Listening to the Voices of Key Workers: Unheard Stories sounddelivery/ Tortoise ThinkIn 

As the UK lockdown continues in the fight to deal with COVID-19, new challenges have arisen for some of the most vulnerable people in society and we have become more reliant than ever on the frontline workers that hold up our services and support our communities. Our third Digital ThinkIn with Tortoise gave a platform to some of these frontline workers.

As the UK lockdown continues in the fight to deal with COVID-19, new challenges have arisen for some of the most vulnerable people in society and we have become more reliant than ever on the frontline workers that hold up our services and support our communities.

Chaired by Liz Moseley, Editor and Partner at Tortoise, our third Digital ThinkIn with Tortoise gave a platform to some of these frontline workers. This week focused on the voices of Key Workers, health workers, but also those whose stories you may not have heard; a funeral director, bus driver, mental health support worker.

Are we listening to frontline staff?

One of the first things that struck us during the ThinkIn was that there seems to be a disconnect between the challenges frontline workers are facing and the solutions they need, and decisions being made by their managers. Jennifer Cross is a theatre nurse, now working in ICU due to covid-19 was the first to speak. She said there has been little time for any formal training to be an ICU nurse, and nurses in her position have been learning on the job. With rotational shifts, nurses are working with different teams on a daily basis, new teams have to quickly grasp what nurses have or haven’t learnt yet making it more difficult.  She also shared her concerns that two theatres have re-opened for cancer patients, she thinks it’s too soon as they are really vulnerable.  She also described a continued lack of PPE with colleagues going to places like Screwfix to buy themselves some form of protective items like goggles.

33 bus drivers have been lost to covid-10 in London alone. Bus driver Moe said at first they had no PPE and no sanitiser. He was fearful, scared, anxious of passengers coming on the bus. Stories of drivers being spat at for running late had been circulating and drivers took it into their own hands to cling film or sellotape over the holes in their screens. Some drivers were threatened with disciplinaries for sealing off seats that they felt would protect them. Many had to campaign to move ticket machines to the back of the bus, to keep passengers away from drivers. This is finally being implemented, but drivers had to take a stand to make this happen.

Listening to the voices of frontline staff is vital in creating positive change in our services. We ran some storytelling training on the Systems Changers programme funded by Lankelly Chase, which brought together frontline staff from across the south east to explore what was broken in the systems they operate in and the solutions they could create to contribute to systems change. This programme highlighted how the voices of frontline staff too often went unheard, but their experiences and insights were key in changing services for the better.

Key Workers under pressure 

Hasina Zaman is a female Funeral Director in London who has gone from working eight hour days with flexible time off to spend with family, to a workload that has now quadrupled. Her small family business is on call all the time responding to families who have lost loved ones. They have just started working with Muslim communities for same day service as bespoke companies have shut down due to catching coronavirus. Shockingly, she said that families’ loved ones have been issued with death certificates with C-10 even though they weren’t tested, and families are being stigmatised by this with some funeral directors and cemeteries not accepting people who died of covid-19.  She shared the story of an Egyptian man who died in a care home with no family, they couldn’t find him – not at the coroners – they had to track down where he was sent and who was doing the funeral. This wouldn’t have happened if not for Coronavirus.

Peter Marshall, Compliance Manager for the Royal Mail said they’re operating on a third of staff even though demand on their services has gone up substantially. And Darren McKenna set up a food bank in one of the largest council estate in England Leigh Park – Havant . What started as a few mates, is now 25 working seven days a week. They haven’t received any funding, it’s all just been done through community support, even having to buy their own PPE. They are being approached by churches, doctors, communities asking to support their residents.

As the ThinkIn ended we looked to the chat where Becky Bainbridge, from Manchester-based charity RECLAIM said something that really resonated:

There’s a whole generation of young working-class people who are realising just how undervalued their parents and siblings, working in ‘key worker’ roles have been. Hopefully they will be emboldened to make the change that we need (with our support).”

We’ve all come to realise just how important our key workers are, and like Becky we hope that the support of key workers will continue well beyond the end of covid-19.

Watch the full ThinkIn here:

Watch the first and second Unheard Stories ThinkIns. 

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