Even on a grey day, there is something to smile about!

Posted 01.09.2020

Since March 2020 the coronavirus pandemic has given rise to an unprecedented situation, affecting the lives of everyone and resulting in the closure of key services and support agencies. During this time the health, safety and wellbeing of Opportunity and Change participants remains a priority, and the Opportunity & Change partnership has been working tirelessly to ensure that participants remain supported.

The programme continues to accept new referrals; offering a remote induction to the project and telephone/online support until the situation changes to fully assess participant eligibility and resume face-to-face contact.

The project is responding to the crisis in the following ways:

  • All face-to-face appointments have been replaced with telephone and online support (e.g. Zoom, WhatsApp, email, etc.)
  • Frequency of contact has increased; Navigators are checking-in more often to help reduce feelings of isolation
  • Up to date resources are being shared, including mental health tools, online training courses and financial support
  • Participants accessing counselling services have been able to continue to do so via phone or using a virtual meeting platform
  • Participants who are missing their weekly Skills Plus for Change sessions are being offered alternative support online
  • Navigator support has adapted to meet the practical needs of participants; ensuring they have access to food parcels, toiletries, utilities and delivering prescriptions where necessary.

Diane Waddingham is a Navigator for the Opportunity and Change project, based within Framework’s delivery team. Her case study shows how Opportunity and Change has adapted provision during the pandemic, and highlights some of the wider benefits of engaging with the Building Better Opportunites programme.

Rhiannon met Dianne at a local Job Centre event back in May 2019. She was extremely anxious and reluctant to attend. Diane introduced herself and Opportunity and Change, and after talking for some time, Rhiannon said she would like to know more. They arranged to meet again somewhere Rhiannon was more familiar with and already felt comfortable attending. Rhiannon disclosed that she needed support in relation to her housing, mental health and domestic abuse. She felt these barriers were preventing her from moving into training or employment.

Rhiannon had been in a mentally and physically abusive relationship, so Diane referred her to Women’s Aid and initially accompanied her to attend appointments. As a result of the breakdown in her relationship, Rhiannon was in the middle of a custody battle for her youngest son when lockdown restrictions were enacted. Diane continued to offer frequent support via telephone for Rhiannon and was on-call during the court hearing; Rhiannon was eventually awarded prime custody of her son.

Prior to lockdown, Dianne had referred Rhiannon to the Loudspeaker Programme and accompanied her to the first session, after which Rhiannon attended by herself and successfully completed all ten weeks. Rhiannon has a passion for art and is very expressive; her confidence grew week by week in the safe and inclusive environment that Loudspeaker provides. After the programme had finished, Rhiannon was overjoyed when she was asked to return as a volunteer Peer Mentor. In this role she was able to thrive; learning and developing her skills and confidence, whilst sharing her knowledge and experience with others. Unfortunately, Rhiannon’s new role as a Peer Mentor was cut short as the programme had to be postponed due to the covid19 pandemic.

In addition to Loudspeaker, Rhiannon began attending Skills Plus for Change (SP4C) every week and taking away lots from each of the sessions. Even when the lockdown measures were imposed, Rhiannon was able to continue participating in SP4C online via Zoom. She has since completed all modules and progressed to become a Learning Assistant.

Throughout the lockdown period Rhiannon also home-schooled her two children. This experience inspired Rhiannon to pursue a career in teaching. During her telephone one-to-one appointments with Diane, Rhiannon applied for teaching courses at three different universities – and received unconditional offers from all three! Rhiannon has chosen the University of Nottingham to study a BA in Education. Diane then aided Rhiannon to arrange her student finances, and student support for her mental health and dyslexia. Rhiannon is now set up with the support and specialist equipment in place to begin her course in September 2020, and has high hopes for her future career and family life.

During lockdown, Diane adapted her support to suit Rhiannon changing face-to-face appointments to telephone calls, increasing the frequency of contact to at least once a week. With Diane’s support and the continuation of Skills Plus for Change via Zoom, Rhiannon was able to remain positive through an unprecedented period and further her progress towards her aspirations of becoming a teacher.

Reflecting on her journey, Rhiannon shared: “Upon my first meeting with my Navigator I had no self-esteem, no particular plan for life and simply hoped to make it through each day as it came. Now, as I am making my final preparations to start university, my life is completely unrecognisable! Thanks to Opportunity and Change, I am now equipped with the tools to forge a life for myself and my family – a life filled with possibilities. A life when even on a grey day, there is something to smile about!”

If you know of someone who would benefit from support to overcome their barriers and move closer to education, training or work, please visit the Opportunity and Change website, for more information and to make a referral: https://www.opportunityandchange.org/

If you are an organisation and would like to work more closely with the Building Better Opportunities (BBO) programme and would like to discuss how this could happen, please contact your local BBO Stakeholder Manager:

Derbyshire – Rosie Morton Rosie.Morton@derbyshire.gov.uk

Derby City – Sabina Talib Sabina.Talib@derby.gov.uk

Nottinghamshire – Maria Ward Maria.Ward@nottscc.gov.uk

Nottingham City – Sarah Bull Sarah.Bull@nottinghamcity.gov.uk

BBO is having a significant impact on individual lives, supporting people to increase their confidence, independence and achieve their employment aspirations.

See what our participants have to say in these case studies …

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