How do you give hope to vulnerable people who are seeking asylum during a global pandemic? Destitution Adviser, Holly Hepburn, shares some of the challenges thrown up by Covid-19… and how our frontline staff have pulled together to overcome them.
Tell us a bit about your job

I support people who have been refused asylum and have found themselves destitute. They don’t qualify for any government support. The asylum system is really tough and it wears people down. My role is to reassure them and help them access their rights and entitlements. I also put clients in touch with specialist services that provide food, housing, healthcare, legal advice and financial support.

My clients are on a journey. It can be long and difficult and they can end up feeling really lost. It’s my job to walk beside them and help to guide them so that hopefully one day their journey will be positive.

How has Covid-19 affected your role?

The way we support people has changed a lot! In normal times we would have face to face appointments. Now it’s all being done over the phone or online. The way that many partner organisations and local authorities work keeps changing too, so we’re having to constantly adapt.

It’s changed the way we work as a team as well. When the people you’re trying to support are really struggling, being able to lean on your colleagues is so important. I’m not sure we appreciated the extent to which we relied on each other.

We have a team catch up every morning to talk about what we’re struggling with, or just have a coffee and a chat. That helps us feel connected. It’s a bit like being in the office. We try and check in with each other because we’re all aware of how hard the job can be at times. We also meet in the virtual pub for Friday drinks, which is lovely.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

The worst thing is definitely being isolated from the rest of my team and not being able to interact with clients. A lot of our clients have really complex needs so it’s good to be able to meet them in person and talk through their situation.

I really miss face to face appointments. You can’t offer someone a cup of tea or coffee over the phone. You can’t read people’s faces, or pick up on nuances, especially if you’re having the conversation though interpreters. A big part of my job is building relationships and building trust. Right now, I’m supporting a bunch of clients I’ve never actually met. It’s hard to build that trust with people when they don’t even know what I look like.

Any positives?

I’m really proud of how quickly we responded and adapted. At the start of the first lockdown, it felt a bit overwhelming, but we’ve kept each other going. We made sure clients could always access the support services that they need.

Shifting online has allowed us to be more flexible and reactive. When clients came to the drop-in service at the office, they would often have to wait a long time to speak to the duty advisor. Now, they call the Helpline and can be directed to the right person or service straight away. Sometimes you really need those face to face meetings, sometimes a phone call is easier. I think we’ll probably have a more blended approach from now on.

One thing I don’t miss is the commute! And working from home has given me time to amp up my boujie cooking. Cooking has kept me sane. I love it so much!

Find out more about our Destitute Asylum Seeker Service. 

Rachel Lamb
Author: Rachel Lamb