It is now 6 months since lockdown started. Six months! If I think back to the beginning of this year, to the plans and ideas we had about how this year would go, I am both amazed by how quickly life can change, and excited by the opportunities we have been afforded.
2019 was a year of great change at Senecio as we went through a very sudden shift from working with children with disabilities to working with centres for adults with disabilities, and we sadly said farewell to four staff members. Much of this year was spent on gathering as much information as we could about these centres for adults with disabilities, and we learnt a huge amount about the centres we are working with, and the beneficiaries who attend.
We had planned for 2020 to be a full year of building on the information we had gathered and getting into training and further development of adult day care programmes. We had just begun with our first training sessions when lockdown was announced and it seemed as though everything came to a grinding halt.
In retrospect, these past 6 months have been the most amazing gift, which has come at a key point in the progress of this project. What we have had, more than ever before, has been TIME. While we haven’t been able to visit the centres or carry out any of the activities on our calendar, the work hasn’t stopped, it has just changed. In between the baking bread and homeschooling and learning how to keep ourselves and our families safe, we have had time. Time to think, time to reflect, time to explore ideas and time to really examine what we are doing and why we are doing it. Through this reflection, I have come to three important conclusions:
1. Form must follow function.
This was a phrase lodged in my mind from high school art theory, and it has rung true in this season. Senecio’s function has evolved over the past 12 years, and especially over the past two years. Naturally, its form should evolve too. Internally we have restructured, sharing responsibilities more efficiently. We have altered the form of our training by starting to record training videos for the centres and are looking at how to adapt the support we provide to best meet the diverse needs of each centre. We have also decided to move from very large premises with lots of equipment, to a small, functional space that meets our needs perfectly.
2. It is okay.
It is so easy to get caught up in the to-do lists and schedules and the feeling that everything must happen right now. But this so often leads to stress and burn-out, which doesn’t help you or your beneficiaries at all. Yes, the work must get done, but not at the expense of your own mental health or that of your loved ones. This is a key concept we are going to be building into our training for staff at the centres: learning to recognise stress (your own and that of your colleagues) and how to manage it effectively to keep your team healthy.
3. Trust your team.
Working as a team when you are all in different places is challenging. Not knowing how each team member is doing or what everyone is working on can lead to a sense of isolation or even mistrust (‘is everyone else working or is it just me?’’). Without respect for and trust in each other, and no system in place to keep up to date with each other, these feelings can snowball and cause big problems. We have found that communication is so important for maintaining cohesion as a team. Our staff WhatsApp group has been invaluable in keeping each other updated on activities, queries, achievements, deadlines and challenges, balanced with our life updates (and a fair dose of humour in between – laughter is the best medicine!). And that first coffee meeting (once it was allowed) was just the best! This is another aspect of teamwork that are wanting to share with the centre staff – the importance of respect, trust and communication within a team. And laughter. Lots of laughter.
Written by Ruth Boshoff
Senecio Occupational Therapist