Impact story: prepare for new user needs

Community Language Support Services (CLSS) is a small organisation based in Islington, London, with three staff and seven volunteers. They work mainly with black minority ethnic refugee communities, mostly from East African and other Arabic speaking communities in Islington and neighbouring London boroughs.

CLSS provides advice, advocacy and a casework service on welfare benefits and housing, immigration advice at Level 1. Staff and volunteers assist clients with limited language skills to communicate with local organisations and people, to enable their clients – especially the most vulnerable – to access services. This includes providing interpreting/translating services, befriending and outreach support. CLSS also brings health professionals in to run health awareness workshops.

The impact of coronavirus

Funding from Trust for London and other funding bodies is vital to its work, ‘delivering much needed service to those who are isolated and have no voice due to language and cultural barriers.’

With the widespread closure of many drop-in centres and shelters during the pandemic and lockdown, CLSS continued delivering its service to respond to the needs of those vulnerable individuals. It also had to support out-of-borough clients with multiple issues such as housing benefit and PIP (Personal Independence Payments) and including emergency support. CLSS explains:

‘Most of [our] clients cannot access services independently; many panicked when lockdown came in. … Those on zero contract hours lost their jobs, panicked about no money and no food. … This caused financial difficulties, conflict within the family and depression.’

Impact practice during the coronavirus crisis

CLSS has continued to collect information through paperwork from users, which is inputted to its database. Staff also keep a record of services delivered and the outcomes achieved for their users. One unexpected outcome to celebrate is that women will be selling garments they have been creating in a local shop – a connection having been made through the local council. They also produced masks to help the community.

As part of one-to-one interviews with users, CLSS learns about new needs and shares these in regular team meetings. They stress that ‘we didn’t just collect’ this information but acted on it, feeding it back into their work. They also ask for information before delivering their service and for feedback after delivery.

CLSS works with Healthwatch Islington in their research on access to health care services. CLSS reports its findings to Healthwatch Islington who report to the Islington Clinical Commissioning Group and the Council communicating the findings of its research in the hope that this will lead to policy change and will help the community.

If you are thinking of doing something similar we suggest you:

  1. If you are thinking about adapting your evaluation and learning process, read this quick blog on where to start.
  2. Find out more about running interviews or focus groups with users.

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