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Grant helps charity to keep going during COVID-19

A Way Out

A ONE-OFF grant to provide essential equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic was “invaluable” to charity A Way out Cleveland.

A Way Out received £6,430 as part of an extraordinary COVID-19 allocation secured by the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ.)

Alongside other funding sources, it enabled the charity to keep services running throughout lockdown and beyond.

A Way Out works with some of the most marginalised and vulnerable of Cleveland’s residents including on-street sex workers and young women at risk of grooming and exploitation. The charity also runs a youth service, which works with boys and girls aged 9 to 12 in Stockton and a family intervention service

The MOJ grant paid for personal protective equipment (PPE,) cleaning products and allowed staff to have the charity’s van valeted to enable them to continue to provide vital outreach to those most in need and disconnected from mainstream services.

Sarah McManus, Chief Executive Officer of A Way Out, describes the charity’s van as its “workhorse.” At the height of COVID-19, it allowed staff to deliver food, sanitary packs including toiletries and safety alerts and clothing from the charity’s Stockton office direct to its clients.

The van is “integral” to the charity’s outreach work. It enables staff to engage with people face-to-face in their own communities while adhering to safety guidelines and to conduct welfare checks and safety planning at a time when some of the most vulnerable were disconnected from many vital services.

Face-to-face outreach included work with on-street sex workers, who continued to receive National Ugly Mugs (NUM) updates, as part of A Way Out’s harm reduction work.

NUM is a national scheme which takes reports of attacks and other incidents against sex workers and produces anonymised warnings.

These are distributed via front-line support projects – like A Way Out - throughout the UK to ensure on-street sex workers remain as safe as possible.

Sex workers are also given support to report any incidents to the police to ensure offenders are identified, caught and punished before carrying out further crimes - particularly when presenting as clients to other workers in the sex industry.

Sarah said: “The grant was invaluable. It really enabled us to deliver practical services in a safe manner.

“We’d like to say a big thank you to the PCC for recognising the vital work, that we are delivering.

“Without the grant, we would have struggled and would not have been able to purchase some of the equipment and PPE that we have that has kept staff and clients safe during the pandemic.”

In addition to everyday essentials such as anti-bacterial wipes and visors, the grant also paid for four, new mobile telephones to enable the most vulnerable clients to keep in touch with workers.

It also funded a laptop to ensure staff could be more mobile and operate a hybrid system, working between the office and home. It also allowed staff to keep client records up to date and to continue to deliver evening outreach work safely.

The pandemic marked an increase in mental health issues for some of A Way Out’s clients. - everything from low level anxiety to increased self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Some clients were not able to cope with the disconnection from wider society as they did not have the positive network of family and friends who were able to help them through, which left them feeling isolated and lonely.

The charity had to focus resources on building targeted mental health capacity, rolling out training and upskilling staff to cope with the increase in demand.

Staff were given the tools to understand a client’s whole condition and to pick up on signals and indicators of mental distress. They were taught how to assess and identify issues; when and where to make referrals and strategies for handling clients in a mental health crisis, They were also shown how to use de-escalation techniques as part of a trauma-informed response.

COVID-19 also prompted A Way Out to look at its entire business to make sure it was fit for the future.

The charity has now embarked on a robust review, looking at its purpose, vision, and delivery making sure its services can meet its overall objectives in a fast-changing world.

Sarah said: “We are looking at the entire business during and post-lockdown capturing evidence in terms of trends, patterns and presenting issues across all of the projects to better understand what demand looks like now as well as the operating environment, in which we deliver services.

“We will be feeding that information into re-developing and re-designing services so they can be responsive to emerging needs and to ensure our own strength and sustainability over the next few years.

“The pandemic has caused worldwide changes. The world is now a different place.

“We need to look at how those changes have impacted on our clients and make sure we can re-shape services so they are more responsive to their needs. It’s the right time to do this and the right thing for us to do.”

Posted on Thursday 27th August 2020
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