2020 has been a truly unprecedented year. So much change and so many challenges. As we enter the Christmas period and the New Year approaches, it’s understandable that we remember the hardships of the year. However, it’s also important that we think of the good: the support that shined through the difficulties, community spirit, the hard work of front-line workers, to name a few.

Even in hard times, there are things to be grateful for and celebrated.

It’s with that thought in mind, that our CEO, David Blacklock, has written the following article. Take a look and consider, what you might be grateful for this year.

 


 

‘I met with our Board of Trustees recently at our board meeting, held via zoom. The meeting was a chance for us all to reflect on the year, its challenges and successes and there have been many, and a chance to think about what we are grateful for…

In March we quickly adapted to the changing international picture. Covid 19 was soon to be the most dominant feature in our daily lives. We had no idea just how difficult life would get for so many people. Luckily we were well placed for sending all of our staff home to work, with a recent delivery of laptops and mobiles staff quickly adapted to home working. I’m grateful for the adaptability of our staff. And I’m grateful for the support of our IT Provider David Allen IT who worked with us to make sure we had the technology to adapt so quickly.

New projects quickly emerged to support those most in need. Working with colleagues across the North East, Cumbria and Lancashire we were able to set up the ‘Keeping People Connected’ project which immediately started to connect with people with learning disabilities, autism and other needs. We were able to provide information, advice and a lifeline to many hundreds of people. This service continues even now with our staff still calling many people several times a week. I’m so grateful that our amazing team of callers have been able to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many people and for the support of funders including CCGs, Local Authorities and organisations such as Cumbria Community Foundation.

We launched the Here counselling project, providing free counselling to those in need especially those effected by Covid. Our team of highly qualified counsellors continue to support people to work through their worries and concerns. I’m grateful for Dr Rohhss Chapman who leads the service for us and for her counsellors who have quickly become part of the People First family, embodying our values and ethos.

Our Advocacy Hub has expanded to support new local authorities to manage advocacy referrals, and we have recently been commissioned to start a new bespoke advocacy service in Northumberland, as well as launching our new Refugee Advocacy Service with Lancashire County Council.

Our youth offer has also grown, supporting young people with disabilities to speak up, and stay connected. It’s so important that we support children and young people to stay well in today’s challenging climate. I’m grateful for all those that donate to Children In Need who have provided funding for our expanded work

We managed to keep our conference centre open. We supported the NHS to give vital life saving training to their staff and of course provided students with learning disabilities the opportunity to gain qualifications in the hospitality industry.  I’m grateful to our frontline NHS staff who have worked tirelessly to save lives and to local leaders who have kept the show on the road!

Our Healthwatch engagement teams also quickly adapted to the new virtual world, we have facilitated groups and forums for the young and older, making sure that people still have a voice in service design and delivery.

Our self advocacy network also got a huge boost with funding for 3 full time development workers to support our groups to thrive, grow in numbers and have vibrant and interesting programmes, supporting people with learning disabilities has always been such an important part of our mission. In the coming weeks and months our aim will be to reach out and support hundreds of people. I’m grateful to Barclays for their support and funding.

We have been working closely with Lancashire County Council to help them check in with some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, checking that people are staying safe, and providing important information and signposting if needed.

I’m grateful to all our staff, trustees and volunteers for their care and compassion for those in need, for those that helped by paying the wages, supporting staff, designing new ways of doing things and for helping so many people get though this truly challenging year.

Finally I’m grateful to my amazing family, my partner Stephen and our three boys. They have put up with me working from home, shouting at them to get off the internet so I can make video calls all day. They have kept me fed and watered, and kept my spirits up.

Merry Christmas everyone, and remember to occasionally put yourself at the top of your ‘To do list’.