Mums Matter, even in a Pandemic
As the pandemic lockdown was looming on the horizon, I was facing the exciting prospect of starting a new role with Manchester Mind as the Mums Matter Co-ordinator, a role that really connected with me at a very personal level. The project is a two year partnership with Homestart supporting Mums experiencing a range of peri-natal mental health challenges with a child under the age of two. This was an opportunity to combine my lived experience, my knowledge of mental health wellbeing interventions with my experience of delivering manualised and evidence-based courses, to make a meaningful and tangible difference to families and children.
At first it felt like any other new job and project. The nervous excitement the night before preparing the family for the new routine and mentally planning how I would approach the project, establishing contacts, setting up introduction meetings and establishing relationships with my new colleagues. The normal approach to project set up was not actually on the agenda though. The getting to know you meetings and introductions all became conversations with an image on the screen, not the easiest way to establish strong and enduring relationships.
There was still lots of excitement, networking with all the essential contacts and services in the area, sharing every detail and fielding interested questions from people who will soon be referred into the project. There was plenty to get on with, whilst the announcements and information about the pandemic restrictions continued to become more real and longer-term. I consider myself quite fortunate as I had, for the past few years, been working from home 2-3 days per week and connecting with colleagues from different offices using Microsoft Teams on a daily basis.
The first lockdown originally felt quite familiar as far as working patterns were concerned. No commute, so more time to project plan and connect with the different services. Using virtual platforms we were able to connect with services and teams more easily and faster than we might otherwise have done if we were waiting to be invited to present at face-to-face meetings in rooms that might be limited for space. The information we were sharing about the project was eagerly received and seemed to create hope in a world that was otherwise becoming full of disbelief with the additional and ever-changing updates and rules.
The daily commute to the spare bedroom coupled with other domestic challenges, such as my husband not being able to work and daughter home-schooling, along with overnight enforced removal of all social and family support, were challenges that no one could have predicted and very quickly started to take their toll. I was lucky, I was able to access some coaching that helped me identify new tricks to use to switch between working and home and to find new ways to recreate the social connections that had previously supported my mental wellbeing before the pandemic.
Once we were linked with the networks and services, the project started to garner real and genuine interest, with a flurry of referrals and enquiries from potential volunteers, which was really encouraging. The whole world was adjusting to the restrictions and prioritising the most important projects and next steps, which lead to some frustrating pauses to plans, waiting for information or confirmation.
The first delivery was a real indicator of the value of the course and the individual outcomes for the mums. Even though the numbers were lower than predicted, we also discovered that reduced referrals and attendance was something other projects were experiencing both across the region and with Mums Matter.
On reflection, I have realised that a big missing ingredient were the spontaneous conversations with colleagues, whilst making coffee, walking along the corridor or past an office, learning who the office IT guru is or being able to help with the wider organisation’s work. These ad hoc conversations often contribute to enhancing projects or leading to stronger connections for the future. The solution across all sectors and a benefit to the organisation as a whole has been the overnight mass upskilling of staff in the use of technology and virtual platforms as a substitute for face-to-face meetings. This was a real challenge for many and the organisation was able to support everyone to reach their potential and confidence in this method of communication and working.
Another piece of learning taken from setting up a project during the pandemic is how we can, with support, trust and open communication adopt a more balanced work / life approach. These unprecedented times and enforced restrictions helped us all to work effectively without the usual limiting constraints of office-bound environments and work in ways that helped us to tap into our creativity. I for one have felt even more empowered to work to my strengths incorporating daily domestic tasks into moments away from the screen to process, plan and reflect.
“Before Mums Matter I felt like the only mother going through what I was feeling and I felt guilty thinking I couldn’t bond with my baby” Course participant
Carrie Pheasey, Mums Matter Co-ordinator