Meet the RVA Team: Anna Chapman, School and Parent Engagement Officer

Anna Chapman is the School and Parent Engagement Officer for RVA, supporting parents in Reading who are economically inactive towards and into training, courses, voluntary work and paid employment.  Anna joined the RVA team in February 2018 as part of the Stronger Together programme. Stronger Together ended in June 2020 and Anna has just started delivering the Parent Employment Wellbeing project which received funding from the European Social Fund and the Education Skills Funding Agency in July 2020.

How has your role changed since the coronavirus outbreak?

When we were told to work from home, my role changed significantly overnight. The greatest difference was suddenly not being able to meet anyone face-to-face. My role also expanded during lockdown, telephoning individuals who had contacted the One Reading Community Hub for support with food and wellbeing, assessing their current situations, and connecting them to organisations to meet their needs. This was intensive but rewarding work as people generally received support quickly and the feedback about the voluntary sector was heartening.

My main role is to provide tailored support, information and advice to parents, predominately via face-to-face appointments, so these were immediately substituted with telephone calls, emails and more recently, online video platforms for those with access to the necessary technology.

Appointments with parents shifted in focus to theirs and their children’s wellbeing (physical, mental and emotional), practical needs (food and clothing), finances (benefits), concerns regarding the current situation and looking after, entertaining and home-schooling their children during lockdown as well as their anxieties about the uncertainties surrounding the future.  I concentrated on listening to parents, encouraging, motivating and reassuring them, helping them to establish and maintain a daily/weekly structure and routine, meeting their practical needs such as sourcing and applying for funding and completing referrals for food parcels and clothing, and emailing links to resources about Covid-19, wellbeing and coping during lockdown.

What has been the most challenging part of the changes over the last few months?

The most challenging part of the changes has been supporting people remotely and helping parents to progress in the current situation, especially as many have had their children at home with them.

The unprecedented nature of the situation and the uncertainty surrounding the future has negatively impacted people’s mental health. Signposting and referral to organisations was tricky initially as some services and support stopped, was postponed, or changed and it was hard to keep up-to-date with this. It has also been difficult for parents to access and/or engage with services and support and for me to advocate on their behalf when I am unable to accompany them. Lack of opportunities in terms of voluntary work and paid vacancies, as well as interviews being cancelled, have also been a challenge, and parents have been unsure about searching and applying for these due to concerns regarding Covid-19, and related childcare and transport issues. Telephone and email support is particularly challenging for those whose first language is not English, those with certain disabilities and those without access to the necessary technology.

For me personally, I enjoy helping and discussing ideas and issues with colleagues on an impromptu basis so not having this contact and input has been difficult. I have a four year old son who has been at home with me since March. This has been both a real blessing and a challenge for both of us – for me to balance working from home with looking after and entertaining him.

Were there any positives to lockdown for you?

I am humbled by the difference and incredible feats which have been achieved locally, nationally and worldwide by some individuals and organisations. I am impressed by how the voluntary sector has reacted and adapted to the ever-changing circumstances and needs of the community, and the speed with which this has happened. I am also excited to have witnessed the private, public and voluntary sectors working together towards common purposes and helping people and communities. My hope is that this will continue beyond this situation. The increase in free online courses, training and resources available is positive and there are many benefits of meeting with professionals via online video platforms.

As we look to a future shaped by coronavirus, are there things you are particularly concerned about or hopeful for?

I am concerned about the short-, mid- and long-term effects coronavirus has had and will have on individuals and families especially physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and financially. I worry that those individuals and families most vulnerable and those organisations with the least resources and funding/income will be adversely affected.

However, I don’t think that everything was fine before Covid-19 and that it all should return to how it was. This situation has presented us with a unique opportunity to pave a new way forward and my hope is that this opportunity will not be wasted, but be used to learn and transform us as individuals and society. It is imperative we continue to address and promote equality, diversity, justice, inclusion and equity. We must listen, reflect, learn, identify weaknesses, and challenge biases, thoughts, processes and methods to reset priorities and direction, changing social, political, economic and ecological systems for the better. My hope is that together we can implement systemic changes to thrive and improve and how incredible would that be!