Frontline stories: Helping our clients overcome technological exclusion

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Georgia started with The Nelson Trust only a few weeks before lockdown. We are incredibly proud to have her on our team at the Gloucester Women’s Centre as the Navigator Developer for the GEM project. I asked her what it has been like to start her new job during a global pandemic.

What does a Navigator Developer do?
The Going the Extra Mile (GEM) Project is about helping people move closer towards education, training, volunteering or work, including self-employment. The GEM Project is jointly funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund.
My job usually revolves around helping those furthest from the job market get back into education, training and employment. I help people with both the practical side of accessing resources and opportunities, and help build their confidence and help them figure out what they want to do.

How has your role changed during lockdown?
I had only been working for Nelson Trust for three weeks when lockdown started, so I had a small caseload who I am now supporting remotely. During lockdown I’ve also been doing some shifts in our Residential Treatment Centre which I have really enjoyed and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve also been helping deliver the #feedgloucester and #feedcheltenham initiatives, providing supermarket vouchers to those struggling to support themselves and their families.

How are you supporting clients?
The focus has shifted for me as there’s no pressure for any of my participants to be looking for work right now unless they would like to and are able to. Many of the women I work with have children home from school or are in vulnerable categories because of their health. I’m providing a lot more practical and emotional support for them at the moment, to help them cope with lockdown and continue to progress in their personal development. I’m having weekly or twice weekly phone or video call check ins with most of the women as opposed to the usual once a fortnight or once a week face-to-face one-to-ones.

What challenges are our clients facing?
Lots of them have kids home from school and I’ve been supporting them with this by helping provide arts and crafts materials and access to online workshops, including applying for funding for laptops for lots of my clients. These laptops are also making home study for online courses an option, which is fab both for their future career prospects and for keeping them busy during lockdown.

Some of the women suffer from serious mental health problems which have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, such as agoraphobia and OCD. These women are benefitting from just having someone to confide in and being reminded to look after themselves the best they can, try to be kind and not have unrealistic expectations. Online yoga courses and just chatting about normal things like what books they’re reading are helping retain some sense of normality.

The technological exclusion many of my women face has been a massive challenge. We have all become so reliant on the internet and technology for everything from connecting with loved ones to ordering prescriptions and communicating with agencies like the DWP. More than half my caseload do not have access to a computer or the internet or even in some cases a smart phone. I have applied for funding to help these women and those grant applications are starting to be approved which will make a massive difference to their quality of life. I am campaigning for free internet to be provided to those on low incomes.

Lockdown Challenges
Working from home alone without the support of my team has been a massive struggle for me. Being so new to the organisation, I’m missing the immediate access to the amazing resource of the incredible women I work with on a daily basis I would usually have – someone sat opposite me to run things past.

I have overcome this by pushing myself to ask for support over the phone and have regular check-ins with my supervisor but often it’s the more trivial things that I wish I could ask someone easily. It has given me the opportunity to make this job my own and problem solve and I have learnt a lot very quickly. I also struggled balancing the two roles when I first started picking up shifts in Residential but that’s got a lot easier with practice!

Wellbeing tips
Take lots of breaks when homeworking, especially from screens and as always just be kind to yourself – we are doing amazingly.

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