Less, more, gone and new: Early analysis of our survey of organisations (Part 2)

Ryan Casey shares more early findings from our survey of organisations. Service providers have faced a uniquely challenging time during lockdown, reporting increased demand from client groups for food parcels, equipment for digital inclusion, and social activities.

In a recent blog, Gareth Mulvey analysed what the first respondents to our survey, received between 28 July 2020 and 21 August 2020, had identified as short – and potentially longer – term positive effects of lockdown for service providers in Scotland. The survey captured the experiences of organisations working with people in particular situations: disabled people and people with long-term health conditions; at risk of domestic abuse or sexual violence; under the control of immigration authorities or involved in a refugee/asylum process; and imprisonment or other form of criminal justice control.

Using the first 36 responses (received between 28 July 2020 and 21 August 2020), this analysis will discuss how organisations responded to the following survey question:

What services does your organisation normally provide?

As well as two follow-up questions:

How has capacity to provide this service changed?

How has demand for this service changed?

These questions were designed to get a better sense of how service provision in Scotland has changed as a result of the pandemic. What did work ‘normally’ look like? What does it look like now? What kind of support or services are being asked for? Across those initial 36 responses, there was a total of 266 services to account for, with a response average of 7 services per organisation. Before lockdown, the most common services included:

  • Service referrals
  • Social activities
  • Training/skills
  • Telephone support
  • Advocacy

Unsurprisingly, many of these services were and continue to be significantly impacted by lockdown measures and restrictions.

Less and lost services

Group work had to stop entirely. For instance, we run a personal development programme exploring gender that had to stop as well as a recovery group for addictions, cookery project and more.” (Community development organisation for women)

We have not discontinued any services completely, however, we are offering face to face support only in emergency circumstances.” (Domestic abuse organisation)

When asked about changes in capacity to provide service during lockdown, organisations reported 44% of services were operating at decreased capacity or completely discontinued. The majority of them involved face-to-face work and support as well as community-oriented events such as group work, community meals, social events, and individual face-to-face support. Some organisations have mentioned that they needed to cut some services in order to maintain others, which emphasises the importance of funding and resources, particularly for smaller organisations with less financial stability.

More and new services

Two of our services (training and group work) were suspended temporarily, with group work participants receiving one-to-one online support instead. Both of these services are now back up and running online via webinars and online group support and activities. Both are reaching audiences who struggled to access these services in the past due to their geographical location, so this has been a good piece of learning for us.” (Organisation working with criminal justice affected)

At the same time, organisations are seeing service users looking for different forms of support and needs to be met. While food distribution capacity has not changed much, demand for food parcels has spiked significantly. We are also seeing increased demand for telephone support, social and cultural activities, and training/equipment provision to support digital inclusion (tablets, devices, internet connection, etc.).

Many organisations have found innovative and creative ways to respond to these challenges. Telephone support has become a vital way to stay in touch with service users for welfare checks and befriending. Some organisations are even providing mobile phones, top-ups, and training on how to use these devices so that people who were digitally excluded have a way of staying in touch with support workers. Within the context of the digital divide, it is likely some people will have lost contact, but these new organisational responses show us that efforts are being made to bridge that gap. More generally, it seems that day-today work is moving online if it had not done so already. Videoconferencing, online contact forms, remote appointments, blogging, and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) conversation Zoom groups are just some of the adjustments organisations are making to their daily activities in order to carry on.

Further and fuller analyses of the survey data is underway, but from this glimpse we can see that this has been a uniquely challenging time for organisations and service providers in Scotland. Priorities are shifting, support is taking new forms, and for many, work is becoming more personal than ever before. Within the survey responses there is a sense of exhaustion, but also perhaps a renewed sense of purpose as organisations evolve alongside these unstable circumstances. Yet, it must be asked whether this is sustainable? Can and should people continue to work in this way?

Ryan Casey is a Research Assistant in the Criminal Justice stream of the Scotland in Lockdown study. She is a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow working on ‘Left to their own devices: A technosocial ethnography of penal electronic monitoring in Scotland.’

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