If our breakfasts are the “maintenance” part of our work here at The Whitechapel Mission, it’s the work done in the Lifeskills Centre that enables people to change direction and turn their lives around. Here Sonia, our Lifeskills Worker gives us a taste of what a typical day there can be like. If the Lifeskills Centre had a motto, it could well be “Expect the Unexpected” because the next query could lead into a whole new area that has not been encountered before.
“Its 08:38 and the laughter and noise coming from the hall is a very familiar sound at this time in the morning; the queue outside the Lifeskills room holds many familiar faces but also some new ones, each person vocalising the urgency of their case to try and attract attention. Tickets are issued on a first-come first-served basis (at the best of times this can be the most difficult part); the queue continues to extend, others jostle for priority and then there are the new clients, many probably unaware of the ticketing
system, unsure what they are supposed to do.
“The next ticket number is yelled out in order to deal with the next client’s difficulties. Despite the structured waiting arrangement, people still try to get into the Lifeskills room, interrupting and distracting the clients and Lifeskills workers alike, attracting attention that should be focussed on addressing the clients’ individual problems / needs. But somehow, despite the chaotic activity of the daycentre and the confined space of the Lifeskills room, the work proceeds and slowly but surely the people in the queue are dealt with.
“Today there are volunteers from Deutsche Bank working in the Lifeskills room and they have been given an introduction to what to do to enable them to deal with the most common and recurring problems. Despite the preparation they are nervously waiting to see what comes next.
“Problems can arise as a result of any number of reasons:
• A client comes with a problem that is not commonly encountered and
which had therefore not been covered in the introduction.
• A client may be unable to understand English, and it may be necessary
to find an interpreter
• The client being helped may have substance issues which the volunteers
are unused to seeing / dealing with.
“Still, despite being thrown in at the “deep end”, it doesn’t take long for them to feel part of the team and become fully engrossed in the client group.
“The first client wants to ring the Benefits Agency, insisting that he needs no additional help. However, ringing the Benefits Agency could tie up a telephone for a long period of time depending on the time of day; before 09:00 the wait should be relatively short, but after 09:00 the wait on the telephone line will be longer, possibly up to 40 minutes.
“So we start on the second client…
“A large number of the issues are similar, they relate to:
“During the conversations with clients, as mentioned before, people are walking in and out of the office, occasionally interrupting or acting as a distraction to the client/s, volunteer/s and myself. Some are just being social or just trying to be helpful; others believe their situation is so urgent that they need an immediate response.
“When it is time to go the Volunteers will have had an interesting day dealing with individuals from a variety of backgrounds and with a range of different issues to be resolved. The volunteer may have initiated a series of actions that will be processed / completed by somebody else on another day, or they may have completed actions previously started by someone else. But I, as the staff member, always feel confident that we have done the best job possible with the information provided to us and with the limited resources that we have.
“Cycles of behaviour by the clients are triggered by the weather and the facilities and services provided by various other organisations particularly around the Christmas and New Year period. For me working in Lifeskills is like juggling, switching from one client’s problem to another, providing input, support and reassurance where required and manoeuvring individuals who drift in and out of the office, for whatever reason/s. It’s a case of multi-tasking, picking up snippets of information from staff, volunteer/s and client/s, piecing it together like a jigsaw and then devising/initiating a course of action.
“The Client may have had their problem resolved, started or continued. For some clients it’s a journey and we share the adventure along the path with different people at various stages of the voyage. Behind every problem there is a story!
“It’s the happy stories that make the job more enjoyable.”