Age UK North Tyneside Group is a registered charity providing service to people 50+ in North Tyneside to help maintain their independence and make more of life up to those approaching ‘end of life’.

Suzanne Enguita, HR Advisor, at the Age UK North Tyneside Group talks about the charity’s journey through COVID-19 and the importance of staying connected to help over 50s in North Tyneside maintain independence and make the most of life during such challenging times.  

In March 2020 the world went into lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic that felt like we were split in two with essential care and support services needing to continue as normal but most of charity services grinding to a halt meaning, some staff had to either work from home or be furloughed due to health issues.

We were juggling ways to keep over 3500 customers connected whilst working out ways to keep staff safe, in touch with their manager and customers but also each other to support everyone’s health and wellbeing.

We have over 260 staff including our care staff who provide vital services to older people in their homes under extreme conditions meaning daily support was crucial and we stepped up and improved communication using technology to maintain daily one to one support.  We also ensured PPE was readily available and staff trained to use it effectively to keep both staff and customers safe.

It is remarkable to say staff turnover during COVID19 is the lowest it has been, meeting the industry average of 30% for the first time.  Staff sickness is at an all-time low of 5% demonstrating the commitment and dedication of staff who put themselves at risk for the benefit of customers.

We quickly realised through carrying out a staff engagement survey with staff reverted to home working or furloughed were also facing difficulties, anxiety and mental health.  Therefore during the last 5 months, mental wellbeing of all our customers and staff has been our focus and we have offered the following support:

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
  • Access to a free Happiful Magazine App – information and advice on how to look after your mental wellbeing.
  • A multitude of health guides via emails, which became the most used and effective form of communication methods opening up a whole new world of resources and information for individuals.
  • Daily briefings to all staff keeping them up to date on current situation and changes.
  • Daily and Weekly wellbeing calls to customers who were mostly shielding and did not see anyone regularly.
  • Investment in new equipment so staff had ‘the tools to do the job’.
  • Redeployment of staff into other areas to support new services being provided.

The staff engagement survey highlighted some staff were not coping with the lack of interaction at work.  Again using technology virtual groups/teams were introduced to maintain daily communication and reduce feelings of being alone and out of touch.

Our 13 Mental Health First Aiders were promoted and posters put up in buildings where staff continued to work. Information was sent to those home-working with contact details if they required support.

Our Charity Services Manager starred on Radio and TV sharing our wellbeing message for customers and families and highlighted what we are providing to help their health and wellbeing and this went viral on social media.

We encouraged staff to take part in acts of kindness to improve mental wellbeing and also Dress up Day to boost staff morale to share positive vibes with the workforce.

We launched a new ‘Reward Me Now’ app offering discounts to staff to improve wellbeing. To date 56 employees have taken advantage of this offer receiving discounts on food, white goods and various retail shops. We rolled out a code for high street shops and leading supermarkets to allow our care staff to have priority online or face to face shopping avoiding queues and stress about getting to work.

Online activities thai chi, exercises etc. were shared for staff, customers and families.

Various healthy eating and healthy habits for food shopping were shared over social media and staff offered online ‘Psychological First Aid Training’

Throughout this whole time of uncertainty we can say we are very proud of our staff who have faced their own difficulties but still managed to put their customers first. Whether this has been through daily wellbeing calls, being creative, playing social distance bingo, organising singalongs in Extra Care Housing Schemes, uploading online healthy activities to do at home or taking customers for fresh air or other activities, even turning their hand to hairdressing to pamper our customers.

Our organisation has been part of the Better Health at Work Award for a number of years and have achieved bronze, silver and gold award with special recognition, having had recent excellent support from Maureen Turner our Workplace Health Improvement Specialist, from NHCFT.  We look forward to working with Maureen to achieve the continuing excellence level.

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