HOW THE OA’S NETWORK OF HONORARY REPRESENTATIVES RESPONDED DURING THE PANDEMIC
Last year was an exceptional and challenging year, with many organisations striving to find new and innovative ways of working. The OA was no different; staff were asked to work from home, OA events moved online, and career consultations were undertaken virtually. New technology was adopted to enable us to stay in touch with beneficiaries, job seekers, volunteers and each other.
For our network of volunteers, traditionally called Honorary Representatives (Hon Reps), based across the UK and overseas, communication is vital as they work in tandem with OA staff and beneficiaries. They are often the public face of the OA, as they meet with people and keep in touch with those needing our support. The impact of Covid-19 meant face-to-face meetings ended abruptly as it was no longer safe for beneficiaries and volunteers to meet at home. Yet, the ability to listen with empathy and report clearly on a person’s needs and situation remains.
Nahid Malik, Head of Grants and Welfare at the OA, explains, “Covid-19 has presented its challenges but adopting a flexible attitude and the use of new software has ensured Hon Reps can still talk to the people we seek to support when face-to-face arrangements had to be cancelled.”
OA staff are in regular contact with both beneficiaries and volunteers, using the telephone to maintain communication and provide a friendly voice.
As a result, the overall impact of homeworking on beneficiaries is negligible. Welfare provision remains a vital element of what we offer and the cornerstone on which the OA was founded. Maintaining this provision for as long as possible is a driving force towards securing financial stability for the OA’s future.
“I have been an OA Hon Rep for ten years now and used to meeting with individuals during face-to-face visits. Clearly, this has not been possible during the pandemic. Instead, Grants and Welfare co-ordinators now contact both our beneficiary and Hon Reps to arrange a phone-based ‘visit’.
I have now undertaken two very different ‘visits.’ For one person, it was necessary to complete our ‘visit’ with a couple of rest periods during the call.
Another was so confident she simply asked me to have a cup of coffee to hand, whilst she would do the same, just as we would have done during a normal meeting. We completed our meeting in one ‘take’ and she observed that a Zoom meeting might have been better!
What have I learnt? Patience and sensitivity are needed to help recognise how beneficiaries are coping, more so given the lack of non-verbal cues, such as body language, and not seeing their living conditions, which I find useful during the assessment process. However, it is a pleasure to be able to help ensure continuity of support for our beneficiaries.”
Last year, our team of 78 Hon Reps helped us complete over 302 case reviews to help officers and their families needing support.