Reactive and adaptive – 2020, the year that was. Part 1
This is a three part blog post about the impact of the global pandemic on a little animal charity based in Greater Manchester. This is part one by Branch Manager, Susie Hughes.
In early March 2020 I switched off my phone for the first time since 2018. My husband and I were enjoying a 3 day night break away with our little dog. 2019 had been an exhausting year as I project managed the setting up and opening of our first animal centre. 2020 was supposed to be different. I was going to take some overdue time off, put my feet up and breathe. But by mid week it became apparent that a crisis was looming and on day 4 my phone was switched back on and by day 5 I was back at work, where I have been ever since.
Ten days after my return, lockdown was announced, but already a number of our shops had closed due to self isolation, low footfall and fear of contagion. It really was a welcome relief when lockdown was finally announced. The 10 days preceding were really stressful. There were late night briefings from supporting bodies that would then be revised by the following morning. Plans put into place at 10.30pm at night were typically upturned by the following lunchtime. The anticipation, ambiguity and sheer panic around income generation meant that when lockdown was declared it gave me a moment of respite from second guessing and shifting goal posts.
On 24th March, the day we went into lockdown, it became apparent we had to change the way we operated. With reduced staffing the first thing we did was switch off the telephone. We could no longer afford the luxury of paying someone to answer the phone; it really was as simple as that. Gone were the days of conducting our business via the telephone and we were thrust into a digital world. Nine months on and our ways of working are unrecognisable, unthinkable even! In many aspects the streamlining of operations and doing everything ‘online’ has brought so many benefits, not least of all essential cost savings.
Gone were the days of entering into our foster carers homes, mobilising our army of volunteer home visitors to conduct in-person home visits, receiving prospective adopters to the centre to meet animals for adoption and welcoming volunteers and visitors. In the new world of ‘hands off’ rehoming, or virtual adoption, as we prefer to call it, it has increased throughput, reduced the time it takes place animals in forever homes and we hope the support we now provide is even more comprehensive than the in-person processes of the past. However, it still remains odd that potential adopters cannot meet their potential new companion animal prior to adoption.
When DEFRA approved the restarting of rehoming on 16th April we already had dozens of homes lined up. April actually proved our most successful month for adoption because we had worked so hard to line up homes virtually and gave us the opportunity to develop and practice our new ways of working. As the weeks went on we honed our virtual approach to adoptions and became accustomed to online ‘meet and greets’ between potential adopters and the animals in the centre. We had to digitalise all the administrative aspects of animal rehoming from initial enquiries to adoption. Virtual home visits have become the norm, and work especially well for cats. What isn’t so helpful is the guidelines requiring us to deliver all animals to their prospective homes. As you can imagine, with a small team this has a big impact.
The people who have come forward to adopt from us have been our usual ‘adopt don’t shop’ stalwarts. People who have always had rescue animals in their lives and are committed to the ethos of giving an animal a home for life. Though none of us are naive enough to believe that in this economic climate, and the gloomy forecast for the years ahead, that we won’t see a steep rise in relinquishment across the whole pet owning community.
Back in March, and throughout April, I remember feeling lucky to be the branch manager of our little charity. As the months went on, and on, I found myself questioning who on earth would want to be a charity manager during this time. It has been such a wearing experience. But I am so proud of our branch, the staff and volunteers for what they have achieved and what we stand for. For example throughout the year furloughed staff received 100% pay (at all time), shielding staff also received 100% pay, centre staff were able to bring their kids to work when the schools were closed, and we worked tirelessly to continue our admission and rehabilitation work whilst rehoming was suspended. We have all been focused on preserving the charity, protecting jobs as much as we could, securing the future of our animal centre and what we all live for here: serving the animals who need us.
(Daring to dream of a) return to normality will see us retain the majority of our new ways of working, as it is far more practical and sustainable. However, it feels a long while off before we will be able to shake off this strange and baffling year. In part 2 I will share all about the work with the animals during COVID times!