26 weeks – short notes

Ed Prichard in conversation with
Peter Hotston

Peter is a senior programme manager, working with DEFRA as a Strategic Portfolio Delivery Advisor for the last couple of years. We met at school in the late 70s and spent many years making an unholy racket together in various bands. Today, he continues to write and perform solo or with his band.

Note 1: March-May

Peter contracted Covid-19 in March (possibly at an Elvis Costello gig or at the office). His elderly neighbours looked out for him while he was ill, and he does the same for them now. He has a daily lockdown routine; exercise followed by long hours working at ‘mission control’ – two screens and a standing desk.

He’s missing ‘time anchors’ and he feels what he calls “a lack” in lockdown – of friends, old routines, travel. Freedom is much on his mind as he was about to embark on a two-month adventure sailing around Britain. He’s enjoyed the gang of goldfinches that have taken over his garden, they lift his spirits.

He misses sailing with his teenage daughter but the time they spend together is precious – cuddled up on the sofa watching a film together is “great for her, fantastic for me”. Her close friends have become closer – as one said: “We’re not friends, we’re family now.” She’s taking things in her stride, but he’s worried about the mark all this might leave.

As always, he’s optimistic but clear-sighted: “It would be lovely if things change,” he says. “But the system has to change to support the people who will fall by the wayside.”

Lisa Andrews in conversation with
Nicola Wingfield

Nicola Wingfield is a self-employed reflexologist and Thai massage therapist and a mum of two. Lisa Andrews is a freelance writer and editor. Nicola is also my much braver sister.

Note 1: March-May

The two weeks before lockdown were stressful – I’d talked to clients about it, but no one was cancelling. Seeing the news from Italy and Spain made it feel much closer to home and I didn’t know what to do for the best. It was a relief to have clear guidance.

There was a strong sense of helplessness initially – I do what I do to help people; there were all these doctors and nurses doing that and I couldn’t. In the end, I decided to concentrate on home, just being.

I’m not a natural teacher, but I’ve realised it’s better that we have that structure to the day. The kids are happy, which is what matters. Since they were born I’ve worried about money. But the worst happened and we’re okay. I feel like I can drop that. I like the simpler pace and would like to be more structured with my hours when I go back, take more time for myself.

Hester Thomas in conversation with

Toria is the daughter of Hester’s close friend, Daphne. She is a speech and language therapist working in a London-based NHS trust. Toria lives near Milton Keynes with her husband Adam and six-year-old son Will.

Note 1: March-May

It was fascinating to see the NHS anticipate and prepare for Covid 19. You could see a tidal wave coming. I was keen to be on the wards again and thought I’d be redeployed. But I wasn’t and I’m grateful now to be working from home.

It’s a positive change being here as a family 24/7. Will’s enjoying being with us and having our attention. We live harmoniously.

We’re mindful that, for us, it’s a time to treasure. We go for more walks and bike rides. Will gives names to places: Dollop Hill for a steep incline, Split Tree for a particular tree.

At work we’re geographically further apart yet more connected. Change has been fast and communications exceptionally good.

Looking ahead there’s so much uncertainty about the next steps. From being at ease about things, I’m now more concerned. It will be interesting to see how the tide turns.

Alastair Creamer in conversation with
Roz Savage

Roz has rowed across three oceans, single-handed.  In 2018 I asked her to make a short film about being bold, since when we’ve become firm friends.  We’re also colleagues, coaching alongside each other.  Roz’s inner resourcefulness is immense and her response to the crisis is an inspiration to me.

Note 1: March-May

“I know there is a gift in this”

Two forces collide to create something new – work disappearing, and realising you know about something others need.  The result?  A book.

For many of us, isolation is a new experience in our remote locations.  Not for Roz who has spent months alone on the ocean.  Once she decided what to do, her diary read like this:

Friday 20 March          Had an idea to write a book in three weeks about isolation

Monday 23                  Started writing

Friday 10 April             Finished writing, editing begins

Thursday 16                Published as an Amazon ebook: The Gifts of Solitude

She calls this a ‘greatest hits’ collection from her rowing days.  It’s music to my ears.  She talks about learning from the big, tough, experiences life throws at you.  I know this to be true.  For a life lesson, give me something that goes wrong any day.

