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Chris Wright rounds up Catch22’s Lockdown Diaries

A stack of fabric face masks, with text overlaid which reads "Lockdown Diaries"

Over the last month, the Catch22 Lockdown Diaries have taken a snapshot of activity from across our services, Chris Wright talks of the challenges and the innovation to come out of the situation at present.

Our staff have described the challenges of working under lockdown conditions – whether that be in a prison setting, in schools or when delivering services for young people. But more importantly, they’ve shown just how determined they are to make sure the people who need our services can still access them – and their creativity in delivering despite the circumstances.

In Justice we’ve heard how our victim services are adapting by providing support remotely – and how teams in prisons are compiling in-cell packs and using in-cell technology to communicate with prisoners. We’ve seen how our gang intervention services are continuing to operate in prisons; working on a rota basis and ensuring social distancing rules are followed.

In Education our alternative provision schools have remained open for children of keyworkers and vulnerable children. These pupils have often been receiving one to one tuition which has resulted in their attainment markedly improve. We’ve been delivering online lesson and sending home work packs. But perhaps most importantly, all pupils receive daily welfare calls. We’re seeing a strengthening of relationships across the board; between teacher and parent, the Department for Education and schools and local authorities. 84% of parents we surveyed feel them and their children are being well supported by their school – which is testimony to the hard work of our staff. With schools due to reopen more widely on 1st June, there is a huge amount of preparation to ensure pupils, and staff, are safe.

Our Colleges have converted to digital delivery successfully, as have our apprenticeship programmes. Apprentices are benefiting from more face time with tutors. We’re also tailoring modules to fit the current climate; including covering topics such as handling angry or difficult customers and managing expectations.

It’s been vulnerable groups who, as in any national crisis, have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. Our employability services and programme have been working hard to make sure those in need of a job are linked up to relevant employers. Our young people and families services, including those for exploited and missing children, continue to support children through online chats, video calls and phone calls to make sure they have people to talk to when they need it most. Our pioneering health and youth centre, The Hive, is now operating an online hug, with sessions running twice a week. It’s proving a huge success. And we’re finding new ways to reach out to vulnerable groups; whether that’s through posters in supermarkets or through TikTok videos.

I’m always impressed by the creativity of our teams – not least our staff working on delivering the National Citizen Service. Whilst running the 4-week programmes in person is not an option this summer, they’ve been hosting Action Hours with a whole host of challenges to keep those signed up to the programme interested and engaged.

Myself and colleagues from our Chief Officers group host weekly online Q&As with staff across Catch22 to answer their concerns about the pandemic and the impact on their jobs. The questions cover a variety of topics; from when various service may start reopening their doors, to whether PPE will be available to teachers or others working in public places. There are questions around post-lockdown plans, about the financial impact of the crisis on Catch22 and about the nature of how we work in the future.  Whilst it’s difficult to answer any of these with absolute certainty, our approach has been to be honest and open. It is highly likely that we’ll move towards more digital delivery across our services; whilst of course recognising the value of face to face contact which will always be a core part of the Catch22 approach. The changes in the labour market are even more pronounced, and our employability and training services will adapt to that. And issues such as digital exclusion and youth unemployment have become starker, and we will lobby for support for these underserved groups.

As many of you will know, I have been interested in the commissioner-provider relationship when it comes to delivering public services for as long as I care to remember. Catch22 is a large organisation, but we pride ourselves on delivering services which are appropriate for the specific communities we service. At times we’re restricted in our ability to do so as effectively as we’d like due to over-bureaucratic contracts and rigid KPIs. We pride ourselves on ‘doing things differently’, but the scope for innovation is often limited.  During this lockdown period, we’ve seen advice from central government to local authorities to relax KPIs and allow those delivering public services, such as Catch22, to get on with it and do what they do best. And it’s working. Our commissioners have been brilliant in giving us the flexibility to deliver for the people who need our services.

In a post-COVID-19 world, this should continue. The innovation that we’ve seen should also be a feature of future public service delivery. And those in power must recognise social value above a purely market-led approach; because it’s not just in times crisis that people need effective public services that are focused on their specific needs.

– Chris Wright, Catch22 CEO