Sentimentality is not one of my default emotions. However, as I reflect on my first year in the job at POhWER I cannot help but celebrate the people who work here. They have shown boldness, resilience, coping skills and selflessness I can only reflect on in admiration.

I officially joined POhWER 1 year ago on 4th May 2020 in the middle of our generation’s worst health and social care crisis – Covid-19 pandemic. When I applied for the job in January and was offered the position the day before the first lockdown in March I could not have imagined what the job would entail. They say you often do not really hear a true reflection of what to expect during the interview process – I think it is safe to say no one could have described what was to come.

This will not be a blog about all of the ground-breaking achievements we delivered this year – I will leave that showcasing and celebration for our annual report and impact reviews. Read on if you wish to understand the last 12 months through my own eyes as POhWER’s CEO during the pandemic.

POhWER is not a comfortable Charity to work in and can be a cornucopia of emotions. One does not work in the advocacy sector to be comfortable, we work here to effect change. Every day we support people who are in crisis – often in vulnerable situations and marginalised by society. We are often a last resort for people who have been mistreated in public services or public institutions who need a lifeline and helping hand to have their voice heard. We do not have a typical beneficiary – we support children as young as 7 and adults as old as 100+. Although many of the people we support live with disability and mental health, our beneficiaries come from a broad spectrum of lived experiences – no two people are alike. The pandemic brought its’ own unique situations and scenarios we had never seen before which tested the outer limits of existing laws, guidance, and best practice.

With no playbook for a pandemic, I have been reflecting on how the people of POhWER adapted this past year. We checked in on each other, we openly talked about poor wellbeing without stigma and we listened and acted when something was not quite right. We talked about and celebrated differences in our lived experiences, we sometimes disagreed respectfully and we often made each other laugh. When one of us was broken we rallied behind them. We were human, we were flawed and we made the best informed decisions we could considering the circumstances. There were happy surprises, innovations, and moments of sheer brilliance. Some days we survived and other days we thrived. Up and down like a roller coaster.

I would like to use a phrase to describe the last year from my own experience and vantage point on our society – ‘mass trauma’. Many of you will be reading this and think I am being dramatic while others will be nodding your heads relating to what I am positioning. I have found this exceptional year of the pandemic so dis-orientating and often confusing.

David Trickey a psychologist at the UK trauma council describes it as: “Trauma can be understood as a rupture in meaning-making, when the way you see yourself, the way you see the world, and the way you see other people are shocked and overturned by an event and a gap arises between your orienting systems and that event – simple stress cascades into trauma, often-mediated through sustained and severe feelings of helplessness.”

As restrictions lift this month across the UK, it is important to remember that this pandemic has not ended yet for many worldwide. For my own colleagues and I we will only now begin to reflect on the last year as we come down from the adrenaline high of supporting those in crisis on the front line of rights and safeguarding for our beneficiaries. The mess and fall-out left by access restrictions and easements in the last year will only start to now be untangled for our beneficiaries, the new challenges of public enquiries still to be held to understand mistakes made and the risks of a two-tier society on the horizon post-pandemic ahead of us.

I will never forget this last year which will be long imprinted on my memory as it will yours. However, I cannot live my day to day hampered by cynicism, worries and anxieties of what has gone. I returned to the office last week met by the smiles of my POhWER colleagues. We bought leafy plants to make the space homely, we de-cluttered and tidied, we shared vaccination stories and re-stocked the biscuit tins. It was joyful and gave me hope for the future. We move forward again at POhWER in this new era of the unknown committed to continue to fight for a better society, create better conditions & choices to uphold rights of the people we serve. The little joys here and there will give me courage for what is yet to come.