Nicola McCleave is Head of Wellbeing, Careers and Pastoral Support at Reaseheath College in Cheshire. While self-isolating she reflects on her role and how her staff have worked together and supported each other emotionally during a challenging time.
I write this post whilst working from home, self-isolating and having just gone into local lockdown. It is an extremely challenging time for all of us and one of the key elements helping me through is having an extremely supportive employer who fully understands my personal circumstances and has an appreciation and understanding of the ever-changing national picture.
I am Head of Wellbeing, Careers and Pastoral Support at Reaseheath College and University Centre Reaseheath in Nantwich, Cheshire, a specialist land-based FE educational institution with over 4000 students, 1000 of whom are residential, and over 600 members of staff.
As a college we have ensured that the wellbeing and mental health of our students and staff are of paramount importance, embedding this ethos into the fabric of the college, ensuring every individual receives the help and support they need. And we are all proud of the sector leading and award-winning health and wellbeing provision we have established.
Keeping our team spirit alive
The college has risen to the challenge that COVID-19 has posed very successfully, ensuring that students and staff continue to receive highly professional advice, guidance and support. We are fully aware that every individual’s experience of this global pandemic is different and with that front and centre we have managed the situation accordingly.
During lockdown the staff body were fantastic and adapted to the inevitable changes swiftly and professionally. Our Principal, Marcus Clinton, sent daily update blogs which were a lifeline for many; not only updating staff but acting as a morale boost and ensuring colleagues stayed connected. Quizzes, word searches, virtual social events, potted staff histories, nominating our Reaseheath heroes all played a vital part in maintaining a strong sense of team work and made us feel valued and listened to.
Returning to work following lockdown brought many challenges and many staff members felt anxious about transitioning back into the workplace. Our remote staff development day focused on communicating the support available for staff, showing them what the campus looked like and showcasing what measures had been implemented to ensure that people were safe and supported and the campus was COVID-secure. I presented on the day and talked about my own experiences and feelings about returning to campus after months of working from home which was well received and helped to reduce levels of staff anxiety.
Keeping staff safe and looked after
Dynamic risk assessments have been put in place and are regularly updated as guidance changes. Individualised risk assessments have been a vital part of supporting transition, addressing the individual needs of staff, for example those in high risk groups, those who may have childcare issues, those who have mental health issues, disabilities, have experienced bereavement or have IT issues.
We have a college COVID-19 steering group which meets daily to ensure we are being proactive and reactive in finding resolutions quickly and effectively. We have supported staff in a number of ways, implementing working from home rotas, providing CPD sessions on stress and anxiety management, working from home strategies, self-care and resilience, coping with grief and loss, 1:1 wellbeing and group support sessions and making counselling referrals where needed.
We always welcome feedback from both staff and students, running surveys and responding to any issues or concerns raised. We have produced an online information booklet which takes staff through all the measures that have been put in place step by step with an FAQ section which is constantly updated.
We have an online Mental Health and Wellbeing Resource called BeWell which enables staff and students to access information, advice and guidance 24 hours a day. We communicate with students, parents and carers via numerous platforms including webinars, information videos, newsletters and social media platforms to ensure up to date information and guidance is communicated in a clear and effective manner. We also work closely with other colleges in the sector to share resources and good practice.
One size does not fit all – being person-centred
By taking a flexible approach we have also continued to strengthen our Reaseheath family. We developed a blended delivery model which has helped the gradual return to campus. Our support staff are also delivering some on site working to support their academic colleagues and ensure that the Reaseheath experience continues to be outstanding despite the current restrictions.
But taking a person-centred approach to managing this unprecedented situation has been imperative. By supporting staff emotionally, respecting and listening to their individual experiences, understanding their practical needs, providing clarity and reassurance and working with them to find resolutions to presenting issues and showing empathy have all meant that as a team we are all finding our way through these challenging times together.
One size does not fit all, and never has this been more apparent. If there is one message that has been loud and clear at Reaseheath, it is that it is ok to ask for help and support whenever you need it. Our lives will be ever changed by the times we find ourselves in, but we are navigating our way through as best we can and I know we will come out the other side stronger and more resilient than ever.
Stay well. Stay safe. Stay sane.