• Sarah Tempest

Caring Callers

One of the key teams in Rooftop is Health and Wellbeing, part of our Support and Employability team. The work that they do is within the community and directly supporting our customers. When the Coronavirus crisis began the team had to come to a standstill and everything that staff did within Health and Wellbeing had to be reassessed. Lockdown brought particular challenges for them.

Kim Skipsey is Team Leader “it was all a bit panicked to start with, our jobs changed overnight and it's fair to say that the Covid lockdown made people afraid, particularly our vulnerable customers that we work with every day.”

The team got together and decided that the best thing they could do was to start making telephone calls to everybody within our sheltered schemes, our Young Persons Service (YPS) and our Older People’s Service (OPS). The team put together a survey of key questions to ask customers and residents over the phone and was split up into making calls, with each of them having a particular area or property to cover. Members of the wider group across Support and Employability helped. Job Coaches from the Building Better Opportunities team, Assistant Neighbourhood Officers and members of our volunteers’ teams all helped with making calls. A plea was put out to Rooftop staff who might have a few hours within their week to help make calls to the more than 800 people in our specialist accommodation. Staff, Board Members’ and residents serving on Rooftop committees all came together.

Key questions that we asked customers over the phone were; are you shielding? do you need special help with shopping or prescriptions? do you have family or friends that will call and check up on you? do you have any particular worries? do you feel lonely? do you want us to keep in regular contact? Of the more than 800 people that were telephoned, 174 signed up to be called every week. It became clear that Rooftop being a friendly voice at the end of a phone was a real lifeline for many. It also gave us access to customers that we rarely see participating in activities.

Prior to lockdown, one of the key roles of the Health and Wellbeing team, if not the key role, was to meet people face to face, organise exercise classes, events and activities, carry out health MOT’s and generally be a point of contact in person for customers in our sheltered schemes. This stopped completely in March and at the moment it is not possible for these activities to start again. All of the sheltered schemes have day rooms or shared lounges, but the government has not yet made it possible for these to open again. The advice is still that shared areas should not be used. As larger groups cannot meet, even outside, some of our more active customers have also been unable to continue their normal activities, such as Rooftop’s Walking Football team and Walking group. They have become volunteers, shoppers and delivery drivers to help out more vulnerable customers identified through the call system.

The welfare call system highlighted other issues, for example, some customers used to come in person to the Rooftop offices to pay their rent, so needed help to set up direct debits. They also made clear that digital exclusion was a real problem and Rooftop was keen to provide an inclusive service to ensure that residents without internet access, a computer and other technology, could still be reached and given support.

Sue Bentley, Health and Wellbeing Facilitator based in Gloucestershire says “communities came together before Government services and advice did. At the St Oswalds site in Gloucester we work in partnership with Extracare, the company that provides the care services to residents who live there. We all pulled together to make sure that customers had all the support they needed and at schemes such as this one, where we don’t have any contracts that obliged us to provide services, we wanted and decided that Rooftop should help be a friendly face and point of contact”.

Members of the team were acutely aware that our schemes are home to many vulnerable residents and it was not possible or advisable for there to be personal contact. Each scheme was allocated one person who would be able to attend if necessary, to limit the possibility of any virus spread. Sue was allocated to St Oswalds.

“A lot of the residents who live there are independent living, so don’t get or need the caring support provided by Extracare, so Rooftop was the only contact for them” she says

Sarah Scott is a Health and Wellbeing Assistant. She says the welfare calls brought lots of things to the team’s attention “speaking to people each week it became clear that some needed help with shopping and prescriptions, but because cleaners couldn’t go in, they also needed help with things like changing and making beds. The calls also showed that some people felt isolated and lonely and residents were so thankful and appreciative to have someone to chat to. It gave us the idea to start up the Positive Pen Pals scheme, where school children wrote letters or drew pictures for residents’ and some are still in contact.”

Before the Covid-19 Lockdown, a new Newsletter had been planned to outline all the activities and events put on by Health and Wellbeing. This became a new project to get information about Coronavirus, changes in rules and everyday life and other key news to people. It included illustrations about seated exercise, ideas for things to keep you busy, puzzles and phone contacts for a variety of useful organisations.

A challenge throughout the pandemic has been how to get to older, or more vulnerable residents who are not online and there were fears in the early stages of Covid-19 about distributing hard copies of things like newsletters, because of concerns that the virus could transfer via paper. The team worked to make sure this was not a problem and the Newsletter was a great success.

From this project came the Activity Booklet, a longer, more detailed publication that produced something more akin to a magazine, containing information about services such as our Money Advisors, Mental Health Outreach our Income Team, Domestic Abuse Team, Job Coaches and other useful organisations and numbers. It was felt that there are many customers who don’t usually participate in activities, or don’t require active support, who may need to know about financial, employment or mental health support as Coronavirus has resulted in a lot of stress, insecurity and strains in people’s lives. The booklet also had lots of puzzles and activities for all age groups. Through working in our Young Persons Schemes, we’ve come to see that there is also digital exclusion there, despite assumptions that all young people are constantly online.

As the Activity Booklet project developed from its embryonic stage to delivery, everybody within Support and Employability played a part. They’ve been having full team meetings online every Wednesday and individuals who have caretaking duties or carry out site repairs at the schemes came in to help deliver the booklet to customers doors. The project was only able to happen with generous support from external partners, such as Gloucester City Council and Worcestershire Community Foundation. The Foundation said "We continue to be amazed by the breadth of innovative work being delivered throughout our county communities. Rooftop Housing has created and delivered booklets offering advice and activities around health & well being, which have been hugely appreciated by their clients. Keep up the good work, Rooftop and all our other funded groups!".

Each element of the work that Health and Wellbeing have been able to carry out during the pandemic has led to a new phase and project to deliver. The Activity Booklet proved that many customers wanted to have more activities to do safely at home. The Team arranged for puzzle books, jigsaws, CD’s, books and other activities to be delivered, items that we were able to obtain via donations and using money generated from the grants for the Activity


Kim Skipsey, Team Leader, says now they are moving on to call all 800 plus customers again to find out what our residents want now that the Covid-19 Lockdown has been easing.

“Coronavirus has forced us to work differently, but there have been some successes out of the challenges. We've been talking to customers who don't normally take part in our activities, so we never saw them, but now we can hopefully persuade them to be involved. We can’t go back to how we worked before, not yet, so we could start providing specific calls about health, mental well-being calls and we could deliver our health MOT’s in this way."

Kim, Sue and Sarah made a perimeter trip of the sheltered scheme properties around Evesham and were able to have a socially distanced chat with residents in the gardens at Ferry View. During lockdown they’ve set up their own gardening group and this coming together has been mirrored across many of the other schemes we’re involved with. Over the last few weeks, the team have also helped set up gardening and arts projects within both the Older People’s Service and the Young Persons Schemes. They hope to help facilitate the continuation of projects that customers have set up for themselves.

“It’s been a very challenging time” says Sue Bentley “lots of people have been fearful and feeling down, and coming off welfare calls you can feel emotionally drained. We’re getting specific training so that we can help our customers, but also support our own mental health. It’s been stressful but very rewarding”.

Kim Skipsey says the welfare calls to customers will continue and “it’s been reassuring to know that Rooftop have made their day better.” She thinks that forced changes brought about by Covid-19 has resulted in a better relationship with customers. She says through the calls we’ve “gone into their houses”.

She is also very proud of her team and thinks that lessons learned and the way they’ve worked together has made the team better and stronger.

“At the end of the day, it’s been scary for all of us, but we feel positive about what we’ve done and grateful that we’ve made a difference.”

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