As we head into mid-Autumn – and another phase in the ongoing pandemic – Anna Whitty MBE, Chief Executive at ECT shares some thoughts about the vital role that ECT Charity continues to play in supporting its communities; and to pay tribute to our superb team, and the resilience and commitment that they are demonstrating every day as we navigate the challenges presented to us.
First, I am immensely proud of the way in which our teams have handled the return to schools. September is always challenging for us, and this year has been particularly complex. Yet the teams handled things brilliantly; everybody was pleased to be back and just getting on with what needed to be done, resulting in positive feedback from local authorities.
I would especially like to welcome back our ‘shielders’; I have so admired the incredible positivity they have shown in coming back to work, getting on with their roles – and, of course, embracing the precautions and different working practices to keep our workplace ‘Covid-secure’.
Everybody has been through Covid training so they are all up to speed. The wiping down/ cleaning regimes are of course continuing – the responsibility of each driver throughout the day. Bottles of sanitiser are fitted in each bus, and every member of staff has received a pack of five uniform face coverings. Across the charity, we are confident that both the processes and the equipment are in place to keep ourselves and our passengers safe – so that we can focus on looking after the most vulnerable people in our community with the professionalism that our communities have come to expect of us.
The second observation I would like to share is that, despite the return of our teams and of several services, it is clear we are not yet experiencing a ‘new normal’; as we are all aware, what ‘normal’ looks like is shifting from week to week, and we must be prepared to deal with this changing situation perhaps for many more months.
What does this mean for our charity? Certainly, it presents ongoing challenges. But there is good reason to be positive; our board of trustees are confident in the solid foundations that we have laid down as an organisation – our excellent staff, our strong values, and the trusting relationships we have developed with local authorities and our communities.
As individuals, it is so important that we do our best to maintain this trust; not only by following the safety guidance while at work but also outside work. We have promised a safe environment and we must do everything individually to keep it so. Although the risk to most of our staff is low, for the sake of our colleagues and our passengers – most of whom are very vulnerable – we must all do our bit, and stay vigilant. So much is at stake, and so much would be lost if the reputation and trust we have built were to be undermined.
Of course, the ability to get out and about, and to regain that sense of connection having been isolated from friends, family and our communities, is very much at the heart of our charitable aims.
Earlier this month the United Nations marked the 30th Anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons; among the stories from around the world, I was moved by an article in the Guardian newspaper featuring Captain Sir Tom Moore, who has added the accolade of becoming ‘the UK’s oldest podcaster’ to his list of honours, as part of a campaign by Age UK to tackle loneliness among older people.
“My mission is simple but important,” the former British army officer, who turned 100 in April, told the Guardian. “I hope The Originals podcast will help encourage everyone to start a proper conversation with an older person.”
Age UK reports that more than 200,000 older people typically go for a week without speaking to anyone – as we know at ECT, the effects of loneliness can be devastating. “Since the outbreak many older people are feeling anxious, depressed and lonely,” said Laurie Boult, the fundraising director at Age UK. “It’s so hard for many older people to stay connected at the moment, especially if they live alone.”
The huge difference that we can make as a charity in helping to address these problems, is evident from the many stories that have featured on our website, especially during the last six months. As one of our volunteers, Chris Wiggins, said in the first of our new ‘Hidden Heroes’ stories on the ECT website: "I knew I was adding some real value to their lives at the most basic level – fuel for the body and human contact for the soul."
And like another, our most recent ‘Hidden Hero’ Farah Salim, we take the challenges in our stride, because we are confident in our professionalism and, ultimately, because bringing some happiness to those in need is what we are all about.
While delivering food parcels provided a big new role for us during the lockdown, a key focus for us now will be to combat the increased levels of loneliness and isolation that Covid-19 has created. Our new programme of outings is already making a difference. These outings are an important new way in which we can help. We have chosen places where people said they wanted to go to (and the ones that made us feel welcome!), and the feedback from those who have not been out for months has been heart-warming.
As always, we’re getting the word out to our local communities that we’re here to help. If you can think of somebody who might need access to transport or would like a day out, please get in touch.