Forward Annual Review 2020-2021

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Forward Annual Review 2020-2021

CEO REPORT

In 2019, the build up to Christmas was an exciting time with seasonal music, parties, and our Christmas meal at Knights Hill. Then, like so many other companies, Forward closed for the festive season until Members and Staff returned in January 2020, ready to face the challenges of the new year ahead. However, no one realised that within a few weeks everyone’s world would be turned upside down.

At the end of January, we were thrilled with the work of volunteers from Consort Medical who gave up their weekend to paint and decorate the pool table room and adjoining corridor at Millfleet. It was a spectacular and well needed transformation that totally brightened up the spaces. We would also like to thank Consort Medical for donating the paint and all the equipment needed for the project.

During February members were enjoying their activities, accessing the community, and continuing to be creative, including making a guitar rack in Studio 1 for recently donated guitars.  However, on the 12th of February the United Kingdom announced the first confirmed case of Covid-19 and four more cases on February 23rd, so as Forward entered March we felt it prudent for Members to avoid the town centre and stop using public transport, the swimming pool, gym, library, and Strikes for bowling.  This was problematic because, although we still ventured to the local park, Forward is a service that thrives on accessing the community and not everybody staying in. Consequently, some members were disappointed that their usual routine had to change, and other Members were worried because they had heard reports about Covid 19 on the news.

On Wednesday 18th March, an expected email arrived from Norfolk County Council (NCC), and it suggested that we close for a twelve-week period. I responded that we would follow their suggestion and by the end of the day all Members families, Carers and community transport had been contacted and we closed.

The next day Senior Managers met at Millfleet and agreed how strange and empty the building felt without the Members and Staff who would usually mingle there. We collected our computers to enable us to work from home.

The following week our priority was to find out how members and their families were coping, especially as the country faced lockdown from the 25th of March. Therefore, we contacted them all and stayed in contact with them every week over the following months, or as often as Members and their families wanted us to phone.  Consequently, over the weeks, we further strengthened the relationships we had with families and Carers.

During lockdown and over the forthcoming months members created some wonderful work at home. They especially wanted to show support for the NHS.

Members’ shared with us their birthday celebrations and some of their hobbies too.

To support Members with activities to do at home, Staff at Ezone made a range of craft kits for members to make, paint and decorate. We also supplied kits to the National Autistic Society for their Members to make. As the demand for kits increased, Studio 1 started producing them too. We also gave one to one support to some members, accompanying them for walks in their local areas.

Whilst the Management Team focused on the welfare of Members, we also kept a close eye on the changing picture of Covid cases locally and nationally. After weeks without a day service, some Members were struggling, and their wellbeing was beginning to be affected. Therefore, we cautiously and meticulously made plans to reopen our day service.

Forward is fortunate to have several areas that can work autonomously to meet the needs of Members. Ezone is on a separate site to the rest of Forward, and Millfleet, Studio 1, and Studio 2 occupy the same site but are easily separated from each other. In normal times, Members would often be involved in activities on more than one site but with the dangers of COVID-19 we decided that each site would be isolated from the other, working in separate bubbles; four bubbles in all, with the option of Members who enjoyed working at the allotment being part of Studio 2 bubble to give them variation and a place to work in bad weather. Through the first lockdown, Staff members had maintained the allotment and grown fruit and vegetables, ready for when Members returned to carry on the work.

Each Bubble had a dedicated staff team allocated to it, and each team were involved in developing their area ready for when the Members returned.

Before Covid, Studio 2 had been a resource that Forward were in the process of developing. The Staff group allocated to this area decided to take the modernisation and refurbishment of this area into their own hands. They brightened it up and decorated the area, transforming it with a complete facelift.

It was an ideal time to redecorate, and Staff in the other bubbles also decided to repaint their areas. Resources were shared between each area to enable Members to carry on with activities that they might previously have been involved with in an area that they would not now be able to access.

