Nelson’s Journey – negotiating the challenge of COVID-19

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COVID-19 has seen many VCSE organisations  having to deal with that most impactful of events – bereavement. The scenario is not unfamiliar to the team at Nelson’s Journey and they have met the challenge in innovative and creative ways. 

Supporting bereaved young people 

Since 1997, Nelson’s Journey has been supporting children and young people in Norfolk in their bereavement, helping them understand and cope with their feelings. The charity also supports professionals across the county who work with children – teachers and health workers especially – to help raise awareness of issues affecting bereaved children. 

The scenario then is not unfamiliar to the team at Nelson’s Journey and they have met the challenge of COVID-19 in innovative and creative ways. 

Chief Executive Simon Wright is clear about the challenges presented by the pandemic, but is positive about what is being achieved. 

A positive approach to overcoming challenges 

“There were three immediate challenges with COVID. Bereavement can be overwhelming for families, and especially children, at any time - but it’s more complex just now with COVID factored in. Secondly, it’s been harder for us to deliver our services, which are usually face-to-face, and we’ve had to review how we engage with those we want to help. Thirdly, fundraising opportunities have of course been very limited, constrained by the inability to ‘get out there’ with the public at events. 

But here’s the positive. Over these past ten months we have seen real successes in changing how we work. We are getting through the crisis and surviving. Local communities have been hugely supportive, and our own team members have been incredibly creative and innovative. During the first lockdown we moved quickly to a ‘phone-based service. And far from letting people assume we had stopped, we worked hard to convey that we were ‘open for business.’ 

Schools across Norfolk have been incredibly supportive, cascading the message that we are available to help and that we care. The media too, have been so helpful in helping spread the word. Getting good stories out there via social media has also proved an important part of that awareness-raising strategy. Our referral rate has actually increased; people know that they can still come and seek our help, and December saw our highest month for referrals.” 

Adapting service delivery 

The nature of the service has shone through. Whilst residential and public events have had to be shelved for now, the team is creative, determined, and they manage the caseload by working together.  

As Simon explains “The key is not to dwell on what we can’t do but how we will move and adapt to keep the service alive and there for young people, as and when they need it.”  

Here’s a key statistic: 1 in 29 young people in Norfolk have at some point experienced sibling or parent loss. It’s significant when considering the impact on school classes, peer groups and extended family connections. Nelson's Journey has worked hard in developing new website and online resources. 600 professionals – teachers, GPs, health workers – have received training from Nelson’s Journey’s support workers, online, three sessions a week at the peak, aiming to equip the wider community to confidently deal with loss. The charity has brought even more services online in partnership with MTM Youth Services, bringing together young people online, safely, to share similar experiences of loss.  

“Our support workers were extremely creative in meeting need” adds Simon. “Our craft-based activities, for example, used to help young people work through grieving. That’s gone online as ‘Memory in My Hands’ – where children are encouraged to draw round their hands, with each finger representing an aspect, a memory, of the person they lost. 

Our team is passionate in finding a way round present restrictions to help children. They’re driven by commitment to the values of what we are trying to do. Young people are disproportionately affected by the pandemic – the inability to meet with friends makes these networks more important than ever. We have also been encouraged by the mutual support of peer and partner organisations across the county through this difficult time. It’s encouraging to see how the voluntary and community sector as a whole has responded to the pandemic.” 

Nelson’s Journey’s vision is that every bereaved child in Norfolk can look forward to a positive future, empowered to reach tier full potential. To that end COVID-19 has been a barrier to be overcome with commitment and passion. 

To find out more about Nelson’s Journey and the work the team is involved in, visit www.nelsonsjourney.org.uk    

This is part of a series of examples of the huge contribution made by local VCSE organisations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To understand more about the pivotal role played by Voluntary and Social Enterprise organisations in Norfolk’s Covid-19 response effort please visit our Norfolk VCSE Covid-19 Story page.