Andra Grecu, Politics graduate, reflects on the changes and challenges in her role as Project Officer for Kent County Council during the pandemic.
This is probably not the first time (or the last) where you’ve read or heard someone say that ‘we find ourselves in unchartered waters’. As repetitive as it may be, it’s true. Not just as a country, but globally, we have never faced anything like the Covid-19 crisis and inevitably we have all had to adapt to the (other overly used phrase) ‘new normal’, with the pandemic having a seismic impact on all of our working and home lives.
Like so many other people, I thought 2020 would be ‘my year’. I had all these plans I was looking forward to such as getting to see many of my friends tie the knot, getting married myself, travelling and so on. Safe to say none of these plans went ahead and when it came to work, many of us found ourselves working from the kitchen table with life becoming a long string of Teams calls telling our colleagues ‘You’re on mute!’.
I do count myself very lucky though, unlike many people who have lost their jobs or have been unable to earn as a result of the lockdown. I wasn’t able to continue with my day to day project officer role (within Kent County Council), but I was offered the opportunity to be redeployed within the organisation and support the work of the Vulnerable People and Communities Cell. We were tasked with supporting organisations in Kent in identifying vulnerable people and co-ordinating support for communities throughout the Covid-19 response.
Very few of us probably have jobs where you are suddenly asked to work in a different role than the one you do on a daily basis, so naturally when I was asked about redeployment, I was equally excited and nervous at the opportunity to work in a new role. However, my experience has been nothing but positive and it gave me the opportunity to witness first-hand the importance of cross-organisational working as a key success factor for positive liaison and engagement between Kent County Council and the District and Borough councils in their coordinated response to the pandemic.
For a bit more context, it’s important to mention that the VPCC is part of the structure of the Kent Resilience Forum together with Cells that have other priorities (Health and Social Care etc.). The KRF is one of 42 Local Resilience Forums across England and it brings together key partner organisations who work together to ensure a coordinated response to emergencies.
In a Covid-19 context, following a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announcement back on the 22nd March, this required Local Authorities to set up Community Hubs and to determine, together with Resilience Forums how Councils would provide food and other essential items to those who were instructed to self-isolate for 12 weeks.
For Kent and Medway, the decision was made that the Community Hubs response would be led by the District Councils and Medway due to their existing links to local community networks. Most Districts had set up hubs, phone lines, websites and redeployed staff to manage them within 3 days of the initial announcement, and all within a week. Local people and community groups rallied around to help, and the hubs, funded by the Districts, have worked with voluntary organisations to ensure that community help is delivered to those who need it most. All hubs delivered food and essential supplies and prescriptions, most also provided befriending, dog-walking, recipes and food preparation, assisted bin collections and taking in parcels.
And whilst the Districts led on the co-ordination and provision of the Community Hubs, KCC set up and promoted the ‘Kent Together’ campaign with a dedicated webpage and single phone line to increase awareness of the support available, redirecting referrals for support to the relevant hub or service. As of the end of June, 167,029 contacts had been made to the vulnerable in Kent & Medway via the hubs, and at the peak 70,687 people were being actively supported in some way, ranging from advice on the telephone through to physical interventions and food parcels. As of 28 July 2020, 4,865 contacts were made to Kent Together for assistance with 6,658 referrals.
The VPCC brought together all of the Districts and Medway, KCC services, voluntary organisations and many other agencies, and with the leadership of the Chair and support from my KCC colleagues, the Cell worked well to share information, practice and concerns, and discussed these accordingly. This was no small feat, especially at first when information and requirements were changing constantly and requiring a response at short notice. As part of my role, I supported the VPCC meetings which took place 3 times a week at the height of the response, with the community hub leads and stakeholders sharing key information and intelligence to enable a collective approach to addressing any arising issues.
I supported the VPCC for just over two months and then returned to my substantive role, however though two months doesn’t sound like a lot, I had the opportunity to experience real time, exceptional partnership working during some challenging conditions. I got to work with new KCC colleagues, tapping into their impressive knowledge and being supported by them, as they were always on hand to answer (what felt like) hundreds of questions and were so patient with me despite being so busy themselves. This really helped me instantly feel like a part of this new team and helped me settle in quickly.
To those of you who are considering redeployment, I would encourage you to embrace it. Whilst it may mean working outside of your comfort zone, it also means learning new skills and refreshing old ones and you might surprise yourself and realise that the skills you have are transferrable and truly valuable.
On a personal level, this redeployment experience has definitely given me more self-confidence in my own skills, and confirmation in the fact that I am more adaptable than I thought I was. This will encourage me to seize future opportunities and be assured that I can adapt to change as needed. I have gained a much better understanding of the relationship between central and local government as well as the relationship between KCC as a County Council and the District and Borough councils, as well as Parish councils. I have also seen how effective communication and leadership are absolutely vital in order to have a successful collective approach, one that involves all relevant stakeholders, to responding to emergencies. This will no doubt be of immeasurable valuable not only as part of continuing my substantive role, but also in any future role I will have in local government.
Last, but definitely not least, this redeployment opportunity has really brought a lot of personal satisfaction knowing that I was involved in work that directly helped people in the county which was essentially, one of the reasons I chose a career in local government in the first place.
Andra is a Project Officer in Kent County Council’s Public Protection group currently working on an organisation-wide project.
She has been working for Kent County Council since January 2016 and has previously worked in the Economic Development team on an Interreg 2 Seas project which provided international business opportunities for Kent-based companies from different sectors.
Andra graduated with BA Global Politics, Media and Cultural Studies from Canterbury Christ Church University in 2011. She also holds an MA in International Liaison and Communication from the University of Westminster.