Jill Hopper in conversation with
Ziri Younsi

Dr Ziri Younsi is an astrophysicist at UCL, and part of the team that captured the first-ever image of a black hole. We met when I interviewed him for the 26 Leaps project at the 2019 Bloomsbury Festival. We’ve become friends, and enjoy talking about life, the universe and everything.

Note 1: March-May

Ziri first heard about the virus last November, from colleagues in Asia. Exponential laws are familiar to physicists; he knew it would spread fast. After a work trip to Singapore in January he fell ill and thinks it was COVID. His mum, a nurse, tested positive; she recovered after having oxygen.

Ziri misses a varied routine: the gym, seeing people. But likes free time; no foreign travel; the environmental benefits. He’s become more independent, doing DIY and getting rid of squirrels in attic. There’s the opportunity for existential reflection about career and purpose. He’s more resilient mentally; you can’t run away from things.

Initially he was getting up early, and very productive. But then monotony hit. He’s surprised how small things give structure in meaningful ways. Lockdown is like having fewer coat hooks in your cupboard – the space is there, but you can do less with it.

Lauren McMenemy in conversation with
Helen Deverell

Helen is pregnant with her first child. She previously had breast cancer, and conceived only after coming off her medication and undergoing IVF. All the elements were seemingly against her even before the pandemic came along, but Helen is the most courageous woman I know, and she pushes onwards. We speak by the ubiquitous Zoom, her in Berkshire and me not too far away in south London.

Note 1: March -May

“Being pregnant, following cancer, and finding out your son has a heart condition, is all scary enough. But put a pandemic on top? Every time you worry about one thing, it’s linked to another. Will he survive the surgery? Will there be a surgeon well enough to operate?”

“I’d never really thought about how seeing facial expressions enables us to interpret the clinicians’ tone of voice. In hospital waiting rooms you stand on an X, all the chairs are removed – it’s a bit like the beginning of an apocalyptic movie. Day to day life isn’t that different, but when I go to the hospital, the reality of what’s going on in the world hits you in the face.”

“There are days I feel angry and incredibly tired. It all got to me around the time I started to hear they might not allow partners at births. It’s one thing Craig not being at the birth, but if our son didn’t make it through surgery then Craig would never have met him…”

Sandy Wilkie in conversation with

Our main character Tess is a 9 year-old girl who moved 56 miles with her mum to Appin, Argyll, a couple of weeks before UK Lockdown. She came from a town where she had an established network of friends and evening/weekend activities. Appin is a beautiful coastal area but it is comparatively remote & rural. I’m her mum’s new partner, so I have been helping Tess settle into her new home and helping her with learning.

Note 1: March-May

“I’m Tess and I enjoy horses, country dancing, riding my bike and playing outside.”

“I don’t feel comfortable with lockdown, I wish I could be with my friends. I miss horse-riding.”

“I like lockdown cos I can see more of mum and I do less school. We have done nice things at home, that feels good.”

“I’ve used my mum’s phone and WhatsApp to speak to my friends & family. But I really want to go horse-riding with my friend Eva.”

“I’m doing okay with lockdown, but I’ll feel quite happy when it ends. I used to go to a lot of after-school clubs before lockdown, but now I’m not so sure I want to do that.”

Rowena Roberts in conversation with
Jeevan Noel

Jeevan is Rowena’s cousin on her mother’s side, and the youngest of their generation at the age of 27. He lives in Bellingham, Washington DC, USA, and started working as a nursing assistant in a hospice just as Covid-19 appeared on the scene.

Note 1: March-May

I’m doing okay… pretty good, actually. I go running every day with a friend – keeping socially distant – and, since the gyms closed, I swim in the ocean. That’s something that I’m going to keep afterwards, ocean swimming. It’s so cold! But beautiful.

I was well prepared for this. Not that I saw it coming; in fact (laughs), one of my tutors was talking about this new virus that was spreading in China, and I was getting impatient in class, wondering why on earth she was wasting our time talking about something on the other side of the world! But… all the years of struggle with mental health have given me coping strategies. Running, swimming, meditation. My spiritual journey.

