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South Yorkshire Frontline Network, the first 6 months

South Yorkshire Frontline Network, the first 6 months

South Yorkshire Frontline Network, the first 6 months

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The South Yorkshire Frontline Network was relaunched on 7th February 2022 with Depaul UK as the host partner. Previously, between 2016 - 2020, the Local Network was run by Target Housing. This guest blog by Network Coordinator Janet Kent shares an insight into activities over the last six months.

First event – February 2022

Our first event demonstrated a great enthusiasm for a network in South Yorkshire and the need for frontline workers to come together to support each other, share practice and effect positive change across the sector. It was great to see so many regional organisations represented at our relaunch event, which focussed on consulting with frontline staff and offering a space to reflect on the experience of frontline workers and explore common themes. Frontline workers said that they felt that they benefited from being a part of such a diverse group of people who were able to share experiences from different perspectives.

Key themes emerging from frontline workers included:

  • Issues such as recruitment and retention were experienced by many of the organisations present. This impacted on staff morale and well-being, as well as client relationships and the ability to support people to move on positively in their lives.
  • Poverty, in particular fuel poverty and debt, was raised. This was seen in the wider context of the impact of the cost of living crisis on clients. Frontline workers discussed the lack of suitable accommodation for all people experiencing homelessness, and along with this, the use of hotels for those experiencing domestic abuse and violence.
  • Frontline staff shared views around the lack of support services for people experiencing homelessness, in particular mental health support services, and the frustrations that this brings.
  • Trauma informed environments was another theme that was discussed, here the key message was around lack of training for support staff in some agencies resulting in disconnected systems and cultures.

The feedback that we received in relation to taking the network forward was very positive, frontline workers see it as a way of creating 'one voice' a shared community of learning and innovation. A community of support, which can help to break the isolation sometimes felt by workers facing the challengers of frontline work. The network was described as ‘an opportunity to build a coalition of interest to create positive change for clients’ by one frontline worker.

Second event – April 2022

Building on the momentum of our first event a second event featured a presentation from our guest speakers from Mayday Trust. The presentation, entitled ‘System Reflect’, gave us the opportunity to reflect on our own practice and organisational cultures. During the session we were able to explore how often as workers we are drawn into a deficit model of working rather than holding a strength-based position. In smaller breakout groups we were able to explore learning from the session and thinking about what we will take back to our own organisations and practice.

We had some great feedback from the event with frontline workers feeling inspired to make change moving forward comments included:

‘We need to be encouraging sector change in seeing people from a strength-based position.’

‘The session was really interesting and made me think of things in an entirely different way.’

‘The presentation reassured me that the processes I employ that are person led rather than process/system led are vital, but also it made me question the 'fixing' element of my practices.’

Third event – June 2022

Earlier in the summer we had the opportunity to input into the development of the new Sheffield City Council Homelessness Prevention Strategy. Being a part of the consultation allowed frontline workers to voice their views on how prevention and early intervention should move forward across the city. Frontline workers were able to share information on services they are currently delivering in terms of prevention of homelessness, along with what has worked, as well as what is currently missing and needed to be included in the new strategy moving forward.

A number of key points were raised by frontline workers which included:

  • Frontline workers raised a number of key issues which included a lack of focus and resources in some specific areas for example the need for more social work intervention for families to ensure the correct care packages are in place where needed.
  • Communication and better interagency working was also raised in relation to those leaving the criminal justice system. More targeted approaches were discussed along with the need for an increase in outreach support.
  • It was felt that there was a lack of supported accommodation for women along with the need for improved access to information for example a more diverse range of language and easy read options and alternatives to IT only based information.
  • Employment was seen as an area in need of further development, working closely with businesses to enable easy employability options and access to work. The need for education for young people in schools was raised as a key element of a prevention strategy. Policy issues were discussed and in particular the need for a more focused policy on cuckooing.

The session was vibrant and demonstrated the knowledge and innovation that frontline workers can bring to strategic planning, our partners from Sheffield City Council felt the session had been invaluable in terms of hearing the voice of frontline workers from so many different organisations. Participants were reassured that they would be invited to ongoing steering group events, and felt that this had not been a 'one off' event. Ongoing steering groups are now moving forward with the inclusion of frontline workers.

Thanks so much for having me, it was a really brilliant session, we’ll definitely be using the feedback.’

- Helen Sutton Strategic Housing Officer Sheffield City Council

Fourth event – July 2022

Frontline workers have talked about the need for more innovative thinking in organisations and agencies and that in times of stress this can feel lost. As a response to this a partnership was established with the University of Sheffield Business Psychology Department where Professor Kamal Birdi has been working on a methodology called ‘Clear Ideas’ to support innovation and creative thinking in the workplace. Kamal said ‘Organizations, communities and groups are facing increasing pressures to continually innovate in order to survive and thrive. But how do you keep coming up with truly original new ideas? How do you choose which ideas to take forward? What levers can you use to make sure your new services, activities or processes are successfully realised?’

The ’Clear Idea’ event was our first in person event with a buffet lunch and also a focus on networking opportunities for frontline workers. Prior to the event we asked frontline workers to provide us with issues that they would like to explore using the Clear Ideas approach. During the workshop groups explored solutions and ideas to a range of issues including: improving interagency working, better access to metal health and incentives to work for young people and the impact of employment on housing benefit.

Frontline staff provided us with some great feedback including;

‘Great way to breakdown ideas into manageable chunks to boost productivity’

‘A very valuable information session, we want to implement proactive strategy meetings, this will be a huge step.’

'Thought provoking and positive.’

We are keen to support frontline workers moving forward with the implementation of the Clear Ideas methodology so that the learning is not lost and frontline workers can continue to feel empowered by using a solution focussed approach. We will help frontline workers achieve this by offering a series of action learning sets to support teams and individuals.

Looking forward

It’s been a busy and exciting 6 months seeing the network grow and develop, communication has been key to keeping partners engaged. Moving forward we are planning our next event which will take place on 6th October 2022, this will be our first session with a focus on frontline worker wellbeing with lunch and networking opportunities. Frontline worker wellbeing is an important area to explore, research and support for all organisations as the foundation of strong and robust service delivery.

We look forward to seeing the South Yorkshire Frontline Network further develop and reach out to more frontline workers across the region. Sign up to hear updates from South Yorkshire Frontline Network. For any enquiries, please contact: syfn@depaulcharity.org.uk.

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