Over the last few weeks life has changed in ways that no one could have imagined. The government lockdown, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, has forced everyone to adapt very quickly to new ways of working, shopping, and even socialising. During this challenging time it is important to us that we continue our work as best we can and continue to support the communities of Argyll.

We are very pleased to say that everyone in the ACT team has adjusted well to working from home and with a bit of reshuffling everyone has been able to set up a home office. As Development Manager Julie says, it has been a "steep IT learning curve" but the team are in regular contact and have weekly video conference meetings. Julie believes that ACT's lockdown has actually been a positive experience. It has accelerated our push to become less paper dependent, and adopt a more sustainable approach to our work.

Finding new ways to deliver project aims

We have had to adapt the way we are delivering our projects with some having to adapt more quickly than others. None more so than our Branching Out and Moving On project. The Branching Out and Moving On teams feel very strongly about their duty of care to participants and have been meeting weekly by video conference to discuss and resolve how to adapt the project to deliver the aim: To reach out and continue to support our participants (and each other) through social and natural connections to self-manage our wellbeing. As Sara Maclean, Branching Out co-ordinator, points out "social distancing is the exact opposite of what we are usually trying to achieve!".

Working in partnership with Mid Argyll Community Learning, Jean's Bothy and the Community Mental Health Teams, the Branching Out and Moving On team have put in place a three-phase plan: to provide weekly phone contact to those that want it; to post out activity packs based on Branching Out-type themes; and to engage with participants online and create safe platforms and appropriate content for them to interact with the team. These plans have been met with enthusiasm by participants and partners alike and some activity packs have already been sent out. 

Project research - online and in the garden!

We are still able to continue with the development of new projects including recruitment to fill vacancies in our ACT Now project and MAKI Pups outdoor nursery. Plans for our outdoor nursery are progressing well and we are getting close to being registered with the Care Inspectorate which is very exciting. Erin Kennedy, our MAKI pups Nursery Manager, has been making use of her time at home by preparing an extensive list of resources that we will need to purchase for the nursery - who doesn't enjoy a bit of online window shopping?! Erin has also been having fun researching different ideas for activities for nursery sessions and open days and will be trialling them in her own garden. She says she "cannot wait to hear the sounds of children exploring and learning in the Walled Gardens".

We have had a fantastic range of applicants looking to join the MAKI Pups team and so we are looking forward to holding online interviews with candidates in May. The nursery will open as soon as we are given the all clear from the authorities. We are hoping there will be even greater demand for children to spend time learning outdoors when we all get the chance to get out and about again.  

Behind the scenes

Our Finance Officer Sam has been working hard to prepare the end of year accounts and has successfully completed the first payroll of the new tax year. Her home office has a chorus of birdsong for background noise instead of the usual office hum and she is adjusting to home working much better than she expected. There is plenty of admin and finance to sort out for forthcoming projects so that is also keeping her busy. Funders have been very supportive and have shown flexibility and understanding which has helped us to manage staff and projects in the best possible way under the circumstances.

On Islay, Deb is keeping the CANN project going by focusing on desk-based tasks such as collating survey and monitoring data and producing habitat maps. Field-based tasks such as bird surveys and rhododendron removal are temporarily suspended but will resume as soon as possible. The CANN Project partners are meeting regularly via video conferencing to discuss progress and plan future work in light of Covid-19 restrictions. Broadband connections can be a bit challenging but everyone is getting by. 

Our next Board meeting will be at the beginning of May via video conferencing. This will be a new experience for some but is certainly becoming familiar to many.

We are heartened by the community spirit shown throughout Argyll and how quickly local networks have powered in to action. Overall we believe that this whole experience will change ACT for the better, making us more resilient, adaptable and sustainable. Nevertheless we are still looking forward to the end of lockdown and being able to meet up face to face! 

Weekly team meetings take place virtually for the time being