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  • SteffHowells


Updated: Mar 30, 2021

On 10 March 2020, Fiona Reid hit send on her first Coronavirus Action Plan to the board – almost a fortnight ahead of Boris Johnson’s announcement of a UK-wide 'Stay at Home' order. Horizon-scanning and risk assessment meant that Fiona, CEO of Disability Sport Wales, had Covid-19 firmly on her radar.

As an organisation that has a duty of care for disabled people, Fiona’s top concern was for safety and wellbeing of those in the care of the organisation:

“Our transition into lockdown was done in advance. The make-up of our team and our participants is such that people are probably more aware of their health so Covid was very much in our sights as a risk. One of our team members started shielding at the beginning of February because of the risk to their individual health so we were already making changes to their working practices.”

Working from home

One week before the UK lockdown, Disability Sport Wales shut its offices and made the switch to home-working:

“We didn’t think it would be for more than three months but here we are 12 months later! I produced a guide to working at home and I included at that point inclusive stretches and movements to break the inactivity sitting in front of a laptop brings. We carried out risk assessments for the spaces in which the team were working and ensured everyone had everything they needed to work safely at home. We now repeat that every six months.”

Having this heads-up meant that the team at Disability Sport Wales had time to plan and to have conversations in a “less reactive way”:

“Fortunately, we had always used video-conferencing; we were used to virtual meetings as we have officers spread right across Wales. But in the first meeting with the team, I shared what we were going to be doing, I explained we would need to do things differently but jobs were safe and that we were still a team.

“As a team, we tend to look for the silver linings and opportunities and we said from the start that we would all learn a lot.”

Leadership through crisis

Fiona was eager to learn about leading in a crisis and Deloitte’s three-step plan - Respond, Recover and Thrive – resonated. She prepared daily updates to the board as to how DSW were mitigating risk.

That first Coronavirus Action Plan on 10 March – in which she suggested a scenario that schools may close - has since been updated countless times:

“I was looking at how we could contain, delay, respond and recover. Every day, I would look at where we were across the categories of premises and equipment, DSW people, partners and business.

“Last March, in our scenario planning, we had to include situations which, put in black and white, felt rather uncomfortable. If they became reality, then the

consequences for so many would be heart-breaking. However, one leadership consideration is to anticipate worst case scenarios so that you can plan for them.

“We were very driven by Welsh Government and Public Health Wales communication for guidance. We used this to consider a broad range of risks and mitigations and we continue to do so.”

A Joe Wicks alternative

A significant consequence of Covid was that the thousands of (disabled) people who take part in sport and physical activity across Wales would now be unable to participate in the ways they were used to. Joe Wicks bounced into our lives with burpees, squats and sit-ups yet they were not inclusive workouts:

“Joe Wicks was the starting point for us and, for many, he has been fantastic. But we knew that his sessions might not resonate with everyone in Wales; parents, personal assistants and/or participants might not have the know-how to adapt the sessions to something more inclusive. We started doing online workouts with our athletes and built the resources so that it was more possible for activity to continue.

Team wellbeing

“There was so much we needed to do. Everybody was working at 100 miles an hour. But that of course comes with a wellbeing risk too. The team was spending hours in front of a computer, going from meeting to meeting, with none of the natural breaks you would get in an office, and no ‘head-up’ talk to colleagues. Some people were on their own for most of the day. I explained to the team that I was struggling sometimes too. We have assumptions when you are in leadership role that you need to be the strong, unshakeable one but the honesty in vulnerability was important; to say that it was impacting on us all and that it was ok.”

Support for the sector

She drew support from the WSA and its trading arm, Vibrant Nation:

“The support from WSA and Vibrant Nation has been incredibly flexible, supportive and organisation-focussed. The WSA has supported the CEO Forum, with great leadership from Beverley Lewis from Welsh Triathlon as Chair, and has been a brilliant wellbeing check-in for all of us.

“We have been able to make progress during this time in the governance development for wheelchair basketball thanks to the support of our Vibrant Nation Governance Account Manager and the help we have had through the business continuity sessions has been enormous. It has been really reassuring.

And looking to the future? “If we can survive this, we can survive anything,” laughs Fiona. “I’ve definitely made mistakes but I have learned significant lessons from them. We all continue to learn and we have found opportunities that have a positive impact despite this being a time where disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the impact of the virus.”

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