Now? My commitment to working in health care is even stronger. I’m glad to be doing this work. I hope this will help me get into grad school. I want to serve.

Jane Berney in conversation with

Jane’s cousin James lives 98 kilometres from Wellington, where Jacinda is steering New Zealand out of CoVid’s way. A train manager, his work is deemed ‘essential’ during lockdown. At the beginning of this year he bought his first house, and is as proud as a first-time father.

Note 1: March-May

When he heard that lockdown was on the cards, James’ first response was ‘elation’.

“This is going to be pretty sweet. No one else in the house. It’s just me. Someone who has been alone a long time. The thought of not going to work for 4 weeks didn’t frighten me. I don’t invite people over because I need their company.”

“Then it dawned on me that I was ill prepared. That I wanted ‘old fashioned stuff’, not Netflix.”

He’d heard about the Guinness Book of Records – the world’s longest game of chess was 52 years, the opening move sent on a postcard on Christmas Day between Australia and England. “That’s a year between moves. I was inspired by this record.”

As lockdown loomed, James found all the games in town had sold out.  

Things shifted when the first case of CoVid in a nearby town was announced.

“That morning the world changed. Patient X could have been on my train. People look at you; ‘Have you got it? Is it you?’”

Stephen Potts in conversation with

This is written in the person of Siobhan*, a senior nurse, formerly working in a busy Intensive Care Unit, and in recent years working in a specialist role as a Transplant Co-ordinator, where I am one of her colleagues. When coronavirus struck, the transplant service was suspended and many of those working within it redeployed.  Having kept up her ITU skills through agency shifts, she promptly volunteered to return there.

This is based on her account of her first shift in that role.

*not her real name

Note 1: March-May

Like a soldier in the quiet hours before battle, I have rewritten my will, kissed my kids goodbye, and wept alone on a woodland walk, fearful of what I’ll find tonight in intensive care, where I’m redeployed as a volunteer reservist. The men in my military family said they did not feel brave on entering a conflict zone, and right now, neither do I – unless  bravery is defined as feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

If A&E is the front line, staffed by the Poor Bloody Infantry, intensive care is reserved for Special Forces: elite, highly trained, and equipped with all that fancy kit. What’s new is what we have to wear: for we are now knights of nursing, sheathed in plastic, grappling our invisible enemy in close quarter combat, Sweltering in sweaty gowns, and triple-glove clumsy for delicate tasks, we are anonymised by painful masks, and inexpressive behind our visors, showing little of who we are and nothing of how we feel.

But always the nagging doubt: is it protection enough? For were not Flodden and Bosworth Fields littered with dead knights, slaughtered in their thousands, despite their vaunted armour?

Sue Evans in conversation with
Vivien Conacher

Vivien is a classically-trained mezzo soprano and founder of Songhaven. She runs live, professional, dementia-friendly concerts at public venues and in care homes. Recent concerts are now online as free films under the banner Songhaven at Home. People can also request Songhaven Dedications bespoke video performances. Sue Evans is a freelance writer.

Note 1: March-May

‘Public events aren’t going to be happening anytime soon,’ Vivien says. For her, the start of this alternate reality was deciding to perform a concert on 14 March behind closed doors. It was filmed for subsequent online broadcast.

Now, with no live performances, Songhaven at Home allows Vivien and her ensemble to continue to reach their audience, especially people in care homes. Online concerts are 15 minutes shorter than live performances. Vivien explains, ‘A minute in real life and a minute online feel very different.’ She tells of carers taking residents iPads to watch the concerts in their rooms and sing along to the sub-titles.

Vivien doesn’t feel like making music personally right now and is concentrating on Songhaven’s online offerings. She worries about vulnerable people who might otherwise slip through the cracks. Songhaven at Home and Songhaven Dedications let Vivien and fellow artists share joy and stay positive during this uncertain time.

Sana Iqbal in conversation with
Asiya Siddiquee

Asiya Siddiquee is a Chartered Psychologist from Manchester, and now expat living in China. She relocated to Shanghai over 4 years ago, with her husband and children. Coincidentally, this was the first time since moving to China, that Asiya and her family decided to visit the UK during the Chinese New Year holiday. Sana and Asiya are cousins, and Sana believes Asiya’s perspective and experiences in China have been a wise sounding-board during this crisis. Sana is a Creative Consultant.

