The familiar saying ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ was taken to a whole new level at Uniting during our COVID-challenged FY21, and resulted in the running of an art competition across all of our aged care services.
The ‘Art while we’re apart’ project was conceived to deliver hope and build on the theme of staying connected. By collectively creating art, we can develop a group consciousness and generate the feeling that we are all in this together – we are not alone in our loneliness.”
Our competition proved an important way to help create connectedness and purpose, while creating works of art. As an added incentive to put paintbrush to paper, or wool to knitting needle, prizes were offered from many generous sponsors.
Artworks from groups and individuals were submitted throughout June and July, and by competition’s close, nearly 500 artworks were entered by almost 250 Uniting residents and clients across 6 categories:
Painting and drawing
Craft and textiles
Written and spoken word
Photography and video
We have some talented people among us. They all have their own stories, and this is another way we can celebrate their diversity and individuality.”
Sonia Lechner, Area Manager Sydney Metro North, Property & Housing
In October 2020, an exhibition showcasing the impressive array of art was staged as a physical gallery at Arjo Australia for limited COVID-safe viewing, and an online gallery for virtual viewing.
Visit the online gallery to view the many artworks, including painted canvases, woodwork, knitting, and even a ship made from found objects.
Flooded with outreach support
In April 2021, Uniting Local Area Coordination (LAC) deployed 2 mobile outreach vans to deliver the NDIS to flood-impacted communities in the Nepean Blue Mountains and Hunter New England service regions.
Working alongside Service NSW, our vans provided access to information and connection to supports following once-in-a-century flood rains. At the time, Uniting LAC team member Steve Davis noted, “It’s important to get on the ground. There are people who can’t get into town … people who don’t like to ask for help.”
Being out and about in the outreach van offered an important opportunity to really see what was happening in severely affected regions, and to really help in the sorts of ways that just aren’t possible when you’re sitting in an office.
Steve added, “We’ve met some amazing people, and listened to some remarkable stories, and some heartbreaking ones as well.”
Devastated businesses, whole communities under threat of evacuation, a soon-to-be-married couple losing all their worldly goods, SES volunteers rescuing families from flooded properties, neighbours rounding up a farmer’s stranded stock, men and women bagging sand through the night – our thoughts are with you all.”
Doug Taylor, at the time, Director of Mission, Communities and Social Impact
New capabilities for family mediation
Uniting’s Family Dispute Resolution service can be a less stressful and more affordable alternative than the Family Court process. Our team of specialists rely on a range of tools and technologies for successful mediation, and while COVID-19 impacted delivery of our services, new ways to connect and communicate were discovered.
Family Mediation Services Practice Specialist, Elke Pitkethley, explained the challenge: “In family mediation, we communicate over the phone and in face-to-face meetings. With COVID-19 restrictions, we quickly realised our way of working needed to adapt. Uniting’s phone system is limited to a 3-way participant call. Where we have 2 parents and their mediator, there’s no scope for translators, lawyers, support people, or even 2 mediators working together. When you consider that over 56% of clients at some of our centres come from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, we knew we needed to find effective solutions quickly.”
Experimenting at home
“I started checking out online meeting tools like Zoom, and trialled different options with my teenagers. I would set up test ‘meetings’ with them to see what worked and what didn’t. They were very patient with me! I then shared my ideas with our team, and had full support from Sue Shilbury, Director Children, Youth and Families.”
Create, adapt and scale
“But it was our IT and Change colleagues who helped us develop solutions using Microsoft Teams and SharePoint that completely met our needs. They were so good at quickly adapting and checking to make sure we had the right technical set-up capabilities.”
Everyone needed to get outside their comfort zone, and practise and learn new things. The process has created a true partnership, where everyone is working together to quickly create, adapt and scale the online service for us, which we hope will continue post COVID-19.”
Elke could immediately see confidence in the new approach growing, as families and mediators experienced the many benefits. “Instead of having to worry about social distancing, public transport, parking or taking time off from work/family commitments, parents can connect to our sessions via Teams from their own home, saving time, money and stress.”
“The pandemic’s limitations and restrictions have forced us be bold, to experiment. Without COVID-19, I don’t think we would have prioritised, developed or even valued the importance of these new online mediation options, ones that we can now continue to test and grow, with support from the IT and Research and Social Policy teams.
“Family breakdown is so difficult for everyone involved. With the support of our leaders and team members, I know we’ve made a real difference to the lives of the families we’re working with.”