Adapting to the pandemic – The Matthew Project

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We have in recent weeks featured encouraging examples of how VCSE organisations have adapted and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is apparent that the voluntary sector, though hard-pressed at times, has proved to be remarkably resilient in changing service delivery to meet clients’ needs.

The Matthew Project, based in Norwich, is a Christian-based charity helping people live fuller lives, free from drug and alcohol misuse. For more than 35 years they have been providing employment, wellbeing and relationship support to young people, military veterans, professionals, people in recovery, and the families and carers affected by drug and alcohol misuse.

A fast response

The Project’s managers moved fast in response to the lockdown, closing their offices a week ahead of the official lockdown. They began to offer services remotely, via the phone, online groups such as Facebook, and making door-step visits when a welfare concern was raised.

The next step was to respond to the immediate practical needs of clients as they arose, with their own funds initially, then with Norfolk Community Foundation grants and the generosity of a Church local to their office in Oak Street, Norwich. This has continued through the provision of vouchers for food and utilities, along with activity packs for children and other specific individual needs. Thirty people in the early stages of recovery, whom the Matthew Project has daily contact with, have been given care packs. This helped to raise engagement, which was starting to wane two weeks into the second lockdown period.

In common with many other VCSE organisations, The Matthew Project has had to furlough staff; this has affected staff whose work is centre-based or involves prison support work and education in schools.

Chief Executive Andy Sexton says: “The lockdown period has seen an increase in contact with young people. Encouragingly, they have been found to be more willing to engage on the phone with voice calls and texts. Some changes in drug misuse has been in evidence, and some young people using cannabis are choosing to give it up. The potential for neglect and abuse have been areas of concern but better engagement with local authority children’s services has helped support those at risk during this period.”

Outcomes for service users

For some adults with mental health issues or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), the lockdown has actually been positive for them. They felt the pressure was off and that they could leave their houses and not have to deal with lots of people. For other people the lockdown exacerbated their mental health issues and sense of isolation. The Matthew Project’s support has been vital. Staff have seen a real mixed bag of outcomes, with some people more determined than ever to continue in recovery but with others relapsing; alcohol for example has been readily available with no restrictions on sales and it is expected that there will be increased need for support in dealing with related issues as lockdown eases.

Group support is requiring adaptation. Moving beyond Facebook and other social media to include more focused and structured input is important, and The Matthew Project has started online support groups for parents and for people in recovery. A return to face-to-face assessment is needed, particularly for new members and clients, and this will be guided by evolving government advice.

You only have to look at some of the response from service users to see how much the ongoing work is appreciated:

“The Matthew project rocks. How they have supported me through this difficult time, they’ve done everything possible including setting up this [digital] forum so that we can keep engaged and speak our thoughts”

“I am EXTREMELY grateful for the Matthew project and all its staff and all of you guys in the group for putting the effort in from home to still help everyone in the group on their recovery journey. I’m so grateful that that takes up all my gratitude list for the day. big ups too everyone putting in the effort. THANKS GUYS.” 

Looking ahead

Funding is ever an issue, as for almost all voluntary organisations and, for The Matthew Project, that’s centred on work with veterans, online group-based recovery work, school-based prevention education and support for at-risk children, and substance misuse related to mental health issues and increased use of alcohol. Read more about The Matthew Project's work here.