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​​​Life on the frontline. Key workers tell of their work to support and protect the public during the Covid-19 emergency

Key workers have told of their working life on the front line during the coronavirus lockdown.

A care home worker, children's social worker, refuse worker and 'reablement' assistant who helps people to regain their independence after leaving hospital have all revealed how their working lives have changed during the outbreak.

They have earned praise right across the community which has been summed up by Councillor Mary Ovens, Cabinet Member for Adults -  an area where some of the most crucial frontline work is happening.

She said: “I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say how proud we all are at the work of every single one of our frontline workers. They are going out there and doing all they can to keep people safe and supported. These are our friends, family members and colleagues. It's care workers like Amy, Reablement workers like John, social workers like Emma and refuse workers like Liam – and so many others right across our community -  who are going out every day and doing all they can.

“I'm sure everyone in the community will show their thanks and also do their bit by following the government guidelines designed to reduce the infection of this terrible disease."


Here are the stories of just some of the key workers:

The care centre worker

Life behind the scenes in a specialist care centre during the outbreak has been revealed by a care worker.


Amy Canwell, 22, has told of working life where everyone in the centre is taking precautions and staff are now instructed to wear to utilise personal protective equipment whilst providing care.


Amy, a Reablement Assistant at the new Meadowgate Centre in Eston, has gained new qualifications and is taking on extra shifts as colleagues are forced to stay at home.


She works at the new £5 million centre which provides specialist care to enable people recovering from strokes, falls and other physical problems to return to independent living. The council centre offers older people further rehabilitation and  supports  the NHS by helping ensure beds are free at James Cook University Hospital.

During this time of increased risk of infection the care centre staff are keeping to strict infection control measure. Amy, of Redcar said:  “We must be really vigilant. We currently have a number of people using the service and most of them are quite elderly. It's hard because they are all remaining in their rooms and they can't have visitors. Of course, they all want to watch the news all the time and a key part of our job is keeping everyone's spirit up.

“We're helping them make Easter cards and write letters as well as making sure everyone is on the phone to loved ones and so on, but it's quite hard when they forget."

Staff at the centre are exploring the use of further modern technology – like Zoom and FaceTime - so people using the service can see their loved ones and talk them over the phone or iPad. We are continuing with work to get them ready to go home, with exercises and so on, that focuses everyone."

Amy works 12-hour shifts and, after colleagues had to take time off, has started working an extra shifts to support the service. She has also undertaken special, extra training and has stepped up in her role to a senior reablement worker to allow her to deliver extended care.

The dedicated, key worker outlined the new regime designed to prevent infection: all staff must wear masks when with  people who use the service, uniforms must be changed and washed on premises and all surfaces must be very regularly cleaned and disinfected.

“So much time is spent changing and cleaning, but the atmosphere among staff is really positive," she says.

“We're all proud to do our bit."


The refuse worker

A refuse worker says he has been overwhelmed by the public support since going back on the bins since the lockdown.

Liam Jeff, 28, ordinarily works on at the Dunsdale recycling centre but has gone back to his old job on the bin wagons during the emergency.

“Just today we were out and there were two pensioners together who had come out to applaud us and saying, 'thank you, thank you,'" he said.

“Other times we've had little notes left on the wagon just saying, 'thanks.' People saying, 'you're doing a fantastic job,' children waving, people smiling at us. All I can say is the public have been spot on. It's been really something.

“Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of people are always all right and you get people saying, 'thanks,' sometimes. But this is really something else. It makes all the difference in the world."

Liam, of Redcar, who has had the nickname 'Fez' since primary school, went back on the bins after the Dunsdale 'tip' regrettably had to close during the lockdown and has been getting up at 5.45am each day.

“It's taken a bit of getting used to, again," he says. “And the loads are a lot heavier because everyone is at home more and creating more waste. We are operating with fewer staff too – but everyone's just getting on with it and wearing all the right gear and so on.

“Everyone across the entire team is really pulling together and going the extra mile. It feels good to be doing something important for the community."


The 'rehoming' care worker

A dad on the frontline as a care worker has been praised for his “fantastic commitment" to keeping the people he supports safe and helping them to leave hospital during the outbreak.

John Williams, 34, of Ormesby, is a Recovery Assistant at the council, which means he provides therapy-led support to help people adjust to moving back into their homes and regain their independence after leaving hospital.

It's crucial work which means beds can be freed up at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

John, a father-of-one, said that most of the people he supports are in the Eston-Normanby area, but he can be called to anywhere across Redcar and Cleveland. His work involves helping people to become independent in their own homes again after an illness or disabling condition once they leave hospital includes making assessments about their needs.

He explained the Covid-19 outbreak has not had a dramatic effect on his day-to-day work. “To be honest, we were always well trained to wear aprons and gloves and to properly wash our hands and so on and the only real difference the coronavirus outbreak has been wearing masks," he said. 

“We're all sensible and professional and follow the rules and I'm not really worried. People need help and it's my job to provide that help. That's what we all focus on."


The Children's Social Worker

A children's social worker has told of the difficulties of making sure some of our most at risk children remain protected.

Emma, 38, has continued to visit the homes of vulnerable children whenever necessary to make sure they are safe as the coronavirus emergency continues.

And she and colleagues have also come up with new and creative ways to ensure children and young people and their families continue to receive the support they need with reduced home visits.

“The first thing that happened after the lockdown was an immediate risk assessment of all cases," said Emma, who has been a qualified social worker for 18 months.

“After that we started where possible -  that is, when we're happy it's safe for us not to be there as often in person – to talk to children and young people and families on the telephone or with video calls.

“That can't always happen and it is difficult with smaller children anyway. But then you also have the problem of parents or carers being, absolutely understandably, anxious about people going in their homes.

“Sometimes there are ways around it. It could be talking in the garden and children who have a social worker should still be at school and we can talk there. But we will go in homes and we continue to have some families we visit once or twice every week. We have handwash and gloves and masks which we use and we are all sensible and follow the guidance. But the commitment is there from everyone to go in a child's home whenever necessary."

She explained that some aspects of the job have stayed the same, including court hearings via video-link, but how they happen has changed. “Some changes have been really positive. For example, we're working closely with the Families Together and Family Support Teams  and the support from our colleagues in the education teams and schools helping us keep children safe has been fantastic. Workers that might have been involved in supervising contact for families with children in our care before are now working alongside us, for example ensuring that children have food if there's difficult circumstances – it could just be a parent struggling to get to a shop to buy basics."

Emma and her colleagues worry about some groups of children and young people in particular during the lockdown. “It's teenagers who are finding it harder to stay at home, which is natural. But when there are concerns about young people with mental health problems or the potential for domestic violence or neglect - and we worry about that increasing - we must keep a closer eye. It's about focusing on them, keeping eyes on them. The risk assessments are continuous and, like I say, we won't hesitate to visit if needed."

It's a challenging time, but, as Emma says, children's social work is always a challenge. “This is a hard job at the best of times," she says. “I'm not going to lie and say there aren't hard days. But equally there are times you've made a difference and you feel great and I know everyone in the team feels the same.

“Nothing, not even the coronavirus, is going to stop us from making that difference."​​