Alex Rankin, Aspire's Director of Services, gives an update on Aspire's Services

The Charity Sector has been hard-hit these last couple of years. Aspire has not been immune to the effects; as the pandemic took hold, and the reality of its impact on our ability to deliver services and raise the money we need to operate became apparent, things looked quite bleak. By necessity, the first Covid year was about consolidating what we were already doing, adapting to new ways of providing the vital support we are known for and focusing on getting through the lean times.

But we haven’t sat still and two years on from that first lockdown, Aspire has done far more than just survive.

Independent Living

Our Independent Living Team have had to adapt more than most – with hospitals closed to our Advisors for much of the time, they’ve been supporting patients from afar, making use of virtual sessions and phone catch ups. As restrictions have eased, we’ve been getting back into the Centres to meet with patients face to face again, but we’ve kept our virtual sessions too, giving us more flexibility to support patients who are having to isolate. In the coming year, we’ll be adding a new role to the team to allow us to engage with people whilst they are waiting to get into the Centres, giving them the reassurance that they’ll be supported at every stage and ensuring a seamless transition of support as they start their rehabilitation.

Assistive Technology

As the first year of the pandemic was ending, generous funding from the Moondance Foundation enabled us to recruit an Assistive Technologist for Cardiff. We’ve all become more reliant on technology in this age of Zoom quizzes and video catch ups with family, and that reliance was even more profound for patients in hospitals with virtually no opportunity to have visitors. For those with higher level injuries, and therefore limited ability to use computers, phones and tablets, Aspire’s Assistive Technology programme is a gateway back to being independent and connecting with the outside world. We were delighted to be able to operate the service in Cardiff, supporting patients in Rookwood and then growing and developing the service as the Spinal Centre moved to its new home at Llandough.

Welfare Benefits

The pandemic brought with it an increased demand on our Welfare Benefits Service. With the help of a loan from the Monday Charitable Trust, last summer we were able to add a new Benefits Advisor to our team to enable the service to meet the need. In this last financial year, the team have supported 321 clients, helping them claim over £700,000 worth of benefits that they were entitled to but were previously missing out on. That huge return represents a 63% increase in the value of the benefits we’ve helped people claim and a staggering 123% increase in number of people helped compared to the last year before the pandemic began.

Housing Advice

In January, we restarted our Housing Advice service, with two full time Advisors joining our team to help the many people who are living in inappropriate accommodation. There’s always been a need for this support, but the situation has only deteriorated during the pandemic as more patients than ever have been discharged into care homes or unadapted properties.

Patient Education

We’ve also just been able to start an ambitious three-year expansion of our Patient Education work. Not only will we be able to have a member of the team in every Spinal Injury Centre helping the NHS staff but we will also be able to engage with patients before and after their discharge to identify gaps in their knowledge or ability to manage their condition, feeding this back across the country to improve the Patient Education programmes and plugging those gaps before they appear.

Given the situation we faced during that first lock down, it feels fantastic to know that we are growing our services and to be working on a long-term strategy that will see Aspire supporting more people than ever before.

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