Helpline Adviser, Caitlin Reilly is often the first person that New Scots speak to when they call us for support and advice. We caught up with her to find out more about the challenges of providing such a vital service during the global pandemic.

Tell us a bit about your job

For the past three and a half years, I’ve worked as a Helpline Adviser. Before the pandemic it was a great way for people who couldn’t make it to the office to get in touch, however since last March, it’s been the main route for people to access our service.

Myself and Rachael Bell, who joined the Helpline in September last year, take calls from clients, members of the public and agencies who are looking for support, information or advice. We’re able to make referrals, signpost and advocate for our callers, and can provide support for people at all stages of the asylum process.

Since we have been working from home, it’s been especially difficult to keep up with what’s going on in a rapidly changing environment, but with the support of our colleagues, we’ve managed to make it work.

What’s the best thing about working for Scottish Refugee Council?

The people we work with and the people we work for! I feel very lucky to have colleagues who share my ideals. Everyone is working towards the same goals.

The best thing about my job in particular is being able to speak to people from different parts of the world and different cultures. It’s great when you have a lovely conversation with someone, you might learn something interesting about them or have a good laugh. It’s also great to know that you’ve managed to make a positive impact on people, or when people you’ve worked with call you with good news.

I miss being able to celebrate the positive outcomes with people face to face.

How has Covid-19 affected your role?

We’ve had to change everything about the way that we work. People used to come into the office in person for general enquiries. But since the first lockdown, the Helpline has taken over from the duty service desk. Now, everything is done over the phone.

When everything locked down and the office closed, there was suddenly a huge jump in the number of calls we were getting. It was the only way for people to contact us. Some of the services that people would normally rely on were shut, and that made us even busier. Those first few months were really tough.

Before Covid, it was just me on the Helpline. Now we have two dedicated Helpline Advisers and two people from the wider services team taking calls each day. Having greater capacity makes such a difference.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Adapting to working alone, without the physical support of colleagues has been really hard. There’s no one sitting next to you that you can ask if you’re not sure of the answer, or to turn to for support when you’ve had a difficult phone call.

When we’re all in the office, you can see when someone is having a bad day and you can take them off for a coffee and a chat. Knowing how hard it’s been for people who use our services is also really tough. We’ve not always been able to give them the answers or offer support.

When you’re working from home it’s harder to switch off. I’ve been working from my bedroom, so if I have a bad week at work, I then have to sleep in that same space. It’s harder to separate work from the rest of your life.

Any positives?

It’s been difficult, but we’ve kept our services running this whole time and I feel proud of that. The Helpline has been there for people to turn to when they need to speak to someone and I hope we’ve been of some comfort.

What has helped you through lockdown?

Cooking. I’ve been trying to recreate takeaways at the weekend. I came up with quite a good curry and I relearned how to make sushi. That was a hard one, but really rewarding. Something to look forward to at the weekends.

Heather who works in our Family Keywork service always cheers everyone up by sending music on Fridays. It helps you wind down from the week and gives you a good Friday feeling.

My partner’s mum also takes the most amazing photos of sunset’s (pictured above) and they’ve brought me a lot of happiness over the past year.

Find out more about our Helpline




Rachel Lamb
Author: Rachel Lamb