To mark the publication of the Edinburgh Community Link Worker 2020-21 Review, Julie Roxburgh – Deep End Community Link Worker, Wester Hailes (The Health Agency) – share’s her reflections on the past year.
I came back to work in October 2020, after a year of maternity leave. Never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted, while setting my out-of-office, that the world would be such a different place in 12 months time. The role I had paused suddenly felt very different. It had adapted and responded, which of course was always what being a Community Link Worker (CLW) was all about.
The first real change was adjusting to working from home, which certainly made me realise there was lots of things I had previously taken for granted. The informal chat with colleagues, the company at 11am coffee breaks, the feeling of being part of my patient community, the buzz of a multidisciplinary community health building… the list could go on.
After quickly getting my head around MS teams, calling on my CLW colleagues helped ease some of my worries. These guys were experts now. They had adapted overnight, were 8 months into a new way of working and hearing their stories was inspiring – from delivering food provision to those most vulnerable to supporting people to become digitally equipped and connected. One piece of advice I was very thankful for, was to remember the power of listening. All too often as workers we get one step ahead, and especially as CLW’s, we want to help, to provide something tangible, something concrete. However, after the year we had all been through, just talking to someone, checking in, listening to how they are feeling that day, was worth its weight in gold. After all, the call that comes right in the middle of your to-do-list on a busy day, could be the most meaningful thing in someone’s week.
A challenge for me was adjusting to telephone contact. I found there was so much that I missed from meeting with a patient face-to-face. Silences felt more awkward, I missed all the subtle pieces of body language and simply not being able to offer someone a tissue for comfort really felt difficult. It has been a learning curve for sure, but has provided me with new skills to take forward. It has made me really go the extra mile to make a connection with my patients, get to know them, something which felt much easier when you simply knew what they looked like. On the flip side of this I have been really surprised how positive and receptive people have been to online and telephone services. For some, telephone counselling or online groups have actually been more favourable, and options have never felt too limited. Everyone has really gone above and beyond to help in some way. This is all really thanks to the third sector, who during the pandemic, have really shown their strength and innovation in supporting their communities.
Although telephone contact was here to stay it felt really important for me to get back to the surgery. Thankfully with my colleague’s support and that of The Health Agency, we agreed I could come back at least 1 day per week. Feeling physically part of the team again made a huge difference to my general wellbeing at work, and referrals increased, because as they say, out of sight out of mind.
So where are we now?
There is no question we are still feeling the pressures and challenges of this pandemic. Ways of working have changed, but with some restrictions now eased, services have been able to open up again, providing vital face-to-face support. I now see people in the surgery if they wish, which has been wonderful to just be able to give people this option. I think now, more than ever, a multidisciplinary team approach is so vital, and the CLWs have shown their value in this. When faced with a huge challenge, I’m really proud my team was able to take the opportunity to shine, and show exactly what CLWs can do.
A day after writing this blog I phoned a patient opportunistically, just to check in and see how they were getting on. At the end of the call, they thanked me and said;
“it’s made my day speaking to you, thanks for phoning. It’s a lonely life when you don’t have friends and speaking to someone like you really helps”