Collective Care : Looking after ourselves so we have the strength to bring about justice

December 29, 2021
Claire Aston
Posted by
Claire Aston

The Respond and Adapt Programme was established by Migration Exchange, NACCOM and Refugee Action in April 2020, to help 130 organisations in the UK migration sector to cope with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis. Over the past two years, it has become clear that to deliver their work effectively, the organisations also need to look after themselves. This blog reflects on a programme of workshops that have aimed to do just that.

January - a month of new starts and new resolutions. But also, of returning to work in the constantly changing external environment of a pandemic. It’s a good time to reflect on the work we have been doing together to build our strength and resilience in such tough times.

With Act Build Change, Helen designed a programme of support to ensure individuals and organisations in the Respond and Adapt Programme could consider their own wellbeing.

This is the second phase of support from Act Build Change (ABC); we reflected on the first phase in this blog, published at the end of the first pandemic year. The external environment remains tough, and we felt it was vital to retain this support throughout 2021. 

What’s Collective Care?

Act Build Change describes Collective Care as ‘communal responsibility for people’s emotional health and wellbeing within groups or organisations’. 

It’s easy to think we are ‘too busy’ to stop and reflect on how we are doing, as individuals, and as organisations, but we have found that we are stronger when we have done so.

What did we do?

We worked with Act Build Change to run a series of online workshops, on the following themes: 

1. Care for Senior Leaders

2. Joy and Celebration

3. Boundaries and Courageous Conversations

4. How to build Caring Processes

5. Dealing with Loss

6. Rest and Recovery

Over the year, 186 participants took part - some of the workshops ran more than once, so that we could ensure our discussion groups were small, and participants could explore the theory and practical tools together easily. 

What did we learn?

We discovered that when we create space to reflect together, we learn. As one participant said: 

“Act Build Change provided a space where you respected people to show up as they wanted. It was an invitation and put us all at ease.”

We need to look after ourselves if we are to be effective. We know that working as we do with people living through trauma, can be tough. We can be tempted to put our own needs to one side, as our day to day lives are not as difficult as the people we are trying to help. And yet, in our Care for Senior Leaders sessions, we explored how it is important to ensure we are in a strong enough position to deliver our work effectively: 

“Touching on trauma informed work resonated with ongoing discussions at work; A strong take away for me was thinking about self care as self preservation and as a political act” said one participant.

We need to stop and find the joy and celebration in our work; something we can find difficult to do. As one participant reflected:

‘It was quite hard to find things to celebrate and be joyful about. I liked the focus on questions on how we are contributing to joy within our organisation. I've not equated the two - how joy and celebration is also a strong stance on justice. I feel glad I can understand that now.”

There are processes for care, ways of building processes into our organisations that can help us look after each other better. Some of our organisations have gone on to ask for further support in this area directly from ABC.

We found that creating space to process, and think through, loss, is really important. One participant said that this workshop was the only space they had been given to do so.

And finally, we found that by creating space to think through rest and recovery, we learned techniques - like free writing, letting ourselves express our thoughts and feelings - that we can take away from the workshop and into our daily working lives.

“Excellent facilitators created a welcoming space to explore the topic of rest in depth. The free write helped me to clarify actions I need to take to ensure r&r is incorporated into my life” said one participant.

Why is all this important?

All this is important because, as individuals and organisations working to bring about justice and challenge the status quo, we need the strength to continue for the long haul.

As Stephanie Wong, Director of Act Build Change says, for those of us working in the area of migrant and refugee support, it’s vital.

“We know ending the hostile environment requires all of us in this work to act sustainably. We have no hope in winning significant justice any other way. So, I urge us not to look at care work as a nice extra. It is one of the most responsible acts for justice that we can do.”

What are we going to do next?

Although the Respond and Adapt funding has finished, we know that staff wellbeing needs remain high, and we will address and offer support in this area throughout 2022 through the Insight Hub programme.

Our recent hub surveys show that our organisations are finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff, and that mental health issues are extremely important. Respondents to the 9th survey told us that main mental health issues facing staff in their organisation are fatigue (74%),  isolation (59%), overwork (59%) and general stress (56%). 

If we’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s that we need to make time to look after ourselves, so that we can look after our clients in their time of need, and deliver justice. We will continue to address this in our hubs throughout the coming months.

What can you do as an individual?

Whether you feel inspired to take steps to look after yourself, or think you need more support to help look after your team, we have collated resources that can help. 

Our staff wellbeing resources section has inspiration and resources from the NHS, Mind, ACAS and various charities on how to look after your own, and your team’s, wellbeing.

It’s a great place to look, and find ways of starting the year as we mean to go on - making sure that we make time to pause and reflect together, continually learning as we go.

An icon for download

Download the full bulletin