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VODA Team Q&A: Keith Hardy

In the first in a series of Q&A’s, we’re taking a look at the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the VODA team, in particular how things have changed for us and how we see our roles going forward.

First up is Keith Hardy, VODA’s Core Services Manager…

How has your role changed due to COVID-19?

My role has changed quite significantly, the bulk of my work is now COVID-19 related, working in partnership with the Local Authority and other organisations to provide support to North Tyneside’s most vulnerable residents.

With a good proportion of voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations in stasis or providing a very limited service, there has been a drop in requests for support around governance and charitable law, which is my usual role. Although I suspect this will explode once lockdown is relaxed and organisations start to deliver services again.

The other change has been in my work environment, I am now working out of North Tyneside Council’s headquarters at the Quadrant, partially because the building VODA is located in is closed and also so that we can work more closely with the Council. It’s been really useful as a lot of my day-to-day work involves liaising with the Local Support Team.

I also have to be more creative in how I provide support to my staff team, with many of them working from home. It is important for them to receive the right support and ensure that their wellbeing is being looked after, things like taking time off, providing support sessions in formats to suit them etc.

I worry about isolation, working collaboratively and feeding off each other’s ideas and energy is a big part of how our team works, I have to find ways to ensure we continue to be innovative and mobile in our support for the VCS.

What lessons have you learned?

Main thing is that working in partnership is a great way to maximise our resources and reach.

Also, remote meetings on Team and Zoom have been a real bonus. I’ve never really used them before and this is definitely something we will incorporate into our work going forward.  In fact the use of technology in general has increased across the VCS, which is a good step forward for the sector.

What do you think you would have done differently?

It took a bit of time to get all the partners working in unison and understanding their roles in the COVID-19 Response Teams. It works fine now though, so I think the lesson learned for me would be to devote a bit more time to planning and to ensure that everyone in the team understands what is required of them and who is responsible for what.

We have had to be more creative about supporting the VCS to deliver services during this crisis and we have been able to use our partnerships with the Local Authority and CCG to help in a range of ways.

How do you see your role as we move towards the recovery phase?

I think it will be a difficult time for organisations and many will require support around funding or recruiting volunteers and trustees, as well as needing help with their own recovery planning. We are contacting organisations now to find out what support they require now and in the future, which will help us focus our support in the right areas.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement during this crisis?

I think the biggest achievement isn’t down to one person, the speed and professionalism in which VODA was able to mobilise support for the most vulnerable people was amazing. Within one week we had a shopping service, food parcel delivery and prescription collection service operational. Also, recruiting over 250 volunteers in a couple of weeks was pretty amazing!

What was your biggest challenge (so far)?

When we first set up the shopping service many of the beneficiaries were not tech savvy and couldn’t manage to shop online or make payments. We worked with the Council’s Finance Team to find a solution and now people can ring Finance and give payment details over the telephone, making it much easier to access money for shopping. As of 26 May 2020 we had processed £18,000 worth of shopping trips.

Anything else you would like to add?

I have been staggered by the response of the volunteers, they are amazing and make our jobs so much easier. Every day they go shopping, deliver food parcels and wellbeing packs and collect prescriptions, as well as some more unusual jobs like fitting a fridge freezer in someone’s home, topping up gas and electricity cards and even shopping for an internet MYFI connector so someone could shop online. Nothing is too much for our volunteers! We are going to organise a well-deserved celebration at the end of all this.