July/August 2020 - Page 10

SUPPORT REACHING OUT Staying connected has never been more important, says Jason Moore The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of how we live and interact with people, and left many feeling anxious and isolated. As an organisation that prides itself on our hands-on, face-toface approaches, one of the key challenges for Forward has been finding creative ways to engage our service user community. We’ve also wanted to make sure we can do everything we can to help them feel connected – not just to us, but to their loved ones and wider recovery community. Right from day one, our staff and volunteers rose to the challenge admirably, finding all sorts of inventive and novel ways to keep in touch. Our family work coordinator Rebecca Mistry (along with a little help from her children Aaria and Ethan!) created packs for prisoners with children, to help them continue to connect with their families when family visits stopped. The packs contained items such as stationery, crayons and jokes to tell little ones to keep them smiling and advice on how to talk to children about COVID – something difficult for every parent, let alone one who isn’t able to physically see their child. We also piloted a live chat service on our website, called Reach Out. Open every weekday from 9am to 3pm, Reach Out provides a friendly voice and a sympathetic ear to anybody struggling or seeking advice, particularly on matters such as drug or alcohol issues, mental health challenges, housing problems or benefit concerns. In our community projects, we’ve been exploring the use of video conferencing software to continue the delivery of practitioner-led, structured group programmes in Hull and East Kent, as well as our Recovering Families groups. Our East Kent team now also sends out weekly text messages to clients with updates and advice on how to stay safe. We’ve identified all OST clients without a contact number and supplied them with their own mobile phone so that they can stay in touch with their key workers. Meanwhile, our dedicated prescription delivery team has been travelling all over East Kent, delivering prescriptions to pharmacies to ensure clients have their medication on time. ‘Forward Connect’ is our friendly community of current and former clients, graduates and volunteers. They – along with some of our alcohol pathway clients in East Kent – have been using Kaizala, a secure multimedia messaging app to keep in touch with each other as a source of social support. And last but not least, our recovery support service has been working with prison teams to identify clients who are due to be released from prison and equip them with mobile phones when they get out, to ensure they are still able to access remote assessments and treatment services. We are truly appreciative of some additional funding that has been received from supportive partners to help fund this additional work. We’re incredibly lucky to have such a dedicated and responsive team, as well as access to technology that has made it possible to stay connected with our clients and graduates. Living through a pandemic has brought us all challenges, but it has been amazing to see the creative and positive way our staff and volunteers have risen to the challenge, bringing a much-needed Living through a pandemic has brought us all challenges, but it has been amazing to see the creative and positive way our staff and volunteers have risen to the challenge, bringing a muchneeded human connection to those we support. human connection to those we support. ‘Never underestimate the power of a letter or card, particularly at a difficult time like this,’ says Rebecca Mistry. ‘It’s the small things that are really making a difference, and a handwritten letter from someone you love can really put a smile on their face. Aaria wanted to be able to help mummies and daddies who weren’t able to see their children to keep in touch with their little ones, and also to give prisoners some good drawing opportunities – because who doesn’t love drawing!’ Jason Moore is divisional director of substance misuse at The Forward Trust Karen & Summer Kala / Alamy 10 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • JULY/AUGUST 2020 WWW.DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS.COM