Note 1: March-May

On the 23rd January, my family and I decided to visit our hometown of Manchester for Chinese New Year as a surprise for family and friends. As we left Shanghai, we heard that Wuhan had been shut down due to a deadly outbreak. We didn’t think much of it, but as time went by we felt we had made a lucky escape… but had we?

As China closed its borders, our two week holiday became an indefinite stay. My instincts were to prepare for the worst, whilst my husband thought I was being overly worrisome. Soon I would use the infamous, marital phrase ‘I told you so’. 

We became physically prepared for lockdown, but not mentally prepared for the sadness and powerlessness at the rising death toll. Nothing has prepared me for the mental pressure of self-isolation, but I’ve kept strong as staying at home will keep my family safe. 

Erica Reid in conversation with
Donald Macaskill

Donald is CEO of Scottish Care, a membership organisation and the representative body for independent care homes. Erica Reid has recently retired as a community nurse leader in the NHS.

Note 1: March-May

A month before lockdown Donald was preparing for significant change. The news coming out of Wuhan indicated a disproportionate impact on older people. There was an urgency to act when others were not. Was he over-reacting?

Families were told that they would not see their loved ones as Care Homes closed their doors in early March. A man of one hundred years wrote to Donald, pleading to be allowed to see his family. He no longer cared about the quantity of his days, and was prepared to die of Covid if he could only see his family.

Donald empathises deeply with care home residents and feels a aching sadness about their current situation.

Donald  looks forward to regaining the informality of gathering over a ‘strupag’, Gaelic for a cuppa, revealing his  West of Scotland roots. He misses the rhythm and predictabilty of an ordinary day, those days before Covid struck.

Elena Bowes in conversation with
Mimi Partridge-Hicks

Below are snippets of a conversation I have had with a dear old friend of mine named Mimi Partridge-Hicks. We’ve known each other since high school, both American expats living in London. Mimi is divorced, has three kids and is comfortably off so she doesn’t have to work. She knows she’s one of the lucky ones. From her viewpoint, she sees a few positives in Covid, one being no more FOMO.

Note 1: March-May

If the lockdown suddenly got lifted, would you feel this sudden pressure to organize things, let’s get tickets, let’s see one another. I’ve had FOMO. I don’t want that again. Will we have evolved?

It’s a bit like being reborn. I have felt a huge relief – I put a lot of pressure on myself to be busy – like I have to go see that exhibit, I have to go see that play. For me, especially probably because I’m single, that pressure to always make plans. It’s nice not making plans.

I read that the V&A is opening and people can physically go see its show on handbags. And I thought, wait, OMG  I don’t want to feel that pressure – to get tickets, to hear my friends ask – have you seen it, were you one of the first people to go, can you talk about it, what do you think it means? I really love not having that pressure, knowing that everyone’s at home. I did a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle this morning, a massive jigsaw. I’m so proud of it.

Melanie Cooper in conversation with
Matthew Cooper

Matthew is my brother but we live in very different worlds. I’m in New Zealand, he’s in the States. Our ideology and political views have diverged over the years and are almost diametrically opposed. He’s suspicious of Covid and the global response. He didn’t protest but he sympathises with the people who did.

Note 1: March-May

We’re talking and messaging more than we have in years. My brother has been following the advice to stay home, which means he’s in a bubble of one and getting bored and a little frustrated with the quarantine orders. It doesn’t help that the advice where he is seems so inconsistent: in Santa Monica they’re meant to stay home but for his friend in nearby Orange County, life is continuing as normal. Getting out for a walk each day was helping so he was gutted when beach walks were ruled out. Coronavirus has exacerbated work difficulties for him too. He’s an entertainment lawyer but limited work opportunities in recent years have seen him take on part-time work at a library. On a group call all the part-timers were informed they were being ‘let go’ with a week’s pay. Now he’s taken on work at a supermarket for money and to get out of the house. He’s worried quarantine rules are chipping away at civil liberties and that the pandemic has been overhyped. 

