The challenge of coronavirus: supporting people during lockdown | Guest Blog

30 March 2020 - by David Allen

We Hear You (WHY) is a small charity in Somerset that has been providing free professional counselling to people affected by cancer since founder Jill Miller installed a second phone line in her home in 1994. It’s fair to say that Jill’s act of kindness escalated: in 2019 the team of more than 30 counsellors provided over 5,000 sessions to people from age four upwards affected by cancer and life threatening conditions across Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset and Wiltshire. In light of the recent goverment lockdown, we caught up with the Lucy from WHY to see how COVID-19 has affected their services.

“During the last couple of years, we’ve been adding new services alongside traditional one-to-one counselling in response to client feedback and the (inter)national conversation about the value of creativity, the outdoors and exercise for emotional wellbeing. We’ve linked up with other agencies and practitioners to offer WHYoutdoors, mindfulness-based outdoor courses in partnership with ecotherapy specialists The Natural Academy. We’ve utilised the specialities of our counsellors to offer art and drama therapy within our one-to-one counselling service for children and adults.

We’ve organised free swimming sessions, a Nordic walking course and a taster of the acclaimed Move Dance Feel programme for women. And we were due to launch WHYbemindful, an eight-week mindfulness course specifically designed by Trish Bartley for people living with and beyond cancer, in April 2020. The feedback for the work done so far has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re excited about this new area of work, reaching people in new ways, including those who might never refer themselves for traditional counselling. And then COVID-19 arrived and brought the world to a standstill.

We can and we have continued to support people coping directly or indirectly with cancer and life threatening conditions, but our face-to-face sessions switched to telephone or online more than a week ago, following the lead of NHS talking therapies and in recognition of the many people we work with who are at a greater risk than most.

We’re grateful we’re able to continue at all and thankful for our brilliant, dedicated and flexible counsellors and our counselling clients, who have been so understanding about unwanted changes to their support. Meanwhile the fundraising activities that underpin our services and help raise the £5,060 each week we need to run them have disappeared from the diary.

As a small charity, we’re always looking to the next grant or chunk of fundraising income to ensure our services can continue, but for once the challenge isn’t solely a financial one. Meanwhile, people living with and beyond cancer and life threatening conditions and those who live with and care for them have an additional, compelling reason to find life difficult or even impossible to manage without support. In addition, many of them are at a greatly increased risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch the virus. Therefore, the need for WHY and organisations like ours has never been greater.

So where do we go from here? It isn’t a question we know the answer to, yet. We’re fortunate to be well resourced to work remotely and have made a pretty smooth transition to providing our services by phone or online and keeping our admin, operational and fundraising teams ticking over. The fundraising team are busy planning virtual fundraising events, thinking of ways we can come back with a bang once things return to normal and liaising with our funders. We have fantastic support from the communities we work in and hope that will translate into an increase in regular giving. The one thing we do know is that, in an area where we’ve always been needed, we’ve never been needed more. And we plan to rise to the challenge.”

For a full list of how WHY can help you, visit their website.

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