ABI Week - A life of lockdown

People with arms linked

As with lots of charities, organisations and service providers, Headway East Lothian had to change the way we worked very quickly last March!

We moved immediately from 3 weekly peer group activity sessions, lots of social events and fundraising events, to building up our online presence, working with our wonderful volunteers to get a weekly rota of phone calls set up and making sure all our people had someone to contact even just for a chat, if they needed and shopping, or prescriptions picked up – especially those living along or shielding.

We were extremely lucky to have good relationships with our funders who more or less immediately started to offer emergency funding to provide additional & adapted services. We applied for and received funding from local, national & Government sources & worked out what we could do to support our people.

Initial activities included delivering bags of specially selected hobby activities; puzzle books, jigsaws, audio books, knitting wool, art supplies and gardening materials. We also provided shopping vouchers for each person’s nearest supermarket. Our monthly newsletter has been a big hit with lots of information, and especially photos of what we have been doing how people have been coping with the various lockdowns, this was posted on our Facebook page, our website, via e-mail, Instagram and post!

We then looked at digital and online activities. We sourced funding for kindle fires, smart phones and connectivity for our members and got them all set up with lots of problem-solving on the way. I even had to do a Digital Champion course to upskill myself.

We bought a Zoom licence and started putting together a weekly programme, working with other Headway groups and branches. We were able to offer physical activities like Tai Chi, Pilates, Yoga, Boxercise, seated stretches and made links with Edinburgh University who are running an Unlock and Revive project. We now we have Sing it Back sessions, Royal Botanic Garden events, and are part of the Prescribe Culture programme too. We have had presentations form National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Royal Collections Trust and are looking forward to a virtual tour of Edinburgh Zoo!

Locally we worked with an arts & crafts centre, and did Scottish themed online pottery painting, ending with Burns Day. We then delivered a Burns Supper in a bag to all our members, along with a Scots Literacy pack from Age Scotland and had a big Zoom party as well as hosting it live on Facebook. We found that afternoon tea styled events have been a great way to get people ‘together’ with a joint purpose and have had a Christmas Lunch, a YANA (You are not alone) day and on Friday we had our Hats for Headway event.

We have provided PPE for members and helped those with medical exemptions get access to the special cards – the Headway ID badge also helps with this so we have made sure everyone has theirs easily accessible.

We managed to take part in events like the Digby Brown Christmas Card and Calendar Competition and had lots of entries – everyone does like taking part in a competition and the quality of entries was amazing! We had photos of animals, arts & crafts, paintings, poetry and had a winner for the calendar; Fionna and her amazing pictures of the waves breaking over the sea wall at Dunbar – and she was so pleased to take part in the virtual tea party award presentation – absolutely wonderful of Digby Brown to continue the support for the brain injured community throughout this time.

On Thursday our first peer-group support group was able to meet again at the East Lothian Community Hospital. Everyone had to sign up beforehand, take the usual Covid questionnaire and follow social distancing with face-masks and sanitising, but it was so good to get together and just have a chat about how people have been coping and their feelings about lockdown loneliness and isolation on top of living with a brain injury and the isolation it brings.

As a charity we have still had new referrals to contact and visit where possible, supporting people to access other services, apply for benefits, fill in forms, do digital applications for blue badges and support people emotionally, listen to them non-judgementally, provide support and advice where we can and information to family and friends about brain injury and its effects on the whole family.

People have lost a lot of their independence and become more reliant on others for everything – including social contact – they feel that loss, yet are anxious about taking back control now that restrictions are starting to lift. They feel that they have lost so much, gone backwards and feel the lack of contact with their support agencies so badly.

Moving forwards, we continue our weekly online programme, our weekly face-to-face group session, deliveries, activities and working on building up people’s confidence: reducing their anxieties through giving them the access to correct information at the right times, reducing the other stresses they may face to help them adjust – such as providing transport & organising group events & activities. As well as taking the strain off carers who have often felt so stressed, lonely and isolated themselves.

Of course, this is all dependent on our funding. We receive no statutory funding so have to apply for grant funding for all our service deliveries and our fundraising events have been much depleted this past year! There are many challenges to come in the months ahead practically and financially but we are still here and supporting our community, reaching more people than ever with the help and support of people like our friends at Digby Brown.

Joyce Cattanach from Headway East Lothian

Joyce Cattanach - Headway East Lothian