Stress, fatigue and isolation were among some of the greatest challenges facing Perth and Kinross voluntary sector staff during Covid.
Lone working for long periods during the pandemic resulted in concerns for workers’ wellbeing.
And fears service users would not be able to contact them online added to their anxiety.
More than 100 voluntary representatives from across the region shared their thoughts during three events to gauge the sector’s challenges and strengths.
And the results are laid bare in a new report released by The Gannochy Trust and PKAVS this week.
Lori Hughes of PKAVS and Jennifer Rogers of The Bike Station have both faced their own personal challenges in juggling their work and home lives amid a global pandemic.
They have had to adapt to new ways of working while trying to support service users during a hugely difficult and uncertain time.
But among the heavy clouds, they have managed to find some silver linings.
‘I became a single parent during the pandemic’
Lori Hughes is the partnership and communities manager at PKAVS.
She had to home school her children while adapting to working from home. But Lori feels lucky to have been supported by her workplace amid the challenges.
She believes the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the difficulties individuals often face.
“One of the biggest challenges is I became a single parent during the pandemic,” she said.
“Trying to provide stability for the kids while working was very difficult.
“I am incredibly fortunate to have a great relationship with my manager and he was particularly accepting.
Being at home, I felt disconnected.”
Jennifer Rogers, The Bike Station.
“But I could understand why that might not have been the same for everyone during the pandemic.
“I think people are much more understanding of people’s personal lives and that we are a whole person instead of someone who leaves who they are at the door and goes into work mode.
“I would say the voluntary sector has come together in a way we never have before. Staff have been more willing to be vulnerable with each other.
“That in turn creates a deepened relationship with each other.”
‘I felt disconnected’
Jennifer Rogers works at The Bike Station, Perth as its community outreach officer.
The Bike Station works to increase access to affordable bikes, offer mental health support and confidence building, and pathways to employment.
Like Lori, Jennifer had to juggle childcare commitments with continuing to work.
Jennifer also felt a sense of isolation with home working as she was unable to see colleagues face to face.
She said: “Being at home, I felt disconnected from the mechanics team who were still working in the shop and guilty that we were safe at home while they were on the frontline.
“As homeworking continued over autumn and winter, I found it challenging to do engagement work and build connections with other organisations online and via phone rather than face to face.
“I was also very lucky that The Bike Station were extremely flexible with my hours. Otherwise homeworking vs childcare would have outweighed all these challenges and I probably wouldn’t have been working at all.”
She added: “But getting feedback from people who have received bikes through our community schemes – what they have used them for, where they go, how they have found cycling if they haven’t had a bike for a while – is easily the most rewarding thing.”
What are the outcomes in the report?
The report took on board the views and experiences of staff during the pandemic and highlights the ways in which Perth and Kinross’ voluntary sector will move forward.
It read: “The challenges that were identified had a clear focus on the limitations of online working and concern that service users that were not digitally agile were being excluded.
“This concern for people’s wellbeing was also reflected in concerns for staff and volunteer stress, fatigue, mental health and wellbeing.”
The Gannochy Trust and PKAVS have now committed to implementing change to improve the experiences of staff.
PKAVS chief executive Paul Graham said: “Our local third sector has been a tremendous asset throughout the pandemic.
“Joining up with the Gannochy Trust to listen to their experiences, insight and ideas has been illuminating and will shape our practice as we explore ways to support the sector to not only recover from the pandemic, but to flourish and play their key role in building a fairer, more equal Perth and Kinross.”
The Gannochy Trust CEO Joanna McCreadie added: “The #BeConnected events were a unique opportunity for charities to come together and share ideas, highlight challenges and identify needs.
“The report has also provided valuable learning about what charities need to support them.
“But, most of all, it’s clear that charities in Perth and Kinross have shown how essential they are to people and communities.”