The Staff team put a great deal of thought, care, and imagination into developing their bubbles. Everyone agreed that they missed not seeing the Members and everybody wanted Members to have a Covid safe but first-rate environments to return to. They wanted Members to be able to take part in as many of the meaningful activities that they had enjoyed before Covid.

In addition to phone calls, Staff were keen to keep contact with Members by leaving them photo messages and short video messages on our Facebook page.

To support the safe reopening of Forward, we sourced extra PPE and hand sanitiser, so we were very grateful for the donation of face shields through Kings Lynn Lions, made by Mike Ford.

During this period Forward also benefitted from donations from Margaret Taylor, £200 from Sibleco towards our autism project, £2500 from Friends of Park House, and Kings Lynn Trinity Rotary Club towards I.T. equipment. Some of this money was used to provide lap top computers to enable Staff to work from home, due to Covid restricting the number of people we could allow in an area at any one time. Donations were also used to fund televisions in each bubble; these enabled Members to communicate with their friends in other bubbles.    

During this period some much needed restoration work was carried out on our Millfleet premises by Alister Chadwick of AJ Restoration. Millfleet was built in 1849, which is a little younger than some of the buildings that Alister has worked on, including 15th century churches and Windsor castle.

In preparation for reopening, the Staff team created booklets, with lots of photos, that described what the bubbles would look like when Members returned and how the day would involve the importance of washing hands, using hand sanitiser and social distancing.  In addition, short videos with commentary were created and put on our Facebook page, to further explain the changes in the buildings.

After an immense amount of thought, planning, risk assessing and adaptions we reopened Forward on July 27th 2021.  Initially every Member was offered one day back in one of the bubbles.  As Members would return to a changed service, the staff produced booklets and videos to explain the changed service and what it would look like. Many Members returned straight away but others chose to return when they felt more confident over the following months; to date almost all Members have returned.  On several occasions we have had to close a bubble because of a Covid alert, but with Covid testing and the strict following of guidelines, we have mostly been able to keep the bubbles open.

For those Members who could not return or were on reduced days, the staff continued to talk with them by phone, we also set up TVs in each bubble so that Members could talk to their friends who were in different bubbles to them and used zoom for get-togethers, quizzes and activities.

When they returned to Forward, some of the Members, made craft projects for Members to make who were still at home. Instructions were included but also provided on a new Forward YouTube channel.

Despite the restrictions Covid placed on many of our activities, Members in all four bubbles still produced high quality products, either for sale or for personal use and endeavoured to support the local community whenever an opportunity presented itself. 

In Conclusion

Together we have travelled through some very scary and uncertain times, and this is set to continue into 2022.  Throughout this period, members have excelled and succeeded in so many ways and this report can only capture a snapshot of their many achievements. 

I would like to thank the Team Leaders and all the Staff team who have supported Members with their activities and wellbeing through the pandemic, they are a truly amazing, innovative, and dedicated group of people.

I also wish to thank my Senior Management team who have excelled in the face of adversity, navigating the many challenges the pandemic has provided, whilst safeguarding Staff and Members.

I would also like to thank our Board Of Trustees, who are always supportive and at the end of a phone whenever needed.

We also need to extend our thanks to Parents and Carers who we have worked closely with during the pandemic.

Forward continues to work closely with Norfolk County Council (NCC) Learning Disabilities Team, and this has been especially so during the pandemic.  We would like to thank NCC for their support throughout this time and especially Anna Fairhurst who could not have been more helpful

In 2022 we intend to extend our services and put more provision in for Autistic people and Adults with Learning Disabilities.  Therefore, we are actively looking for additional premises to facilitate these services. 

In the Spring we will be involved in pilots for NCC’s Independence and Wellbeing pathways initiative.  Before the pandemic we had taken part in the Employment pathway. 

Next year we will be working with Adult Services and launching Forward Momentum, which is a project to give support to children leaving care, working towards employment, after they turn eighteen years of age.  Momentum is also the programme for Members’ Employment Pathway at Forward.

Download a copy of our annual review here.

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