Coping with COVID-19 at Branching Out!

At the end of March when, like everyone else, we were faced with managing a pandemic with implications for our charity shop, eBay Office and very importantly our social care Day Services. The inability to get replacement cleaning products and PPE, plus all the new guidelines being updated daily hit us like a steam train.

No sooner had we updated the previous days guidelines and new guidelines were being issued in the evening for us to update the next day and this went on for at least two weeks.

We struggled to buy hand sanitizer and had staff searching all the shops to buy it for work, mostly without success. Previous orders for hand sanitizer didn’t arrive as they were prioritized for the NHS. Luckily, we had some PPE in stock; aprons, gloves and dust masks because of our standard first aid and workshop activities requirements, but not enough for what was happening. Every day was a struggle.

Then all non-essential shops had to shut and all adults with learning disabilities were advised to self-isolate. New sayings came in like furlough, self-isolation, social distancing, lockdown etc.

We then had to work fast with only a few hours notice so that staff who could work from home had everything they needed to do so, and furlough staff who couldn’t work from home as we no longer had income to subsidise our Day Services from our charity shop.

Because people were stuck at home during lockdown we put free books, jigsaws and DVDs outside our shop so that the community could help themselves while out on their daily walk. We also donated fabric to people making reusables facemasks for the community and scrubs for the NHS. We invited the community to do a shop window display by writing or drawing their COVID-19 experience in raindrops.

We donated any PPE we had in stock to the Learning Disability Partnership to distribute to people supporting adults with learning disabilities in care homes in the local area.

Staff who could work from home were working really hard to set up a new different service supporting the people who use our day services while they were at home. We were contacting everyone to check they were safe and well, making and posting activity packs to them based on what their usual activities are. We also set up a secure Facebook group where they can post photos of their completed activities, messages, happy birthday wishes, videos of the gardens and our cats, videos of how-to social distance, how to wash hands, weekly social activities via zoom etc. We also supported our families with how to get access to the Facebook group and use Zoom, for most of them it was their first time doing this.

For both our charity shop and Day Services it has been a completely new way of working and a lot of re-training for everyone.

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