15 Apr 2020

Learning in Lockdown

I joined the Institute for Community Studies in September 2019 eager to learn more about how communities across the UK are being supported to stay connected. In this blog, I will share my experience of working at The Citadel Youth Centre and how our service has adapted to support those most in need during the current public health crisis.     

The Citadel    

The Citadel, as we are more colloquially known to our service users, has been helping children and young people in the Leith area of Edinburgh since 1980. In recent times, our provision has focussed on youth clubs offering a wide range of social, recreational and educational activities to any child or young person in the local community. Increasingly, the Citadel is not just for young people, with our doors regularly being opened to support young mums, a parent’s drop in, older people through our intergenerational practice, as well as a host of other community events.    

Working  Remotely   

Like the vast majority of workers across the country our staff are now in lockdown and are adapting to working remotely. With the closure of our building, the need for us to continue providing support remotely during this unprecedented time has been vital. For a service primarily focussed on delivering direct face to face support, this transition has been challenging; but equally transformative. In the words of Karen Salmansohn:   

“The most challenging times bring us the most empowering lessons.”   

Here are the 5 things I have learned from making the switch to working remotely:    

  • My colleagues and fellow practitioners are incredibly adaptable – Their response in recent weeks has been nothing short of remarkable. I have been amazed at the sectors willingness to embrace the current challenge. Wherever possible digital solutions have been found for delivering direct services. Real critical engagement has taken place with practitioners across the country coming together to share best practice. This adaptability makes me confident we will be able to support as many local people as possible. 
  • The importance of  self-care – In order to best support those around us, I’ve learned it’s fundamental we all look after ourselves. Social isolation of both young and older people, families being evicted and parents losing their jobs are just some of the challenges my team has faced. All of this while adapting to working in their own homes, and the inherent difficulties that this brings. Whether it’s a run, bath or mindfulness meditation, taking the time for self-care will ensure you are best placed to support those around you.    
  • Digital exclusion – Digital solutions have provided ingenious ways for us as an organisation to maintain contact with our service users. Whether providing 1:1 sessions on WhatsApp or engaging with a wider cross section of our service users on Instagram, the reality is many people are digitally excluded. Phones, tech and data plans cost money and not every family member will have their own. Although open to learning more about digital technology, our older people overwhelmingly prefer phone calls. This represents a test for how we maintain our intergenerational practice and ensure young and older people stay connected during lockdown.      
  • Physical spaces – During this health crisis the importance of physical space has been emphasised. Our building provides us with clear parameters in which we can work in. Youth groups and parent drop ins are centred around bringing people physically together. In the current climate this rule book is thrown out the window. Providing a safety net and child protection have suddenly taken on different forms. How do we ensure the safety of our service users? How do we maintain positive relationships between our young people and service users? These are all questions we will have to explore as a sector. By sharing best practice, I hope we can come to agreed solutions on some of these pressing questions.    
  • Meaningful action is essential – It’s perfectly understandable to have some level of discomfort right now. I too have been overwhelmed at points by the sheer rate in which we have adapted as a service. Whether deliberately or not, it can be easy in the current climate to resist taking meaningful action. Planning and information gathering have their places, but when there are service users in direct need it’s important to deliver. Ask yourself, what can I do that will genuinely support my service users?  From running digital youth work sessions, to establishing a meal delivery service for those most in need, our approach at the Citadel has been to address the immediate needs of our service users. As practitioners we strive to be flexible and adaptable. Thus, we have been developing techniques to fit the digital technology and social needs for each service. By placing the service user’s needs at the heart of our work, we aspire to bring maximum benefit to them.   
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Our meal delivery service delivered in partnership with Bia Bistro in action

Our shift to remote working has not been without its difficulties, yet I feel overall the experience has undoubtedly improved The Citadel as an organisation and my experience as a practitioner. Ironically the current health crisis may have been the shock our sector needed to bring us closer together and to place service users at the centre. I hope my learnings from lockdown can encourage you to think critically about the impact of remote working on your own practice.

Ryan McKay
Development Worker
The Citadel Youth Centre
ryan@citadelyouthcentre.org.uk
Twitter: @RyanRMcKay1