New Buddies Network officer – Covid 19-style
06/11/2020 (Staff Post )
New Buddies Network officer – Covid 19-style
Back in November 2019, I left job of 13 years to search for new horizons. I felt I’d reached my capacity in my work supporting ethnic minority communities engage with the sight loss sector and craved a new challenge. I had an offer to wait for posts that were coming live in January from another sight loss charity. I considered this over Christmas and stuck with the plan to quit the sector.
So, come January and trawling Goodmoves, I realised there were really – no, really – very few posts that were floating my boat. My strengths were community engagement, equality and diversity, policy, planning and project management. But these search criteria were taking me to sectors and posts I couldn’t begin to get my head round. I suddenly wondered if I’d made a series of Badmoves. Then, I saw a few jobs that looked of real interest – one in Carluke, one in Glasgow. And then the New Buddies Network officer job based with Engage Renfrewshire. What was a ‘New Buddies Network officer’, anyway? I read on and, as I did, noticed there was really nothing about this job that I didn’t feel drawn too – both in the specifics of the role and my confidence in being able to deliver. Supporting ethnic minority groups and communities to enhance inclusion and opportunity in Renfrewshire. So I applied. A few weeks later I received an email – in my spam, of course – from Engage Renfrewshire. Karen McIntyre had to follow this up with a call, asking me to interview. Obviously, delighted, I went into preparation mode. At this point covid19 was something that was happening in far off places, attracting some interest but nothing more than that.
By the day of my interview, there was more and more attention paid to Covid19 virus – China was putting whole cities into lockdown. Trump was denying all existence, then claiming he knew all along, then cancelling all flights from Europe (excluding UK) and parts of Africa. Hundreds were dying across Europe and the pressure was on for a UK government national response. Some, like my father-in-law decided to self-isolate. We thought that a bit extreme but he was in a high risk group and – as it turned out – one step ahead of the game.
On the day of the interview, I left early to make sure I didn’t get caught up in the promised snow. Arriving at Falcon St, getting out of the car and entering reception – it suddenly hit me. I was super nervous! Indicating this to the four person interview panel, I did as well as I could and left with the knowledge that the successful candidate would hear in the next few days. I went home to submit another application form. To my delighted surprise, as I was about to submit this application a call came in – Engage Renfrewshire. They were offering me the job and I was chuffed to be able to accept.
As I immersed myself in the satisfaction of gaining meaningful employment, it became clear a national response to the covid19 outbreak was needed. Developments happened quickly and eventually the response came. Lockdown. And what did that mean? Working from home, schools closed, two meters away from fellow shoppers and eventually, non-essential services shut down. Hang on, working from home? OK, so while I had my offer letter, had accepted the job, references checked I was soon informed that the Engage office was closed. I wondered whether the New Buddies Officer would become Old News. I fretted a little, before hearing categorically that my start date would be the 6th April, my IT was on order and would be coming to my home. There may be a bit of a wait but I had my own laptop and mobile so come the 6th April at 9.15am, I dutifully reported for active service. From my kitchen. With a laptop that didn’t allow me access to the audio/camera function. While I could see and hear all of my new colleagues, they couldn’t hear or see me. The morning was a frantic back and forth with apps, browsers, mobile app store and possibly a small falling out between hubby and I. But we were able to get video connected for my induction calls for the rest of the week – each successful connection with a new colleague/partner agency was a wee victory of the day.
So, what did this first few days look like, and sound like? I smiled a lot and listened even harder. Maybe took too many erratic notes. I chased my son and husband out of the kitchen – on mute, of course. How odd to meet your new team, interviewers and chief executive in this way? But, it wasn’t insurmountable. And it was obvious that my new team had pretty much embraced the new world order and were reeling off activity as per their priority areas. Needless to say that covid19 was THE challenge of the time. As New Buddies Network officer in waiting, I’d sent Karen a short paper on what I thought some of my priorities should be when I came into post. I sent her a one-pager on covid19 objectives and was heartened to see that most of this was in line with Engage Renfrewshire’s approach.
While I took copious notes and tried to listen intently to colleagues, I realised I had a good amount of reflecting to do in between calls. Staring at a screen (and a mini-me) all day was pretty tiring. Far from the human condition. How odd not to be scooting around Johnson, Paisley, Linwood? Engage Renfrewshire’s admin officer, Kate Grant, was on speed dial as my laptop and phone arrived and I pressed on with the task of getting ‘connected’ officially.
So, I can now (sort of) navigate Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Twitter and Instagram, have learnt how to use a couple of key internal systems. I’ve raised my hand often in meetings to ask things like – what does RACA stand for? And who’s Michael who hotdesks at an office I’ve not been in? I’ve ‘met’ two new ethnic minority community groups who are setting about the daily task of supporting their communities at this time. I’ve been able to point them in the direction of Engage Renfrewshire support and highlight the importance of them keeping themselves included in local planning – now and for the future. I’ve found ‘Maze’ – an app that allows me to trawl Renfrewshire. From the comfort of my kitchen breakfast table.
From a wellbeing angle, my recently neglected garden has become a haven again. Taking a 10 minute breather in between calls to pull out a few weeds has a real restorative effect. I’ve a renewed sense of ‘having to go up stairs’ for something. Now I relish the opportunity to skip upstairs to get headphones or look in on my boy on xbox or just gaze out the window for a minute. I relish the Zoom yoga, music lessons and meditation that pepper the week and make such a difference to being in lockdown. I realise how lucky I am. Lockdown for us has presented some frustrations but no problems. I’m acutely aware that the groups and people I’m now tasked with serving are in some very precarious situations and the help we as a team are able to deliver has to stay as relevant as possible.
I’m very aware that the presentation I made at my interview – what would you do in the first 100 days of the post – looks a whole lot different to what they look like now. But the goals remain the same and if lockdown and the covid19 response is anything to go by, I’m heartened to know that, even from the kitchen table people can still ‘come together’ for change