Leading a charity through the Covid-19 crisis

Madeleine Durie, Minstead Trust Chief Executive, takes you behind the scenes on how we coped in the covid crisis and what the future holds.

Madeleine Durie, CEO Minstead Trust

‘It feels like a world away now, those first dawnings in early February that something nasty was heading our way.   I don’t think anybody could have predicted what would happen next, and what a toll it would put on our charity’s community of people – the people that we are here to support, our staff and our volunteers.   But, as we emerge, tentatively, into the next phase, I feel it is time to reflect on what did happen and how we responded.

As Chief Executive of Minstead Trust, I have seen my role throughout the pandemic to achieve three things:

  • to keep the people that we are here to support as safe and well as possible;
  • to keep our staff and volunteers safe and;
  • to make sure that the Trust has enough money both now and in the medium term to be able to continue our great work.

Our first, and for a long time, most difficult challenge was to get hold of PPE.  Whilst we had small amounts of stock of gloves and aprons for use for infection control if someone was ill, our day to day support role has never required much usage and we can go months without using any PPE. The focus was so much on the lack of a national stockpile for frontline NHS workers, that nobody nationally was thinking about the impact on our frontline social care sector.

We were asking our staff to put themselves at risk, every day, and we weren’t able to provide them with the right protection.  Eventually, in late March we were issued with an emergency stock of the right type of facemasks.  And I cried with relief.

Our second challenge was to reduce the risk of cross-infection between teams.   Again, what is now clear is that infection rates in many care settings was increased by staff, including agency staff, working in different houses and locations: potentially seeding the virus from one location to another.   We took a different approach. Whilst we don’t use agency staff, we still looked at reducing the risk of cross-infection and divided our care and support teams in two so mixing between houses and teams was stopped.

Individual staff made great sacrifices, for example, moving out of the family home to protect loved ones who were shielding so they could continue to provide care and support to those entrusted in our care at Minstead Trust.  I will be eternally grateful to our staff for the way in which they supported people during this crisis.

The third challenge came with the 23 March complete lockdown.   That closed our day services, Furzey Gardens, Hanger Farm Arts Centre and Minstead Lodge hospitality centre with no notice.  I remember clearly that we had just opened up Furzey Gardens for what we hoped would be a great season.  On Friday 21 March, we decided to open the café and the visitors that came were very grateful.  By Sunday the Prime Minister announced complete lockdown that evening.

Woodwork and cooking in lockdown

When lockdown was announced it meant our day opportunities stopped.  For those people who were in our residential and supported living, we now had to ensure they had adequate staff cover for the days as well as the evening and weekend support and that their lives were as normal as could be despite the challenges.  Again, our staff team were amazing in getting this sorted.

Once we had focused on keeping the people we support and our staff and volunteers safe, we turned our attention to the financial black hole that had just opened up in front of us.  Our small fundraising and marketing team swung into action, cancelling the many planned events and starting an online emergency fundraising appeal. That has been our lifeline and has enabled us the breathing space to work our way through the first five months of this crisis without having to make knee-jerk decisions that might affect the long term future of Minstead Trust.  Without that support, we would be in a dire financial position right now.  As it is, we have been able to take a bit of stock and whilst we have, sadly, had to make some redundancies, these are far fewer than may have been the case.

Exercising in Portsmouth and fundraising yoga in Totton

The next few months have been a blur. The Senior Management Team and Heads of Care Services have been meeting daily since mid February to review the national, local and care guidance changes to ensure that we are meeting all expectations.  We have reviewed our financial position and our fundraising targets.  We have risk assessed all parts of our work to ensure it is Covid-19 secure for our staff and gradually returning volunteers.   We are currently trying to navigate the path between easing up of lockdown and protecting individuals from harm.  It has not been easy and we will not always get it right, but we are trying our best to be person-centred in our decisions.

We are not out of the woods yet by any means.  We have lost a lot of income this year from the closure of the social enterprises, and there remains significant uncertainty about when and whether opening up of Hanger Farm Arts Centre and Minstead Lodge hospitality can resume.   Our day opportunities are only opening up very tentatively and we have not yet been able to open our community activities.   All of these impact on our ability to support people to lead more independent lives.

Our focus now will be on supporting people’s health and well-being and building back up people’s independence, which has been so interrupted because of the pandemic.   We need to focus on helping people build personal resilience and give them the tools to help them through this.   It is critical that we put in place foundations of support that we can flex to respond to the next challenge this virus throws at us.

Find out more on our coping with covid hub.

Support Minstead Trust’s work – donate here.

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