I HAVE worked with Citizens Information Services as an Information Officer for just over a decade now, I really love it and the work is hard but extremely rewarding.
I meet people from all different backgrounds who are facing problems varying from Social Welfare, Tax, and Immigration to Employment rights issues.
Your query can relate to anything. If we cannot help, we will know where to send you to get the support and advice that you need. We provide a free, independent, non-judgemental and confidential service and that is something that I am really proud of.
In the centre I currently work with two other Information Officers, a Development Manager and an administrator. In a pre-covid world I also worked alongside 48 Volunteer Information Providers, supporting them with their work. Some of the Volunteer Information Providers are retired, some are not, all generously give up their time. I think it is that variety of skill, personality and perspective that makes our office a great place for both the employees and the customers.
Since Covid-19 restrictions came into force and more specifically the Level 5 restrictions we have had to change the way we provide our service.
Previously we provided a drop-in service to the public as well as providing our information, advice and advocacy services over the phone and by email.
Unfortunately with Covid-19 restrictions we have had to suspend our drop in service and increase our offering over the phone and by email. Each Information Officer works in their own office, some Information Officers work remotely because of family or caring issues and while we are still providing a vital service it would be very easy to feel isolated.
As we work behind closed doors we are still as busy as ever but now the office is very quiet. Though our drop-in service is currently suspended, where a customer has an emergency that can only be dealt with in person we have a protocol for setting up face-to face appointments. These can be very challenging because of the PPE we have to wear, the complexity of the problem, the actions necessary to tackle the problem and the limited time we can spend in a consultation room with our customer.
Outside of work everything has totally changed. We are all living under Level 5 restrictions, not able to meet family or friends.
It is easy to become bored and cranky with nothing to look forward to which makes it even more important to consciously make time and effort to look after your mental and physical health.
This is one of the reasons I enjoy going for a long walk or run after work to clear my head.
I am lucky that my employer takes workplace wellness seriously too. South Munster Citizens Information Board recently rolled out a Wellness Policy and Program for all of its employees. The Wellness Program was driven by staff.
I volunteered to be part of the process and I became a ‘Wellness Champion’, putting ideas forward for the Wellness Program in relation to how we can help our employees who are working harder than ever but in a very different work environment to increase resilience and not feel so isolated.
We launched our Wellness Program in January. All the Wellness Champions agree that different employees would have different interests and needs and we tried to incorporate that into the program. Now that our program has been finalized employees have access to counselling supports, access to healthy recipe ideas, a virtual couch to 5K program and online mental and physical health classes.
As a very amateur runner myself I was thrilled when local Olympian Sonia O’Sullivan agreed to join us via zoom from Australia for our wellness launch and answer some of our questions. Sonia’s father volunteers in our Cobh Centre so she is very aware and supportive of the work the Citizens Information Service carries out in the community. Sonia gave us lots of tips on healthy eating, how to get really for our Couch to 5K event and how to stay injury free!
I think everyone is tired of communicating by phone, email and especially Zoom conferences and that we all long to return to ‘normal life’ where we can interact with each other again.
So for now, my colleagues and I in the Citizens Information Services are going to focus on the things we can control such as getting out for some fresh air, trying a new recipe and even learning how to do some desk stretches while working from home or in the office.
When this is all over, life will return to normal, we will open our doors in the Citizens Information Services as a drop-in service again, the office will be busy, there will be noise, there will be eye contact, laughter and shaking of hands. Inspired by Sonia O’Sullivan, I’m going to look after my mental and physical health because it seems this pandemic is a marathon rather than a sprint.
ABOUT SOUTH MUNSTER CITIZENS INFORMATION SERVICE
The South Munster Citizens Information Service is a regional service providing free, impartial and confidential information, advice and advocacy services to the public on their rights and entitlements through its 18 Citizens Information Centers located throughout Cork and Kerry. See www.citizensinformation.ie