An open letter from our Deputy Chief Executive to our staff

As we move into another week of lockdown, our Deputy Chief Executive Andy Warren writes from the heart in an open letter to Second Step staff about hope & courage, vulnerability and the power of working together.

One of the annoying things about clichés is that inevitably they are true. Talking about our current situation as a ‘marathon not a sprint’ sounds a bit obvious, but it does sum up where we are rather neatly.

Like many of us, when I drove away from our Bristol office in Brunswick Square in March I expected a short(ish) sharp period of disruption that would present us all with a real challenge. I expected disruption and upset, but I also felt sure normality and a return to our usual way of working was just round the corner.

How wrong I was.
Writing this in the middle of May, it really is feeling like a marathon, but one where someone keeps moving the finish line further back until eventually its disappeared beyond the horizon!

So here we are in the eighth week of lockdown and with no clear idea when normal returns. For some of us the new normal is all about a computer screen and a decent internet connection. While this keeps us in touch, it is no replacement for losing that connection and being part of a team. I do hope that when we get back together we won’t take for granted how important a sense of community and ‘togetherness’ is for all of us.

Stories of trauma
I know we are all working flat out, with many of us still connecting one to one with people that need our support more than ever. With this pandemic disproportionately affecting people that endure multiple disadvantages, we understand that each day exacts an emotional toll on our clients and on us too, as we absorb the traumatic stories we hear and respond to.

Our values of hope and courage resonate now more than ever, not just for holding that hope for people we work with, but with each other and ourselves too. We don’t know when we will be back on an even keel and we’d be daft if we didn’t admit that it’s a scary time. Courage doesn’t mean that you ignore the fact you might be fearful. It’s about acknowledging how you feel and still move forward.

Keeping positive
We have the challenge of remaining positive for people we support at the same time as managing our anxieties for our own families and loved ones. Before we can realistically think about a recovery plan back to our office space and forming the ‘new natural’ way of working, there’s an even greater need for us to look out for each other, show compassion when we are having our bad days and take time to appreciate each other in our continuing passion to put the people we support first.

The Time to Change initiative has recently published some advice on how people can support each other through this pandemic. The three points listed below provide some useful guidance that might well help us through:

Check in
You might not be able to meet face-to-face, but picking up the phone, having a video call, starting a group chat or messaging someone on social media lets them know you are there to talk and ready to listen.

Listen and reflect
Whether you have a mental health problem or not, this will be a challenging time for our mental health and wellbeing. If someone opens up to you, remember that you don’t need to fix things or offer advice. Often just listening, and showing you take them seriously, can help someone to manage. It’s about being alongside, being there.

Ask questions  
Ask how people are managing, and ask again if you’re worried they aren’t sharing the full picture. Asking again, with interest, can help someone to open up and explore what they’re feeling. Asking twice is often the key to opening up someone’s story, and the opportunity to build connection. At a time when we’re all feeling so physically far away from each other this is a simple way to help build resilience.

In short, it’s so important to remember our values of hope and courage right now – for our clients, each other and for ourselves.

Andy Warren, Second Step’s Deputy Chief Executive
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