Nick Carson in conversation with
Raj Sharma

Raj Sharma guided Nick, his girlfriend (now wife) and a small group of others around India in 2016. Raj’s passion, warmth, knowledge and humour made the trip unforgettable – and he went on to establish his own tour company, Horizon Journeys.

Note 1: March-May

A guide in Northern India, Raj’s work dried up when COVID-19 hit. “I’m really worried,” he admits. “I react with a lot of anger sometimes.”

He lives with his wife (“a calmer person than me”), sister and parents in Jaipur. His father is bed-ridden; additional worry.

Raj initially shrugged off news of the virus. But panic began in early March: an Italian couple had tested positive in his city.

“I was surrounded by foreign tourists carrying God knows what,” he recalls. He led his last tour in mid-March, with a mask and hand-sanitiser. A week later, India was in lockdown.

Passionate about travel, culture and meeting new people, Raj now passes time watching movies. He’s not optimistic about work picking up before 2021 – fortunately his wife, a teacher, can continue to work remotely.

“I’m a proud, independent individual, but my ambitions have lessened,” he says. “I’ve realised you only need the basics.”

Faye Sharpe in conversation with
Mark Collins

Mark is my neighbour. He’s a talented brewer of very fine beers. He reduces his stock, 2 pints at a time, by leaving me a gift at what is now dubbed ‘The Flower Pot Pub’.

Note 1: March-May

The situation is shocking, not easy to get my head around.

I work on my own. My company is a radio. I listen to the news. I found it quite concerning right from the start. I can’t tell you why.

8th February – we went skiing. Landing in Turin, our temperature was checked by people in suits and masks. A bit of a wake-up call. At the resort, nothing was different.  But something struck me. I got on a chair lift with an older Swiss gentleman. He said, “Enjoy your last year.”

10th March – my last brew. 15th – my last working day. 19th – the pub group announced they were closing. 

I’m very good, surprisingly, at doing nothing. I’ve spent so much time working. It’s been a struggle. Now the days disappear.

You turn to family and friends. Peoples’ health is the most important thing. There is a bigger picture.

Charlotte MacKenzie in conversation with
John MacKenzie

Charlotte’s father, John, is a retired Doctor who lives in Cyprus. She chose him as a conversation partner not only because she misses him, but because his usually hectic social schedule appears to have resulted in him contracting COVID-19.

Note 1: March-May

“It’s like the Marie Celeste around here: no one about, not a car on the road,” comments my Dad, John, who’s enjoyed some seven years in retirement in Cyprus to date.

We usually have a weekly call to catch up, so after having heard in great detail about his armoury of medicines and tinned foods (he’s a retired Doctor), he himself fell ill with Covid-19, caught off a lady in his bridge club.

My younger brother and I both felt decidedly helpless, listening to someone long-distance who sounds completely flat and exhausted for a good three weeks is pretty distressing, however Dad rallied round on a diet of Marmite on toast and some ‘R and R’ – also very difficult for a man with a permanent job list.  

Hairdressers, small businesses, the dentist and supermarkets are all open, with hotels and restaurants left rotting in the sun. Tourism is still on hold.

Francesca Baker in conversation with
Bob Baker

Bob is 65 and lives in Ashford, Kent with his wife and two daughters, of whom Francesca is the eldest. He has worked on the railway for 46 years, and is a track chargeman – building bridges, laying track, and fixing crossings.

Note 1: March-May

At the beginning I didn’t know who to believe. Then I started reading about there being no cure, and people started dying. This is real.

Things have changed. We bleach everything in sight. My daughters aren’t going out and me and my wife aren’t seeing friends. I can’t see my son and his wife, which is hard. But I’ve always been family focused and quite a homebody, so I’m happy with our company.

I work on the railway, so am still working and outdoors with people. It’s not easy to keep a distance when you’re working in a gang of blokes. We can’t keep two metres apart when putting in a wheel timber or lugging sleepers around. And the masks are hot and difficult.

I’m not panicking. I’ve never been in this situation. It’s not something any of us has dealt with before, is it?

Gillian Colhoun in conversation with
Suzy Guy

Suzy is Gillian’s friend who lives over the hedge. She’s a Respiratory Consultant in Belfast’s Mater Hospital, and mum to five kids. She took part in a TV campaign that changed public attitudes to social distancing in Northern Ireland.

