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we are With You

Keeping that human connection during the pandemic

Our drug and alcohol work in Glasgow is all about relationships. We’ve worked hard to keep that human connection without face to face support.

Glasgow from Queens Park” by Ian Dick is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

At the beginning of March 2020, Rob was referred to our drug and alcohol services after trying to take his own life. Rob had experienced issues with alcohol for a long time. He’d tried various treatments before and at this point wasn’t particularly interested in addressing his drinking habits. This all changed when he met his latest support worker Maggie at our hub in Glasgow. They made a connection right away and Rob began opening up about his past.

Human connections like the one between Maggie and Rob are central to the work we do in our recovery hubs. We know positive relationships are an important part of recovery from drug and alcohol issues. We work hard to help people build these relationships whether that’s between our staff and people looking for support or between the people who access our services.

In normal times both our hubs in Scotland are buzzing. There’s always something going on with loads of activities for people to get involved with. But when the pandemic first hit, all of that changed. One person described the first lockdown as a black cloud appearing over his recovery. Everything he was doing that was good for him just completely stopped overnight.

With all hands on deck and a lot of hard work from all of our staff and volunteers, we found a way to lift that cloud. Together with our partners in the local recovery communities we were able to get our seven-day-a-week group programmes up and running online within 24 hours. We quickly began to offer one to one sessions via phone and we added additional support wherever we could. To ensure our groups continue to be engaging we developed a real variety of sessions, from an arts and craft session to a cooking club, — that have built up a great peer support network.

We’ve also explored new ways to provide support offline. We started finding ways to help people access food, clothing and toiletries in lockdown. We also began distributing Naloxone — a lifesaving medication to reverse opioid overdose — door to door and providing doorstep training.

The end result of this hard work is that, despite everything, we’ve maintained consistently high referrals and continued to keep people engaged with the services. At the same time, we’ve found some of the things we’re started doing cut down the time between when someone contacts us and when they start getting support — we’re now able to help people almost immediately. We’re also seeing more people seeking support for the first time. An average of 58% of people accessing our services between May and December of 2020 had never engaged with services before.

However, even with all of our adaptations, some people have struggled. We’ve had to work extra hard to keep people motivated and engaged and on track. Normally towards the end of structured treatment, we’d support people into employment, college, volunteer work or whatever else they may want to do. None of that has been able to happen in the past year.

I don’t think we’ll ever take for granted the ability for someone to come into the hub, or to go round to someone’s house for a coffee and a chat. It’s not even things I would have given a second thought before as it’s just something you would do, however, none of us really realised how important those little things were until we couldn’t do them.

As we move out of the third lockdown and into a changed world I’m endlessly impressed by how resilient people have been. People who’ve never used Google or Zoom have learnt new skills and adapted to this new way of support. People have been so strong and brave in the way they’ve put themselves out there in our group sessions despite the unfamiliar online environment.

Our staff have been incredibly passionate and resilient. They’ve changed their jobs, they’ve changed their working hours, all to help people out and support as many people as possible. They’ve become chefs cooking meals for people. They’ve become delivery drivers lifting crates of food upstairs. They’ve had to respond to an increasing number of really serious crisis calls. That’s the stuff lots of people don’t see.

How’s Rob doing? Throughout the pandemic his recovery worker Maggie kept checking in with him twice a week, and he began to feel more confident, drink less and then stop drinking completely. He’s started volunteering and running online groups, supporting others to find that important human connection throughout the pandemic. He said: “Maggie saved my life. I went in as a broken, broken man, and as soon as I met her I felt comfortable. She stuck by me even during the chaos of the last year and gave me the confidence to think ‘I can do this.’”

These are tough times for everyone. With You services are open and we’re here to work alongside you during this difficult time. Visit our website for information and advice, to chat to a trained advisor or to find your local service.

Want to find out more about our work at With You? Sign up to our monthly roundup of what we’re working on or thinking about across the organisation, including opportunities to get involved.

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With You

We are one of the UK’s leading mental health, drug and alcohol charities. We provide free, confidential support with drugs, alcohol and mental health.