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Starting a New Job During a Global Pandemic

14 October 2020

Kirsten Hewitt
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Having the milk rota explained to you and being shown where the post-its are. Deciding which nearby café will become your coffee spot. Just some of the rights of passage when you start a new job. Love it or hate it, the first month in a job is a vital grace period where you can make mistakes, admit to not knowing things and enjoy getting to know what makes the business tick. 

Now, imagine substituting the above for the ‘new normal’. Managing staff, you’ve never met, remotely. Making decisions, during a time of crisis, that will impact the health and safety of already venerable people. Well, that was my first month at Simon Community NI.

When I joined the charity in early 2020 as the new Director of Homelessness Services. I could never have imagined the rollercoaster journey that I would be taken on both professionally and personally. Between the tears and tantrums of home-schooling, my first media interviews over Zoom and playing a part in the homelessness sector’s response to the pandemic. It truly was a baptism of fire.

The relaxation of lockdown, during the summer, gave us all a bit of breathing space. I was able to pause and reflect on some of the positives I’ve experienced over the past few months. One such positive was the ability to watch staff rise to the challenge that coronavirus presented. During the interview process for my role, the charity’s values were continually highlighted as a factor in candidate selection and the crisis showed me exactly why. I was privileged to witness staff rally together to keep services in operation and clients supported. The feeling that my work with Simon Community is so much more than just a typical 9-5 job has filled me with so much pride and motivation during the harder periods of lockdown.

A safe place to call home has never been so important.

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The positives weren’t only limited to internal activity. As governments around the world asked people to isolate at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus, awareness of the homelessness crisis received a boost. People were moved off the streets and society took a greater interest in their safety and the support they were receiving. I feel there was a shift in the stigma associated with homelessness as more journalists, supporters and members of the public came to us with offers to help our clients.

Having a safe place to call home really has never been so important. Covid-19 has been a daunting experience for many of us. But, for those without a safe home to isolate in, it’s been particularly hard. It’s because of this that we’re asking people to swap their bed for a sleeping bag for one night and get involved in our One BIG Sleep Out at Home event. Through which they can help us raise the funds needed to allow Simon continue providing shelter and support to individuals throughout Northern Ireland during this difficult time.

Hovis® Ireland Partners With The Simon Community In Belfast Donating Bread To Belfast Projects
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For me, the biggest change delivered by this pandemic has been the better joined-up approach to working between voluntary providers, statutory partners and government departments. I was involved with the NI Homeless COVID Operations Task Group, which brought together experience, skills and knowledge from across the sector to stop the spread of COVID-19 in homelessness projects. This way of working should be the new norm if we’re to truly end homelessness in NI.

Now that my feet are well and truly under the table at Simon, I have big plans for my next six months at the charity. I plan to meet the people behind the charity. While social distancing makes this more challenging, I know the only way to really appreciate what makes a service unique is to speak to the people who work there and the residents they support. 

In my home life, I plan to continue with the family time that COVID-19 has gifted me. Over the years, my job roles have involved a lot of travelling and with it many missed family dinners and bedtime stories. I’ve found this quality family time to be a blessing and, for me, it has reaffirmed my belief that a healthy work life balance brings with it benefits at home and in the workplace. I can’t emphasise enough how great it is to be working for an organisation, that even during a global pandemic, places such an important focus on maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

If I could go back in time, would I still join the charity ahead of a pandemic? Yes! Of course, It’s been tough, but it’s also been filled with rewarding moments. I am proud to be a member of Senior Management at Simon and look forward to working with our staff and clients to change the landscape of homelessness in Northern Ireland.

Kirsten joined the Simon Community NI as the Director of Homelessness Services in 2020. The five years prior to this Kirsten worked with The Salvation Army leading their homelessness work in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In her previous role, Kirsten’s focus was on the development of service delivery to ensure it is psychologically informed and person centred along with the strategic increase in homeless family provision. Prior to working with The Salvation Army in Ireland she spent a number of years working in London on major change projects both in the voluntary and public sector.