Note 1: March-May

Something was coming. I wasn’t sure what.

Reports from China were unnerving but when Italy happened, it was clear we were in for massive, seismic change.

On 13th March I travelled to England to convince my parents they shouldn’t go to Bologna.

“I’m not sure you should be staying in small hotels with all those other pensioners.”

“Why not? It’s already paid for, and it’s not like we’re elderly.” Both my parents are in their mid-eighties.

I came back to Belfast, not knowing what I’d face. There was no time to dwell, it was all preparations, ward reconfigurations and workmen.

The junior doctors were frightened. I could see it. But then you learn the protocols – how to don and de-don the PPE. Your focus returns to the sick and the worried.

Once you have the routine down, it becomes your normal. It’s not until you try and sleep, that your body insists this isn’t normal at all.

Irene Lofthouse in conversation with
Lynn Harrison

Lynn Harrison is a midwife at Bradford Royal Infirmary with twenty-nine years of experience. Irene Lofthouse is a writer, playwright, actor and social historian. Lynn and Irene have been neighbours for twenty-three years.

Note 1: March-May

The day of lockdown in maternity was chaotic. Instructions for re-organising the wards came thick and fast, exhausting us as we cared for fearful mothers and new babies. We were worried, uncertain of the impact on all our lives. Shifts were long with shortages of staff; tension walked the wards. Masks have made communication so difficult. Facial expressions and smiles are hidden; we have to verbalise to develop trust, to reassure women and their partners. More so for those in the red zone, the Covid wards; it’s very draining working there. So is the constant donning and doffing of PPE.

Security means no visitors. This has given new mums time to recover, to really bond with babies; aggression to staff from visitors has been almost eradicated; staff mental health and safety has improved; routines have become more efficient but – we worry about women and babies going back to over-crowded houses, for those identified as carriers. For ourselves and families.

John Dodds in conversation with
Richard Blaskey

Rick Blaskey is a highly successful music executive and highly unsuccessful football fan. He is a lifelong friend, always in control – until March and Covid 19 arrived on his doorstep. John Dodds is brand strategist at The Sharp End, a jazz radio presenter and a member of 26, Dark Angels and Radio Caroline fan club.

Note 1: March-May

I got it at Brentford with 12,000 people – Wednesday lost 5-0 – or the recording studio with three people.

One week in bed and three weeks in my basement, designed for retirement, not isolation.

I was living inside my head. Only music from my youth. Only dreams about people I had long forgotten, music is medicine for the soul.

It was a long time to dwell. I felt strangely in control, even though I wasn’t.

When I finally walked into the garden, the sun welcomed me back. I ached with an appreciation for the love of my family and home, counting my blessings every day.

And now, my mind is clearer than ever. Amid the uncertainty, entertainment has been our constant everywhere. It will continue to bring joy in ways we have not yet imagined. I am excited about the opportunities.

Aren’t I the lucky one?

Aidan Baker in conversation with

Robin is a Worcestershire businessman with a freelance portfolio including photography, printing, programming, video editing and sales.  The biggest change that lockdown has made to his life has been the decision to excise teaching from it.

Note 1: March-May

“I spoke to my doctor on the phone. He said ‘I told you not to go back into the classroom. I advised you; now I’m telling you.  That’s an instruction.’  I like teaching, I like helping people with learning, I like passing on what I know– but classroom environment and I just do not get on.”

His main ambition is to keep his business going – and he’s weighing up the idea of sharing a house with his business partner.  “We’ve got a lot of equipment here – such as that laser printer behind me – that we need a home for.”  And he’s hoping his musical interests will give him networking opportunities in a local choir.

Lucy Beevor in conversation with
Philomena O’Neill

Phil lives in a care home in south Belfast. Before lockdown, a friend and I visited Phil and her fellow residents once a week and took them out for fresh air, coffee and chat.

Note 1: March-May

Phil has the look of a sparrow about her – inquisitive, her movements small and quiet – until she breaks into song and suddenly she’s six feet tall and centre stage. She hasn’t been allowed out of her care home for seven weeks, nor can she receive visitors.

