Season One - RETAS before lockdown
I had a lovely weekly routine with a 20 minute walk to and from the office (if you do a Jackie fast walk) - getting my exercise for the day! 😊. On arrival at the offices, I worked with Charlotte and a small team of fellow volunteers meeting and supporting clients trying to find a home. Usually this involved inputting their details on the Leeds City Council on-line form so that they could start bidding for a council property. And oh my goodness, what a long boring form to complete - but it has to be done! This was NOT one of my favourite tasks as the form goes on and on and on…….Only when Amber Khan, Housing Officer gave us some great training did it make completing the form bearable!
The other part of my role was helping clients who came to the Housing group to understand the private rental market and showing them how to set up internet searches. Having rented for many years in London, I know how hard this can be. Trawling through so many ads, they can blur into one. And then, thinking you’ve found ‘the one’, only to be told by the Agents, it has already gone…..so disheartening.
Which was why it was great to sit with the clients and keep their spirits up, when they felt low…… And then finally the excitement if we found a suitable property they could go and view. Even better when a client found a property….it makes it all worthwhile. I even helped one client move her stuff in to her new home, including sitting in a removal van squashed up with furniture and clothes!
Then suddenly, everything changed. Welcome to....
Season 2 - RETAS Under Covid-19 Lockdown
I miss working at the offices so much! I miss Charlotte, Nicola, the Advisors, my volunteer colleagues, and the rest of the management crew….. The fond memories of the older chap who sat next to reception and giggled when he repeatedly said my name Jackeeeee still make me smile. I even miss the dodgy coffee….
I am in awe of how Natasha, Alice, and Fatima (the Advisors I have been working with) have risen to the challenge of working from home, day in and day out. I have been assisting them as much as I can, chatting to clients to let them know about furniture arriving, continuing to help search for houses and showing them how to do it, researching education courses. Can you believe it, I miss going to Merrion House!
What has kept my motivation going? One thing that’s really helped has been the continued focus of volunteer training. We are all becoming Zoom experts…well, some of us are (not me!). Natasha and Amber helped us get to grips with how best to search and bid for council houses, which we can now pass on to all our clients. Following this, it was lovely to work with Natasha on creating a workshop and share our knowledge of the private housing market. The more we all know and learn the better we can become in supporting our clients.
I have to say, though, the most unusual and rewarding situation I’ve been involved with, was a real team effort with Amber and Fatima. It was a young client’s dream to move to London. Now, this would be challenge at the best of times but in lockdown, I had no idea how we could achieve this and yet we did! The funny thing was, I had lived in London for over 30 years and 2 years ago, my dream was to move back to Leeds which I did!
I'm so glad I moved back to Leeds and even more glad that I joined RETAS. I feel proud to be part of the team .... it would just be nice to see people in real life sometime soon!
Let's hope that Season Three - life after Covid-19 - is streaming soon! Thank you Jackie for this review, and for all your hard work as a RETAS volunteer.
Established in 2002, RETAS (Refugee Education Training Advice Service) has a vision to see all refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants to feel welcome and supported to fully integrate into society.
We provide assistance with access to education, re-qualification, training and employment to help them better integrate in their communities. We strive to build confidence and hope in our service users, and empower them to build a safe and secure life here in the UK.
233-237 Roundhay Road
The Roundhay Road Resource Centre
Leeds, LS8 4HS