Saturday, 26 September 2020

Head injury charity still helping clients during covid pandemic

DOZENS of people living with a brain injury continue to receive support from Headway Thames Valley during the coronavirus lockdown.

The charity, which is based in Henley, is offering video chats, group activities and emotional support to those who are struggling to process the effects of the pandemic.

Sessions are normally held on Mondays and Wednesdays at Brunner Hall in Greys Road, but this has been closed since March 23, before the lockdown started.

Staff have been creative to ensure clients do not feel isolated by organising a range of activities, including chair exercises, quizzes and courses.

Jamie Higgins, manager of Headway Thames Valley, said: “We had a week of prep before we closed completely and that gave us time to put plans in place.

“It was reassuring to be able to tell the clients about the ways we were able to support them, even though it was going to be different. We reached out to all the clients and scheduled phone calls with them twice a week. In the first batch of calls, we asked what tech they had access to in order to plan the next few weeks as well as asking how they were doing and if there was anything we could do for them. We got some really good feedback on that.

“We had a client who was in hospital with the virus but has been discharged and one of our clients has lost a family member to it.

“When it comes to a brain injury, people experience emotions in a more exaggerated sense. We try to encourage a sense of routine and structure in their personal lives as well as at Headway. That is the main thing they are struggling with at the moment, as well as their anxiety about the virus.”

There are six members of staff at the Henley centre but none of them has been furloughed as the demand for the service remains high.

The charity has more than 150 clients across the area. They would normally enjoy art and music therapy sessions as well as a football group, meditation and day visits.

Mr Higgins, who joined the charity six years ago and has been manager for 18 months, is worried about its long-term future.

“It is a big concern,” he said. “Because we are continuing to support our clients, the workload is still there. Furloughing our staff just hasn’t been an option and they have had to adapt.

“I am really pleased we have been able to continue to work with our clients but we do need assurances about how we are going to fund all this.

“A lot of our money comes from local authorities. They will pay us some money for that service and Wokingham has said it will continue funding, but other authorities have not confirmed that yet.

“If that funding does go, we will struggle and we will massively be eating into our reserves, which we couldn’t do forever.”

The staff have been able to interact with the clients by using the internet and phone calls.

The charity sent iPads to those who did not have access to technology, which has allowed them to join in with the video chats. It also distributed informative guides to families on how to deal with the lockdown.

Mr Higgins said the social aspect was one of the most important things for the clients, who often come to Headway after losing a job or because they lack confidence or need friendship.

He said: “We have some clients that you could look at, or talk to for an hour, and you wouldn’t know they were any different.

“But they are among the most vulnerable people in the community. They are misunderstood and there have been times where people mistake them for being drunk.

“Art therapy is amazing and they get a real sense of achievement out of it. They are looking for a sense of purpose that they used to get from a job and that is something we really like to help with.

“After a brain injury, people lose touch with their friends and they can make new friends at Headway. There are lots of things they can’t do without the right kind of support but we can help them to achieve those things.

“The thing that has improved through all this is the communication with the family members. Often the onus was on the family to get in touch with us but now we are talking to them as much as we are with the client. That is a huge positive to take from this whole experience.”

Headway’s phone line is now open every weekday instead of only Monday to Wednesday. Anyone with a brain injury who would benefit from support is welcome to call (01491) 411469.

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