“I miss visitors most of all: a familiar face, a part of our past.”

“It’s a scourge from God, is what it is. For all the badness in the world, our ‘me-me-me’ society.”

“As a teenager I used to pray to God that “I’d love this, and I’d love that” and when I didn’t get those things I fell out with God. But when I got older I realised it was a blessing, not to have too much. “

“Worry fixes nothing. You have to look on the bright side of life.”

“Maybe it will bring people closer together.”

“’Let’s walk together through the storm into the sunshine.’ I made that wee bit up, about walking into the sunshine.”

Maeve O’Sullivan in conversation with
Ben Rafiqi

Ben Rafiqi is co-founder of homeless outreach charity Let’s Feed Brum and Birmingham’s only permanent night shelter Tabor House. Maeve O’Sullivan is a PR & marketing consultant, 26 member and recent Birmingham transplant. Maeve and Ben met when she began volunteering for Let’s Feed Brum in early 2019.

Note 1: March-May

“Today was glorious,” says Ben. “There are beautiful moments all day long, if you look for them.” Ben walks around Birmingham for several hours every afternoon. The break prepares him for night shifts managing emergency homeless accommodation and co-ordinating food distribution. 

Ben Rafiqi has spent almost ten years befriending and helping rough sleepers, co-founding an outreach charity and night shelter in the process. He has seen the lockdown unplug horrendous systemic bottlenecks, like the reduction of housing wait times from 8 months to 48 hours. This is good news, but Ben is working with people who have been institutionalized by a system that hasn’t given them what they need for too long, people struggling with mental health issues that are not being supported.

Ben can see the potential for long term change but right now, he says, “We have the ability to be human beings, stand alongside others, and demand that they be treated with respect and dignity.”

Martin Clarkson in conversation with
Ian Fox

Martin’s brother-in-law Ian works for Caledonian MacBrayne, operating 33 passenger and vehicle ferries between the mainland of Scotland and the west coast islands. Their main hub is Oban harbour on the north-west coast of Scotland, Ian’s home.

Note 1: March-May

It kicked off as we were en route to the airport. 

The government said we couldn’t go. Can’t even remember where we were going, everything else felt suddenly much more important.

By the time I got back to the harbour, the gateway to the Isles was already closing. Overnight our timetables became simply an emergency lifeline.

There was no traffic to board, no tourists to transport, no time to discuss further.

Harbour masters were retained, but their services severely diminished. Windswept and helmeted, they loyally waited with their ropes, to secure each arrival.

Only islanders may now travel. Ships with a 900 capacity now carry nine, mostly islanders and maybe a visiting dentist.

Freight is a barometer. Whisky distilleries still operate, as the world needs its therapy. They need more barley in Tobermory.

French and Spanish restaurants can’t take the shellfish, so there’s an abundance of scallop and lobster tonight, but only if you’re on Barra or Mull. Looking ahead, quaint waterfront homes on each of the islands need summer tourists to survive the winter. But it’s unlikely they’re coming.

David Baty in conversation with

Ally is a musician, making a living from recording and live performance. Alongside the health emergency, the lockdown created a major challenge to the livelihoods of people in the creative industries. We chart tensions between the health crisis, personal experience of lockdown and the unfolding impact on life and work.

Note 1: March-May

The week before lockdown, Ally looked forward to a summer of festivals, and to recording the first tracks for a new album.

On 24th March, the recording project was put on hold. Everyone assumed though that even if early season live bookings were postponed, later events would still happen. That optimism gradually faded, along with the summer’s income, to be replaced by stay-home routines, concerns for relatives, and a lot of online socials.

A couple of things have provided hope. Three tracks intended for a 2018 album were rediscovered and will shortly be released; and there has been an unexpected amount of time available for a camper van conversion.

The fear now is that ‘nothing can be how it was’. Getting back to work safely could be challenging, with pressure on venues and studios, and it’s hard to imagine how social gatherings and interactions can work with any of the ‘old normal’.

Therese Kieran in conversation with
Gretta Kieran

Gretta Kieran is my mother. She lives in in south Armagh, Ireland, and will be 85 years old on the 27th May. She’s a retired teacher and the most selfless person I know. Gretta’s own mother died aged 50, when she was just 24.

