By Alex Duhig

Senior Residential Worker, Local Authority Home, Surrey

October 2020

Let’s start with the big elephant in the room that falls over your sofa, leaves foot prints in the butter and trumpets loudly and proudly that its name is Trevor, yes, I’m talking about lockdown. How long will it last; when will this pandemic end; how will I keep my sanity?! Well, I found a nice cold beer works at times, but really self-care and understanding your own needs is paramount to survival ESPECIALLY if you are a key-worker! So firstly, thank you out there to all key-workers! Bin collectors, delivery drivers, nurses, social workers and carers to name but a few. You are all amazing!

How does Social Pedagogy fit into this new and emerging world?

The answer…fully and totally! I’m going to share some of my experiences about what I have been doing, how I have helped those around me and how others have helped me. So, let’s start with some self-care. Take a moment, close your eyes, let the world around you go quiet. Dark, peaceful. Listen out for the bird song, the wind rustle in the trees, think about yourself for a moment and really get in touch with how you feel. It’s okay to feel scared, or happy or overly tired.

My wife feels unable to leave her desk while she is working from home out of guilt that she is not being as productive. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. But it’s okay to give yourself a break. These are tough times and our mental well-being is being tested every day. Take breaks, let yourself know it’s okay.

So, as a key-worker in a Children’s Home how have I coped, what have I done and how have I kept my own mental well-being up?

My answer…I have brought what makes me feel happy into my Children’s Home; I have shared my hobbies and my talents and used it to help build up attachments between myself and the children.

My hobby is war-hammer. This involves painting small plastic models and is great for focusing your mind onto a single task. The intricate details help the children develop their fine motor skills and they are spending time with an adult doing a mutual task. Does it matter that paint gets everywhere? Do the models look amazing and skilfully painted? Are they even keeping to a colour scheme? NOPE! Not even close. But that is not the idea, there are no right or wrong ways to do it. It’s all about being creative and having a shared experience. Yes, the kids ask for me help and I happily offer advice, but the ideas are their own. It’s got the point where I have up to 4 children sitting around me spending up to an hour at a time painting with me. It’s usually an achievement to get one to focus for 5 minutes!

Bringing my hobby into the home has not only given the children a new skill to learn and a shared project to do together, but it’s given the young people a small piece of my personal world and let me do something that I find relaxing and comforting in a strange and frightening time. During the lockdown, I have reflected on the meaning of the 3Ps  of Social Pedagogy. I have found that my personal and private and professional self all slightly blur at the moment. We have to maintain our professional boundaries of course, but with so much happening it’s hard to not worry about your private life at home. I find this can impact my mental wellbeing – these are my personal feelings starting to impact my professional self.

By using the common third with the war hammer painting, not only am I strengthening relationships, but I am bringing in a bit of my personal world; it’s helping me feel relaxed and centred and it has given a piece of me to the kids I’m looking after. It has helped create conversations on how they are feeling; it has calmed some of the sad and angry moments and created a stronger sense of togetherness.

Creativity is such a strong point in our home, it’s how we have survived, how we have managed, how we have bonded. From staff making silly TikTok videos together giving the staff a way to unwind after a shift and share a joke and bit of fun – to staff spending time with children sharing their hobbies by baking or cooking together.

And the proof of this all working is in how the children respond and see us. When a kid asks you to spend time with them doing your favourite hobby, I know in reality what they really want is time with you and this feels amazing. I have seen children go out of their way to give staff members an amazing birthday party because they are working on their birthday – it really shows that the children we look after care for us just as much as we care for them. Through creativity and Social Pedagogy we have bred a sense of care and care for others and in a world full of pain and despair those amazing brilliant moments of light and joy are exactly what we need together!

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