Our residents are always the top priority for everyone at Sovereign. Keeping them safe during the coronavirus outbreak, while continuing to deliver much needed services, has been our main aim since the beginning of this crisis.
However, we wanted to do so much more. On top of the support we were offering for known issues like rent, finances and employment, we were also concerned about the well-being of our older and other more vulnerable residents.
We knew that we needed to get in touch and offer support and reassurance. We began producing and distributing leaflets for our older residents with messages of support and advice. We made 10,000 calls to our older people in just over a week in mid-March.
We followed this up with another 10,000 calls to other vulnerable individuals, those with disabilities and those living in our supported housing and temporary housing schemes. This human touch, a voice on the end of the telephone, was a lifeline for some of our residents.
The calls we made weren’t part of a randomised process - every call was made with the individual needs of our residents in mind. And during each conversation, our officers listened carefully, directing support depending on what each person needed.
Margaret, 88, was relieved when she received a check-in call from Naomi Hawtin, one of our concierges. Margaret, who lives alone and has mobility and health issues, was worried about how she would get out and about to buy food and collect her prescriptions.
Within hours, Naomi had managed to contact a local organisation working with volunteers to deliver food packages, and she continues to check in on Margaret regularly.
Another customer, who spoke little English, was extremely confused and agitated on the phone. We were able to contact Age Concern, who used a translator to speak with them, explaining what was happening in the outside world.
These are just two of 20,000 residents that we’ve spoken with. Our officers across a number of teams are a friendly voice, but they’re also assessing whether people might have significant health and welfare needs and what kind of support they have from their family or community. Many people that we called told us that they were ok, but that they’d appreciate another check in.
So now we’re making around 2,000 follow up calls each week, providing constancy in a time of great uncertainty.
Helping our residents to manage their well-being has been hugely important. Our Communities Team continues to hold online meetings with their local groups, looking to the future with plans for playgrounds and events.
£50,000 has been set aside from our communities funding for families who need a little further support, to buy food, toys or crafting materials for children – whatever they need to get them through these tough times.
The feedback from our residents has been phenomenal. We’ve spoken to and connected with people from all over our region, hearing over and again that they really appreciate what we’re trying to do.
We can use databases and systems to reach out to our older residents and those in supported housing but, when the doors are shut and the country’s in lockdown, some of our most vulnerable people can be the hardest of all to reach.
Alarming figures recently released by the National Domestic Abuse helpline showed a 49% increase in calls in the first three weeks of lockdown, with domestic violence deaths reported to be double the average rate during that period.
In the regions where we work we have, thankfully, not seen a sharp spike in calls or reports of violence or abuse and we’ll do all we can to help and protect residents and employees who feel they may be in danger and don’t feel safe.
To do this in these unusual times creates unique challenges: many of the routes that we usually use to pick up on domestic abuse no longer exist in the traditional sense.
Some of our trusted safeguarding referral systems – our tradespeople identifying issues when they visit homes, like repeat repairs for broken doors or windows, or locks where they shouldn’t be – can no longer be used in the same way. It’s hard for our housing officers to complete check ins where they might sense the non-verbal clues that indicate an ‘atmosphere’ between two people.
We continue to work closely with the police and other partners, but there may be residents – men and women – whose lives are currently being made far more difficult than usual. They may feel trapped, unsafe and in danger. We want them to know that we’re here to help them.
That’s why we’re working more closely than ever before with our charity partners The YouTrust and new partner, Womankind. Our ASB, Housing and Communities teams have accessed funding to make sure that victims and survivors of abuse trapped at home during the coronavirus crisis can access direct support from experienced domestic abuse support workers on a one-to-one basis.
This can be done by phoning through to our contact centre where trained professionals are ready to direct a call to Womankind. Directing calls in this way means that anyone who’s struggling could potentially use a call to us as a ‘cover’ – under the pretext that they’re asking about rent payments or accessing benefits. The referral service is available 24/7, as we know that sometimes the safest time to make a call might be late at night.
Womankind will also support people to access refuge places, safe house accommodation and safety planning, but most of all they’ll be there for anyone who’s scared and at risk, to listen and offer support.
The coronavirus crisis affects every one of us in so many different ways and throws up challenges for us as a business on a daily basis. But our message to our customers remains the same: we’re here for you.
However long this lasts, that is our promise to our residents.