We held our last full contact session on 14th March 2020 before a 17-week closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During the closure we kept in touch with the volunteer team and the families we were working with up to the point of closure. We continued to accept referrals and enquiries, explaining the current situation and opened a waiting list. We are based in a large house owned by Trinity Methodist Church. The building is used by various groups during the week that also had to close. We had continued conversations with the church managers, and after a consultation with The Methodist Health and Safety Officer and naccc, and in line with the government guidelines of the time, we prepared Covid-19 procedures for families and the volunteers.

We reopened for contact on 17th July 2020 and have remained open since then. We have three families attending each Saturday morning with only one family in at a time for a one-hour contact with a twenty-minute cleaning gap in between. We took the decision to only offer families a one-hour contact every fortnight to each family, irrelevant of what was being requested in the referral. This meant we could operate to full capacity within the restrictions of Covid and support the maximum number of families possible. This was only half our normal capacity but was the best option we could do for our families.  We reduced the Saturday morning volunteer team to three in attendance from the usual four. We held individual conversations with all the volunteers prior to reopening, and only those who felt comfortable in coming back, returned. In fact, most of the team were very keen to return and only three who were shielding did not return. We continue to chat with the team to ensure they feel safe and supported. During this time, we have also recruited four new young volunteers to the team.

We send all parents our Covid procedure before they attend Preliminary Interview and First Contact and we have found that families are happy to work with this and have fully cooperated. So far, this has worked well. We operate a one-way system in the building. We closed off one of our two family rooms and only use the minimum furniture required. We do not put out toys, games, books and craft stuff. We ask resident parents to supply anything required by the child. In some cases, we keep a marked bag of items supplied by the parents, in our upstairs office to be used at each contact. We do supply any requested items from the centre and these are cleaned before and after use. We have a kitchen area with restricted use. We have a separate interview/parent waiting room and a large garden. These have all helped to maintain social distancing measures and our agreed procedures. Whatever the weather, windows are kept open for ventilation. We continue to monitor the government guidelines and attend the naccc coffee shop meetings to review with naccc and share experiences with other centres.

It has taken hard work and patience to reopen but it has been worth it for all the children we have been able to support in seeing their other parent. It has also been good for the self-esteem of the volunteers who have appreciated being kept involved and informed. Sadly, we have seen two centres in Cheshire close during the Covid crisis so it is so important that we support each other in moving forward. We are happy to share our experience and discuss with any centres who are looking to reopen.

Brian, Co-ordinator Westwood House Child Contact Centre, Congleton

Brian has kindly shared their covid procedures for any member finding this helpful. See link

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