We asked staff members, a trustee and a linguist about 2020 and the impact of the pandemic on their work with SIS.
Here is an edited version of their interesting responses.
With thanks to Nadine, Vikki, Sue, Matt, Aidan and Shahreen.
What was your biggest challenge in the last year?
Nadine Zeytoun (Community Interpreter)- “Getting familiar with Remote Interpreting tools and supporting the Service Users to learn how to use them.
Overcoming technical difficulties, like poor networks, which can make interpreting difficult in terms of hearing the Service User’s voice or them, hearing and understanding all the information given. This is particularly difficult in hospital wards and A&E Departments, which are often too busy and noisy to speak over the phone.
I found telephone interpreting more challenging than video interpreting because the Service User’s voice can vary in tone and strength depending on their emotional state especially in sensitive sessions.
It is more difficult with telephone interpreting to establish a trusting relationship with both the Service User and the Service Provider. There is no eye contact nor the ability to see body language”.
Vikki Gimson (Quality Assurance Manage) – “Finding the capacity and resources within our team to put into action all the ideas we had to help and support our Service Users. We were already operating with less staff hours than in the previous year and we were trying to change processes and launch new initiatives”.
Sue Friend (Coordinator) – “Adapting overnight to working from home as a team with a shared workload and with constant changes to procedure while staying positive. We developed lines of communication via Microsoft Teams, which enabled 5 Coordinators to keep in contact and maintain our quality of service”.
Matt Evenden (Digital Manager) – “Having to move our entire digital business to a new Cloud Provider with only two weeks’ notice. With the Digital Support Worker furloughed, I had to liaise with the new Cloud Provider and get the entire platform set up and all data transferred so that when SIS staff came to log on the following Monday morning it was relatively seamless for us to carry on providing services. There were a few very late nights and a weekend given over to achieving this. We got there and it is a much better system”.
Aidan Pettitt (Trustee) – “Trying to maintain a balance between reflecting the needs of SIS staff members who were dealing with the challenges of working and changes to their personal and family lives during the pandemic and the need to ensure the sustainability of the organisation – essential to the continuation of services for current and future Service Users. This also sometimes meant finding the balance between asking hard and challenging questions of Directors while supporting them in the challenges they faced”.
Shahreen Shebli (Director) – “Nothing quite like a once in a 100 year pandemic to test the robustness of Business Contingency Plans! Happily, we passed the test with flying colours – very much down to our amazing Digital Team and the foresight of Trustees supporting Digital investment over the last few years.
The speed of lockdown and the need for crisis management arising from an overnight loss of 80% of our income. This required regular scrutiny/evaluation and making decisions at pace without necessarily having accurate forecasts. We needed to use our reserves responsibly to sustain our vital services”.
What was your biggest achievement?
Nadine – “I learnt how to adapt to deliver remote interpreting for conferences and large meetings as well as 1:1 interpreting sessions. I learnt how to establish trust and good professional relationships with both Service Users and Service Providers”.
Vikki – “Despite limited resources and capacity, we were able to develop new services. We identified beneficiaries at most risk and supported them with wellbeing calls. We launched a Bilingual Telephone Befriending service, made a major contribution to Community Research looking at the disparity of impact of COVID on BAME people and successfully bid for health promotion funding”.
Sue – “I became an authority on ways to facility remote interpreting sessions! I learnt about a variety of software platforms for video and telephone interpreting as appointments were converted overnight from Face To Face interpreting. I was giving advice and supporting Service Providers on the best way to proceed with their bookings. This took a lot of time and patience and was very rewarding. I built up great relationships with Service Providers and I believe everyone I helped appreciated the time spent”.
Matt – “I redesigned our website to make it easier for Service Users to contact SIS and find the information they need in their own language. We also introduced extensive information pages relating to COVID. Service Providers can also book a linguist more easily. We have set up a new secure Telephone Interpreting service after our existing one closed with one month’s notice”.
Aidan – “As a relatively new Trustee and member of the Management Committee, the biggest achievement was the one I shared with SIS. SIS has survived the battering of the pandemic, adapted and reached the end of the year still providing essential services to thousands of people – many who are vulnerable – and with an expert team, professional interpreters, and essential contracts in place and cash reserves. SIS’s reputation is high and the organisation is respected. If I played a tiny part in that shared achievement I am very happy”.
Shahreen – “We met our Charitable Mission and worked hard to ensure longer-term financial sustainability. We expanded our range of services and secured additional grant income for Projects – Health Promotion, Advocacy, Social Prescribing, Befriending.
We have deployed effective Business Continuity arrangements, crisis, and financial risk management in a very challenging environment with demonstrable good governance and leadership. With the exception of one post we have avoided redundancies. We are still here!”
What is your hope for SIS in the coming year?
Nadine – “Over the lockdown, SIS ensured that members of ethnic minority groups, including the vulnerable Syrian refugees who arrived under the UN Resettlement Scheme, have access to services and were kept informed. SIS is a key organisation for those groups. I hope SIS will be properly funded to continue”.
Vikki – “That current and pending project funding is secured, so that our team can focus on service delivery. As a result of recent Bilingual Health Promotion Project funding, we are recruiting a new Project Coordinator to join Ben and I in the projects team. This is very exciting, a bit nerve-racking and I hope we get a great candidate that can help us expand project services into the rest of Sussex!”
Sue – “I hope that we are able to return to the office sometime this year and that our bookings continue increasing so that we are able to keep all our staff”.
Matt – “That we all stay healthy and life returns to some level of normality but that we do not lose some of the new ways of working that have come out of the pandemic”.
Aidan – “Obviously, I hope that the pandemic will be managed during the coming year. This will allow the NHS to return to full operational capacity across all its forms (GPs, A&E, Acute, Maternity and so on) and this will require SIS to continue and expand its work. SIS has learnt more about remote and telephone interpreting, developed its relationships with commissioners, found new sources of funding and discovered new opportunities for project work. My hope is that the coming year will see SIS continue to take something positive from last year”.
Shahreen – “I remain optimistic, that over the coming year with the continuing roll out of the COVID vaccination programme, that Face to Face interpreting provision will continue to increase and that we will in time revert back to previous activity levels that are needed to meet the needs of our communities”.
What have you learnt that will help us?
Nadine – “Working with SIS is a big learning curve. Every work experience is unique. Working as an interpreter with the same client over a long period sometimes makes me aware that services are not working jointly, not integrated. I see people going around the services in circles. It will be good for SIS to expand their advocacy services to ensure that some service users can be referred appropriately and quickly, rather than wasting resources”.
Vikki – “Where there is a will, there is a way!”
Sue – “I have learnt so many new things this year. The most standout would have to be how quickly we can adapt to changes, often on a daily basis”.
Matt – “There will always be a solution even if it feels like there won’t be”.
Aidan – “I have had to become rapidly competent in HR matters that were not expected, unexpected challenges to the budget and finance, last minute changes to contracting and costing, supporting the development of new and critical polices to ensure safe working and a better understanding of the needs of SIS staff working beyond the office. This will be helpful going forward.
I’ve also learnt that SIS is a resilient and tenacious organisation (and in a very good way). SIS does not give up on its service users, its values, or its staff”.
Shahreen – “I have learnt again how crucial trust is when embedded effectively as part of the organisational culture.. This has been central to our effective crisis and risk management.
I have also learnt just how adaptable our organisation is and again how central ‘teamwork’ is.
Finally, the pandemic showed again just how much SIS benefits and relies on the generosity goodwill and flexibility from all those involved. This gives me hope and confidence for the future – because of the ‘people involved in SIS’”.