Note 1: March-May

Feeling..? An emptiness, fatigue. Sorry for less fortunate people. At first the social distancing was difficult; not going for a coffee or the shops but we soon learned to stick to the rules. The telephone tires me out. I go at a slower pace. Support local business – it’s important. Meals give the day structure. The human body is frail enough. I’m trying to get up a bit earlier, decide what needs to be done. I keep the worktops clean, use tea tree oil; dust doesn’t annoy me but I can’t stand crumbs. It takes longer to get dressed. The bird table is the best thing we got. There’s a certain freedom too – no make-up and no need to feed anyone who calls. Thank God the early morning palpitations have gone; before, I’d wake up thinking I’m going to die. I take one paracetamol and half a Panadol every night.

Melanie Cochran in conversation with
Anita Anand

Anita Anand is a BBC presenter, journalist and author. Her radio programme Any Answers? invites everyone to have their say. Her books uncover untold stories. Melanie Cochran is a consultant, coach and co-founder of createbalance. We bonded over Gin and a bottomless love for our inseparable sons.

Note 1: March-May

Anita felt early warnings. News cycles in the Far East and China. Surprising levels of fear in the rational scientific community. Something big, different and threatening. Then everyone needed to talk about it. Her programme is a good barometer of national feeling. COVID side swiped all other debates. Six weeks into lockdown, it’s the vocabulary of her 5 and 10 year olds.

Isolation challenges us to face who we are. It can be empowering – space for rediscovery. Presenter and author now Jedi of bread. A Breadi ! Time is moving in an unusual way. It feels easier to accept what we can’t control and OK to leave things unfinished. For now, other things matter.

The water reaches everyone in this Tsunami, but those on higher ground will do better – inequality is exposed. Connection is everything. Missing the energy supply of people, we seek each other out. Human values are re-surfacing.

These are hallmarks of a changing life.

John Simmons in conversation with
Marc Boothe

Marc Boothe heads up B3Media, a creative arts network that supports BAME emerging artists, filmmakers and digital storytellers. John Simmons is a writer and co-founder of 26. John and Marc have known each other as occasional collaborators and constant friends for 15 years.

Note 1: March-May

Marc had been in Asia in January – already a sense that something bad was coming. His wife, NHS worker, bought bags of facemasks in a market – they’ve been wearing them for years in Asia, pre-Covid, anticipating another pandemic. The West is late to understanding.

So he wasn’t surprised, except by the speed.

Marc is Brixton resident.  Three weeks after the lockdown, he has been taking the chance to ask questions of himself and reassess. We have to take seriously that pandemics will return. Rethink what we do – nature, air quality, food, the way everything is connected. 

Be kinder. Don’t go back to the old normal. Find the energy that creates a community – now you walk down closed-down high streets, the energy is lost.  Tackle inequalities, particularly the disproportionate effect of Covid cases in the BAME community. Everyone is affected, exposing issues swept under the carpet for decades. Impossible now for government to ignore.

Wendy Jones in conversation with
Margaret Adjaye

Margaret Adjaye is the director of Upper Norwood Library Hub, which provides a wealth of services for the community in Crystal Palace, south London. Wendy Jones is a writer and journalist. They met three years ago when Margaret recruited Wendy as a volunteer teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESOL).

Note 1: March-May

Margaret picks up the phone, breathless. She’s been exercising with her son. Planks. Started with 20 seconds. Now a minute. The target is five.

There’s a strong bond with her three kids. They are each other’s lives. Locked down, they work, study, cook. She’s baking bread. Sweet African bread.

But she worries about the library. The library that’s more than a library. A community hub. Reinvented, rescued from closure four years ago. Four years of sleepless nights to make it sustainable. So much planned. Will it all disappear?

The people they helped – they’re reaching some online. But those who need them the most? Elderly people who came in for a chat, a tea, digital inclusion classes. Homeless people who came in out of the cold. ESOL learners who came to improve their English. Margaret worries about the voluntary organisations led by disabled people, BAME, LGBT, many struggling as grants are diverted to Covid causes.

Their stories tug the heartstrings. She worries for them all.

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