Lorrane Kelly, Short Term Accommodation for Families, Sligo
Q. What year did you join Focus Ireland & what service/department?
A. I joined Focus Ireland in the Sligo office in Summer 2010. I actually began my journey here as part of a one year Community Employment Scheme. I had just finished an honours degree in Social Studies in Sligo IT and I was looking to add to my work experience in the social care field. During the course of the scheme, a job opportunity for an Advice and Information worker was advertised, which I applied for and was successful. I was so proud to be part of an organisation like Focus Ireland and to be part of the amazing team in Sligo.
I then moved into the role of Tenancy Support Service for two years and now I work in Short Term Accommodation, with part of my role also involving property management. I currently work with families who have previously been homeless or were at risk of imminent homelessness.
Q. What does your job normally entail?
A. My role as a support worker involves supporting families for a period of 6 months or longer in one of our Short Term Accommodation units here in Sligo Town. I link in with families through the week, usually by home visits and offer support though a holistic approach in managing their tenancy.
This support differs from one family to the next and is based on the needs of the family, and the individuals within that family. I link families with other services in the community where needed and put supports in place to help improve their quality of life. The main aim of our short term accommodation is to empower families with the tenancy skills to move on and sustain long term accommodation.
My relationship with the families I work with is a key part of my job. It’s important that there’s a level of trust between us. I’m entering into their homes and their family life so trust and confidentiality is significant to the role.
In addition to this, I also do property management. Over the past number of years, Focus Ireland has purchased many properties in Sligo which has enabled us to give families and individuals a long term home. I cover the administration part of the rents and maintenance. It’s important for us, as an organisation, to have good quality homes for our tenants.
Q. How has your job changed during the public health crisis?
A. Thankfully, through the current health crisis we have been able to keep all of our services going. That said, it has changed significantly. A lot of the support work I now do is mainly over the phone unless meeting is necessary, where we can practice social distancing, ensuring the health of our customers and ourselves. Unfortunately, not all services in the community have been able to remain open and this does have an impact on the families we work with.
It’s certainly a new challenge having to work this way. It makes you realise and reflect on just how important the social side of our work actually is. Sitting with someone face to face, having that human connection, the environment, the facial expressions, the body language, etc. is now a missing piece of our work. We just have to keep looking forward though and keep doing the best we can in the current circumstances.
Q. What do you miss about your job most during this time?
A. I definitely miss the working environment in the office. I’m still working from the office but a lot of staff are working from home most of the time. I suppose it’s made me realise just how close a team we are and how much we support each other when we’re all together. We still call each other and support each other through the week and have a weekly catch up online but it’s not just not the same as having that physical presence.
I miss meeting with the families face to face regularly to see how they are and get a sense of the bigger picture with them. A phone call, as long and detailed as you try to make it, just doesn’t have the same impact as face to face when you’re offering support in my opinion. We have delivered food and other items to families if they’ve needed it during the crisis, and so I have got to see some families for a social distance “hello” which was nice.
Work is such a big part of our lives. The workplace is more than just an office, it’s a place where we have friendships; and the people we work with and help, they’re people we care about, people we have built relationships with. The social and personal presence in this type of work can’t be underestimated, so hopefully we keep moving forward and we can resume some kind of normality sometime soon.
Q. What’s your favourite Focus Ireland memory or experience?
A. There have been so many positive experiences throughout my 10 years here, but if I had to pick one, I think it would be our 10 year anniversary celebrations for the Sligo office. There were so many events that we organised and it really highlighted the work we do here and the impact it has in our local region.
We had a Stand Up To Homelessness event which was a Stand Up Paddle down the main river in Sligo town. Loads of people from the community got involved, former customers, staff from other agencies we work with, people from local businesses, staff from Dublin, etc. It was really amazing to see all these people come out in support of us and the work we do.
There was also a 10 Year Anniversary magazine made with stories from former and present customers and a slideshow of it was shown at a coffee morning in the Mayor’s Parlour. It had a very reflective impact on me. Sometimes we just do our work as if it’s second nature to us, and although we do reflect on it, I think reflection in that particular year was something special.
Q. If you had to give your 18 year old self some advice, what would it be?
A. Ha, my 18 year old self! Well, at 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I did enroll in a PLC Course in Business or something but it was that irrelevant to me I can barely remember it. I didn’t complete it and got a full time job instead. All I wanted was money to be self-sufficient, move out of home with friends and have some money for the things I loved.
I did feel like I probably should have been at college but I knew I would have been wasting my time. I enrolled for college then at 25 years old in a Social Studies course and at that stage I knew this was the career choice for me. Having matured a bit, only a bit, I felt like I was in a good position to begin my college journey.
It wasn’t easy, as I was a single parent and had to give up full time work for my 4 years of college, but I was determined to see it through to the end and I did. I had decided that I was going to give it my all and not let anything get in my way. I even did an Erasmus placement in The Netherlands for 3 months and brought my son with me for it.
So my advice would be, don’t rush, you are still young, take your time to find what you like and find the right fit for you, be that college, a new challenge of any kind, a new career, etc. Believe in yourself, encourage yourself, praise yourself for your achievements no matter how big or how small they may seem and always be your own best friend!