Sue Grogan is one of four Community Engagement Workers for the RAF Benevolent Fund. The Fund launched the two-year pilot programme in 2019 to help tackle social isolation and loneliness issues amongst veterans. In this guest blog, Sue shares a typical working day under lockdown and explains how the team are continuing to support vulnerable members of the RAF Family throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
As a Community Engagement Worker (CEW) for the RAF Benevolent Fund, I am one of those lucky people who are classed as working from home. You might assume that coronavirus would not have changed much for me, but you would be mistaken. The beautifully ensigned car sits stationary outside my house – although it gathers as much dust as if it were still driving into the depths of Norfolk.
My day begins with the alarm at 06:00 (Alison by Elvis Costello if you are interested). I spend the first hour of my morning doing exactly as I did before; checking emails, sorting my diary, and eating breakfast.
In the old days – pre-COVID19 – I would have got in the car at 08:30 to see a beneficiary. Potentially one who has PTSD and has real issues just getting out of his house; a coffee in a café is a real achievement and progress has been made.
This morning, I make my own coffee, using the posh Lazy Sunday coffee to replicate a decent cup, before sitting down to video call my beneficiary. He too has gone to the bother of using a coffee machine and we do a virtual cheers.
He tells me the coffee capsules are as expensive as café coffee. It's not the same but he seems to be coping. We discuss his parents, his concerns, and have a bit of banter about my appalling TV taste. He says he appreciates the call and whilst he is in lockdown we agree that I will call at the same time next week.
Previously, I would have driven 40 minutes to see my next chap, a recent widower. His two dogs are his lifeline, and normally the girls would bark their canine heads off at my arrival. I video call him; he has no coffee in hand.
He's had bad news from the benefits agency; he is not in the Universal Credit work group that he thought he would be. He is coping with lockdown but for him the isolation is identical to his normal routine. He takes his dogs for a walk incorporating a daily trip to his wife's grave, he shops as infrequently as possible, and he sees no one else.
He's ordered a webcam from China to work with his counsellor and I feel glad for his tech-savviness. We close the call as he agrees to investigate his stove top, which he hasn't used since his wife died in November. I will ring him next week, and although the call went well I do worry about him.
And so, feeling a bit deflated, I call my fellow CEW for a cheer up. He doesn't disappoint and tells his kids not to swear as I am on the phone. I am chuffed to be considered sensitive to swearing! Feeling better, I set to work writing up my notes from the morning so far.
Next on my list is a veteran who has been very depressed of late; I like him and wish that he could see himself as others do. He has had a tough year and we've helped him financially and through the Listening and Counselling Service. He knows where otters breed locally to him but won't share the info! I am a bit gutted by this as I love the wonder of nature.
While I'm unable to engage him going out, his listening and counselling continues by telephone, which he doesn't especially like but understands. I call and he doesn't answer. My senses are alerted as I worry about him - he is high risk.
I breathe a sigh of relief as he texts to say that he is at the doctors. I am in virtual meetings for most of the afternoon so reassure him that I'll call him tomorrow.
By this point, it's lunch time. I'm looking forward to it: I cooked the Spice Men's Salmon and Bombay Potato Salade Nicoise earlier in the week. I take my temperature (again) as I have been coughing and have self-isolated for five days so far, but thankfully it's normal.
Lunch over, I look through some applications that mention loneliness and isolation issues. The first number I call goes straight to a dead line. I worry that at 83, he may have passed and make enquiries. A mobile number is found much later in the afternoon and I make a note to call him tomorrow.
I call the second number and speak to a woman who lost her husband five years ago. Despite living in a residential complex she's unable to see any of the other 60 residents. She's keen to join a telephone friendship group and we complete the paperwork over the phone.
I feel privileged that she trusts me enough to join the telephone friendship group, but at the same time I worry. She has accepted my word that I'm who I say I am – would she accept the words of a telephone scammer as easily? However, she seems pleased and I tell her I'll call again in a couple of weeks to see how she's coping. I finish the paperwork and send it where it needs to go.
Finally, we have our daily CEW update meeting with Pete. I try to move the laptop so they can see me but not necessarily my untidy house - and so I don't look like I might have had my pyjamas on all day! We all give updates and Pete passes on nuggets of information which we absorb like sponges.
As the day wraps up, I consider the positives: the petrol costs are low and people seem to be good humoured so far. I know that I am still having an impact on people's lives and that makes all the difference in the world!
If you would like to self-refer into the Community Engagement Worker programme you can do so by calling 0300 102 1919. Alternatively, professionals or caseworkers can use the 'Request our Help' form to refer someone in need of our assistance.