Reflections on an extraordinary year

Deputy Chief Executive Andy Warren writes an open letter to Second Step staff reflecting on 2020: a year of shared trauma yet our values of Hope and Courage have been in abundant display. Andy says that staff should be proud of their collective achievements to keep the ‘show on the road.’

It’s unbelievable to think that COVID has been with us for nearly a year. In a blur we’ve sped from long summer nights to dark afternoons, devoid of the routines and customs that usually shape our weeks and months. As we emerge from a second lockdown, I wonder how we would have felt in March had we known that our lives would be disrupted for such a long time.

As exhausting as this year has been for all of us, I know that we are all acutely aware of the disproportionate impact coronavirus has had on the people that we support.

Covid-19 has put the health inequalities of many people with mental health problems endure in sharp focus. Poor physical health, higher levels of poverty – plus stigma and isolation – has meant that the many people using Second Step services need our compassion and care like they never have before.

Undoubtedly there are challenges in front of us and more difficult times ahead. Despite this we should pause, reflect and be proud of our collective achievements.

Take pride in all you’ve achieved

As we approach the end of this extraordinary year I would really encourage you to take immense pride in all you have done over the last 10 months. It has been so difficult to switch support from the authenticity and familiarity of face-to-face interaction to the new world of virtual platforms. I know that this ‘remote’ support has often felt as if it’s ‘second best’ and a compromise. Our shared trauma is rippling through all of us as we miss the connection with the old world and with our loved ones, friends and colleagues.

Please be assured, the consideration and expertise with which you have connected with the people you support by using new ways to do this – and practicing social distancing – is very far away from being inauthentic or ‘second best.’ It has actually never been more relevant and essential.

We all need to recognise the huge collective achievement of keeping the show on the road and the importance of everyone’s roles in making our promise to continue supporting our clients a reality. Second Step is committed to system change and our partnership work with our local authorities and commissioning groups has also been a source of great pride for me.  

Not only have we kept our heads above water, but we have extended our support and worked with our partners to develop new and innovative services. These unprecedented times have sadly resulted in an increase in demand for mental health services like ours. It has means we have all worked harder and longer to make sure we can meet this ongoing challenge.

Throughout this year when some of us have been working from home (or living at work as it has often felt like), we’ve all had to tread that fine line between focusing on our responsibilities at work and managing our own wellbeing. While we can take comfort from our collective shared experiences, we know how hard it has been for all of us at one time or another. We can all get swept along with working at an unsustainable pace and we need to recognise the need to reflect and be generous with time for ourselves and each other.

For some of us our responsibilities have meant that we have needed to remain in our office bases. As we rattle around 95% empty work spaces let’s remember that small acts of kindness and a compassionate enquiry to ask each other if we are ok can and often does make the world of difference.

 A time for change

While there has been plenty of reasons for us to be proud of all we have achieved this year, we also recognised that there were things we need to change. The international Black Lives Movement affected our region and our organisation. We were afforded the opportunity to hear some home truths and reflect on our failings and acknowledge that we have significant work to do. Our emergent Addressing Racism strategy is a meaningful and non-negotiable commitment to be the inclusive and diverse organisation our colleagues and clients rightfully demand we become.

During this year I have frequently reflected on the resonance of our values and how often I have seen them embodied in peoples’ beliefs and actions. We have consistently needed to trust each other and throw ourselves into a wholesale learning curve as we have adapted to new technologies and new ways of workings.

Our values of Hope and Courage have been in abundant display through the most testing of times. As we enter a difficult and long winter I would encourage everyone to keep faith that things will improve, vaccines are now a reality and a return to the world we’ve been missing feels maybe not in touching distance, but at least within sight.  

Rely on each other, don’t stretch yourself too thin and let us know what we can do to help. On behalf of the senior leadership Team, I can assure you that we are listening.

We will move forward in our recovery with no shortage of pride in all we have achieved and reflecting on all we have learnt about ourselves and each other.

I do hope that everyone can have a Merry Christmas and more importantly a healthy and happy 2021.

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