Case Study
Case Study

Supporting staff wellbeing at the Helen Bamber Foundation

Written by Kerry Smith, CEO at Helen Bamber Foundation and Asylum Aid

March 15, 2023
5 min read
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Please give an overview of what your organisation does

The Helen Bamber Foundation provides survivors of trafficking and torture the support they need to create a safe and secure future.  This is done through evidence based therapy, housing and welfare advice, legal protection advice, medical advice, community and integration activity and specialist counter-trafficking support.

Asylum Aid works to provide protection from persecution to vulnerable people with complex legal cases through high quality legal representation.

And together we also develop best practice learning to share and undertake policy work to influence protection systems in the UK and internationally.

What size is your organisation?

The Helen Bamber Foundation has approximately 40 full time equivalent members of the staff team and a turn over of £2.3 million. We also are in a group with Asylum Aid which has 11 full time equivalent members and a turn over of £700K.

What have you done to support your team wellbeing?

At Helen Bamber we recognise that those individuals who work in the refugee / human rights abuse sector and in particular those who work directly with survivors hold a lot of risk.  And that the combination of holding a lot of risk alongside the reduction/absence of statutory services that previously helped means that overwork and overwhelm are frequent results.  

To reduce the risk and help to create boundaries around this very challenging work as a team as well as supporting individuals to do the same we try to prioritise the following:

1. Improve people being able to rest/take a break by:

  • Ensuring that our team takes meaningful breaks e.g. encouraging 2 weeks holiday each year and shutting the office for 2 weeks over the winter festive period so that everyone is off at the same time (we provide half of this through discretionary leave).
  • Closing the office to client appointments for 3 weeks over the course of the year to allow for individuals and teams to catch up and look at learning
  • Scheduling regular social activities - 4 full team socials per year where client appointments do not occur - as well as our department team days too

2. Development as team (to give confidence) and pride in expertise:

  • Supporting our team (as experts) to undertake policy influencing and best practice creation so they can take time from the front line and provide the time to reflect on activity
  • Taking forward monthly internal training so that there is understanding but also learning shared across teams
  • Working on key areas together, such as our anti-racism plan and services review (also done with clients)

3. Modelling from the top:

  • Our work is a team effort and we model that from the top whether it is filling the dishwasher, getting the shopping for client groups or stepping in to sit in on appointments.  We want to make sure that our team know they do not hold risk alone.
  • All front line staff have monthly individual supervision (including senior managers) and non front line have group supervision (which senior managers can join)
  • We have a weekly celebration of the small and big success both personal and professional our team have had to 
  • We also leave space in our away days, and meetings to air the challenges and feelings we have as a team to the external environment and the feeling of helplessness this can bring about.
  • Senior managers share their own concerns and struggles to provide a healthy environment for all the team to do the same.
  • We have a senior duty manager rota for office presence everyday demonstrating that ownership of risk is organisational not individual
  • We also lock the office door at 6pm and we all (the vast majority of the time) do not send emails out of hours post 7pm or on weekends or before 6am
  • As senior managers we also put time in across the sector to support others.  I coordinate a women’s leadership group within the sector which improves my learning and abilities to lead but also models how we need to share and support others.

Why did you put this in place?

Our work in supporting clients is only as good as the actions of each individual in our team.  If our team members are working to their limits week in week out there is no respite and no time for learning and sharing.  This means we would fail, eventually, to provide the highest quality care and certainly fail to share best practice and evidence that changes the systems Survivors find themselves in.

How has this helped your organisation?

We have confidence and trust in each other as a whole team meaning that the survivors we work with also develop that trust and confidence - essential to supporting a safe and secure future.  Where there are challenges team members can pass on actions and activities to others - sharing responsibility.

We are able to take forward best practice and policy increasing our impact and reach while also improving pride by our team in what we are doing.

We have an open and honest exchange amongst our team and this includes as much as possible with our clients (acknowledging the power imbalance), enabling us to evolve and improve our services and organisational health as part of a consistent and sustainable process.

Were there any barriers? If so, how did you overcome them?

Putting in boundaries in particular around working hours and access to the office can create increased anxiety when team members have a huge amount to do.  It can also leave some team members feeling unsupported.  We overcame this by holding ongoing conversations about workload, challenges, what we want to achieve as a team for our clients and for each other and making sure ideas where viable are acted upon.

The cost (financial and client number wise) of closing the office for two weeks over the winter period, creating non client appointment weeks and socials were a concern for the Board.  These were accompanied with increased monitoring and reporting to demonstrate the positive impact for clients (e.g. numbers of interventions and appointments not falling) and staff cost overall not increasing significantly

What would you like to do/see in the future?

I would like to provide short paid policy/training sabbaticals in other sector organisations for members of frontline teams to enable them to have respite but also understand how critical their expertise and evidence is, as well as providing development opportunities. 

I think improved shared communication of the fantastic work individuals are doing day in day out would also help team members reflect on all they are actually doing rather than focussing on what they haven’t managed to do.