester

By Susan Hoath, Chief Executive of Vista

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At the end of June, just like everyone else in England, we were looking forward to and planning for the easing of restrictions after weeks (and weeks and weeks) of lockdown. At Vista, again like all other sight loss charities, were worried about the people that we had stopped visiting and meeting: although we tried to keep in touch with as many as possible over the phone and this contact is better than no contact, it’s not the same as being able to sit with, connect with and listen to real people is it? Over the long period of lockdown we have found different ways to try and fill some of the gaps but there are so many things we just can’t do remotely, such as home risk assessment, mobility & orientation, sighted guiding and communicator guides. We also have four residential homes that were in lockdown too and desperately keen to re-open for family visits and were planning different ways to support this too.

Of course all this changed when the decision was taken, and announced in the House of Commons, that Leicester would be instead taking a step backwards – the first area of the UK to go into #LocalLockdown. I’ve been asked to think about any tips I could offer other members who are planning and starting to re-open service so that you can be better prepared if local lockdown affects you too so for what it’s worth, I’d suggest:

  1. Keep doing what you are already doing: we’ve all learned and adapted during lockdown, with new ways of working, communicating and helping people learn to use technology to keep in touch and there is no reason to stop doing this. In fact it’s helped us to keep some of the new volunteers we’ve attracted in lockdown by asking them to continue with their #DistantCompanion and #DistantSocialising support, for example. The virtual connections we’ve made with zoom groups, social media and our digital hub (a virtual online community) have proved invaluable the first half of the year and so we won’t be stopping them any time soon!
  2. Have a Plan B – for us this was simply ‘try to hide your disappointment but keep calm and carry on’ of course, but now our re-opening plans also have a re-closing option in them. This has also taught us that plans need to be flexible and regularly adapted to fit circumstances – we spent all of yesterday waiting for the third review of the Leicester lockdown and hoping to be told restrictions were lifting but sadly they weren’t! So plans for 4th July, became 18th July, became 1st August and is now 15th August…
  3. Communication – there are several threads to this and no-one needs to be told how important comms are but it is worth noting that accessible and timely information has been and remains a challenge – not just for our community of people affected by sight loss but also for the diverse groups within our community. We found out that we were going into tightened lock-down by watching the announcement in the House of Commons and following #LeicesterLockdown on Twitter but later local lockdown decisions have had the time to communicate more effectively – still councils and other agencies will still need help to get essential information to people. We, along with other local community organisations, have played a crucial role in ensuring that local communities know what is happening and what is expected.

The next three are related – People reacted in a very human way to the news that not only were they not coming out of lockdown but that this was because they had “failed to stop the spread of the virus”.

  1. I’d like to warn you (with the hope that you don’t encounter it) about the sudden and distressing pattern of blame that hit. Many of our people say that they feel that they were blamed for spreading the virus because of their ethnicity, post-code, job, need for support etc. so we made specific effort to recognise the efforts everyone has put in to protect each other as part of our communications. Our keyworkers continue to be challenged in the street and asked to justify their journey – they’ve had ID and letters of support since the start but have only been asked for them this time around.
  2. Fear – people are scared. I am sure that, like us, you’ve encountered lots of people who no longer want home visits or social support and although they are some of our most isolated and at risk, they are declining support if it means meeting people. This was true during the Covid restrictions and in Leicester has definitely worsened with Lockdown.
  3. Morale – I don’t need to tell you that everyone is tired! Looking back, the hope of re-opening and starting to get back to some sort of normal was helping many of us to keep going. To have that taken away, literally over-night, was like a punch to us all. Again I hope that other areas now going into local lockdowns are better prepared and forewarned – but be prepared.

Its not all bad though:

The local lockdown has brought with it a camaraderie and sense of ‘we are all in this together’ which has tangibly shifted the tone of conversations – with the local authority, public health, NHS and other local organisations. New efforts are going into to sharing information, understanding each other’s roles and picking up ideas for partnering from before Covid to find new ways of working in future. I hope this is true in other areas too and probably isn’t simply because of the local lockdown but the last 3 weeks have certainly been a catalyst.

We’ve seen a lot of support from our community and partners through lockdown and attracted new volunteers who have been helping us keep in touch with people and tackle loneliness. The hit of another lockdown has helped us to continue this, extending relationships and strengthening connections and as every good fundraiser will tell you ‘never waste a crisis’ as we milk the local lockdown effect for all it’s worth!

Pride and Appreciation: after the initial shock, we’ve been able to create and spread a sense of success out of this – using the local lockdown to tell our story. We understand ourselves and each other better and we can talk about the services we’ve been able to continue or even introduce, the people we’ve protected and the way ahead. A shared story of how we’ve only been and gone and done it (and carry on doing it) generates a well-deserved pride. My team are absolutely amazing, brilliant, champion, dazzling, extraordinary, fantastic… and I will never stop telling them so!

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