Finding ways to support our beneficiaries online

Calley Clay Calley Clay

Since lockdown began in March 2020, we’ve been looking for ways to continue to support our former Talking Together English language learners and delivery partners from a distance. While this has not always been easy due to the struggles of delivering virtual support (see our Catalyst report for more details), there have many moments of joy and success throughout delivering the TimeBank Tell Us wellbeing programme.

The TimeBank Tell Us sessions, funded by Big Lottery, combined informal ESOL sessions with workshops discussing mental and physical wellbeing. We trained former Talking Together volunteers to use Zoom to lead these sessions and devised a short programme of three weeks of workshops for volunteers to deliver.

We partnered with some of our Talking Together delivery partners, grassroots organisations based in Ealing, Tower Hamlets and Enfield. These partners promoted the sessions to their ESOL learners and crucially, also helped the participants to get online where necessary. The aim of the sessions was to continue the informal ESOL practice that Talking Together had provided and to support participants with their wellbeing during a time that has been challenging for many.

Another aim of the project was to ensure that messaging about Covid-19 was reaching the communities we work in. For those with limited English, changing Government guidelines and sometimes complex rules could be confusing so we wanted to simplify the messaging and share translated guidance where possible. And we also wanted to keep the series of workshops short and simple so we could use these sessions to test what works best before (hopefully) rolling out more online sessions in 2021!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of the Tell Us Wellbeing Zoom sessions were able to capture the same informal, friendly, and supportive atmosphere that Talking Together classes had. I put this entirely down to the hard work of our volunteers who often went the extra mile, for example finding additional videos and resources to share. When volunteers shared Covid-19 guidance, it was clear that the ‘hands, face, space’ message had been received loud and clear, and the vast majority had a good understanding of the current rules. What many found beneficial was having a space to chat about the impact of lockdown and their fears around the virus, the vaccine, and the future.

We centred the sessions around the Five Ways to Wellbeing, an evidence-based approach used by the NHS and mental health charities, looking at the benefits of exercise, connecting with others, learning, taking notice of the world around you, and giving back. Volunteers and participants shared a range of useful things from the Couch to 5K app, favourite bubble baths, YouTube yoga videos, to how to donate to foodbanks.

It was heart-warming to hear participants say that the sessions had brightened their day or making plans to meet up in person when possible. It was clear that there was real value in having these open conversations about wellbeing and the importance of taking time to look after yourself.  As the Project Manager, I was able to visit almost all the sessions, and I came away from each one smiling. I truly felt that they had a positive impact on my own wellbeing too.

Despite all the highs, I can’t say it was always plain sailing running these sessions over Zoom. Sometimes, participants couldn’t attend due to poor WiFi or not having a quiet space in the home. Some of our delivery partners were very keen to offer the workshops but their service users weren’t interested in online sessions. When people were able to get online, some struggled with their audio or video settings. In general, the number of participants we were able to engage was much lower than it would have been had we been delivering these sessions face to face in the community.

But this is all part of learning how to adapt to ‘the new normal’ and I’m confident that with dedicated support, many more participants could be helped to get online and access the sessions from home. Though there are some elements of face-to-face engagement that can’t be replicated over Zoom, there are huge benefits too. No travel time or costs, fewer concerns around childcare, and most importantly at this time, it feels safe.

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