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Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Life in lockdown

With our lives completely upended due to the pandemic, I wanted to take a closer look at the varying experiences within our town of Hastings. This is intended only to be a snapshot, into the lives of the people who were willing to share their unique perspective and experience during all three lockdowns. You will read about people who work in the NHS, who have gotten married, have families, or run a charity. It is important to remember that we are in fact living through an historical moment and it’s our lived experiences that shape what this period in time means. Written by HOT’s Vanessa Alves.

I conducted the interviews either over Zoom or on the phone and it was wonderful to connect to people and be reminded that each experience is unique.

Disclaimer: All interviews were conducted over January to mid-February before the Government announcement of the roadmap out of national lockdown. Views will reflect that.

Jen and Jethro Atherall

My first interview was with some friends called Jen and Jethro Atherall. I wanted to speak to them because their experience of lockdown was not of separation but a coming together. Jen is a project manager while Jethro works in finance for East Sussex County Council, and during the first and second lockdown, they got engaged and married!

Jen described the first lockdown as, “An incredibly significant time for us. We decided to bubble together, so we spent the time truly getting to know each other. Going for long walks as that was the only thing we could really do.”

Jethro added, “It was a chance for us to know each other. During the lockdowns we had more space to do that without so many external distractions. I think it would have been a lot harder for us to come together with the demands of normal life.”

During the course of 2020, they got engaged and both agreed that they wanted a short engagement, so they began planning for their wedding.

“We had actually planned our wedding to be in November, thinking it would be a safer time,” Jen began, “but when Boris announced the second lockdown, our wedding date would have been cancelled. We had a choice to make, and we decided that it was more important to be married than the occasion. We decided to bring everything forward and we had six days to plan everything! But we called all our suppliers and they were happy to shift everything forward, they really pulled out all the stops. The only thing we didn’t really have was the fancy car.

“We got married on a Tuesday night on 30 October and it worked out much better. We had a candlelit ceremony, it was wonderful.”

Jethro explained what they both felt: “We decided that actually it would have been harder to wait. Everyone was shifting their wedding plans and so to get a date in the future would be very difficult. We would have been waiting a long time and with the uncertainty that it may need to be postponed again. So we decided to do it.”

I asked Jen and Jethro what it was like beginning their married life in the third national lockdown. They both looked at each other and smiled.

Jethro started by saying, “We have never known marriage in normal life. We have started out married life being around each other more than we normally would be, I suppose, and I think it has been solidifying for us. I think the challenge for us is when life goes ‘back to normal’ and we begin to live our lives communally and with the demands of work and everything else. We have enjoyed the simplicity, how everything got stripped back. It has been ruthless in one sense, but we have adapted and it’s about adapting.”

“But we are still wanting a big party,” Jen said. “You know you dream about having your wedding and it’s not what you expect to have only 15 people, not even some of our closest family with us. So, we are keeping our reception venue. We are deferring our party for 2022. When we can all gather again and hug each other, it’ll be a chance to celebrate the life we’ve started.”

Graham and Carla Howard

My second interview was with Graham and Carla Howard, NHS frontline workers and parents to three young children, Bea who is eight, Aubrey who is two and Gus who turned one in December. Graham is an I.V. Specialist Nurse practitioner and Carla is District Nurse.

I began by asking what the lockdowns were like for them.

Carla began by saying, “Each lockdown has been different for us. In the first one, I was on maternity leave and Bea was at home and Graham continued to work. During this one I am working in the community doing night shifts and Bea is now in lockdown school. So, our experience as a family has changed a lot.

“I go into care homes and I just feel for the care home staff, they are stretched thin and they are losing people that they have looked after for years. I have seen amazing care, teamwork and morale. It does make me angry when people doubt what’s going on. These are people that are behind the numbers and statistics we see.”

From his point of view Graham explained what work has been like for him. “I work both in Hastings and Eastbourne, and the guidelines and policies are clear. It’s more the atmosphere that isn’t great, it can be depressing at times. The number of Covid cases has gone up and colleagues are getting it, there isn’t enough staff. There is pressure to get things done, but we keep going on. But I think the main thing is that actually the routine is still similar. The work and home routine. It’s more the social side that has completely changed.”

Carla nodded in agreement as Graham continued to explain the impact this change has had for their children.

“I feel guilty actually for Aubrey and Gus. They have not had the chance to go to playgroups or do any of the things we did with Bea. I know it’s the same for a lot of children at the moment. It’s how Covid has changed even the little things. How Aubrey will go straight to wash her hands and sing happy birthday without being prompted.”

Carla added, “We used to do dance and swimming with Bea but the younger two don’t really get the chance to meet people or develop their social skills, they do go to nursery once a week.”

Graham described what it felt like for them as parents, “That does help to take the edge off the guilt. It’s not having the choice to even take the children to see family or their cousins as well.”

“But Bea is doing really well in lockdown school.” Carla explained, “During the first lockdown she didn’t go.  She loves school so much. You know she would cry when it came to half term. But she has been really resilient. She was anxious about going to lockdown school, but she reached out to a friend and got reassurance over a video call.”

As parents, Graham and Carla said that their time together as a family is precious, so they have taken the opportunities that they may not have done before.

“We do make the most of our time at home. I took the girls for a walk on the sea front the other day, picked up stones and bought fish from one of the booths that was open,” Graham began. “On the whole, we are lucky that we have a level of normality and routine.”

Carla added, “Before lockdown, we would say no to going out if it was raining, now we go out no matter the weather. And I am intrigued by what Bea will say when she is older. You know I hope that she fully describes it to her own kids and the idea will be so inconceivable to her children, so far-fetched. But then, Aubrey can now grasp that we can’t go and do certain things because of the ‘nasty bug’, she has been accepting of the change.”

As key workers, Carla and Graham have both had the vaccine. According to Carla, “I wasn’t worried to take it, I am just hoping that it works. We have to be hopeful.”

Graham originally took another viewpoint, but he explained, “I did consider not taking it, but like Carla I took the stance that actually we have to be positive. That it will work.”

For my final question I asked them, what has been your biggest takeaway from your experiences of lockdown?

“Not taking for granted to meet up with friends.” Graham said, “You know in the past you always say you will, but things and life get in the way. I value time more. Connections to people, touching base with my hub from church. Definitely utilizing technology more to be able to maintain that connection and helping with work.”

Carla concluded, “Appreciating the little things, even walks in the rain. Playing playdough and baking with the kids. You know, one of the things I never thought I would say is that I miss taking my kids to birthday parties. Gus turned one in December and it was a proper lockdown party, we made the most of his day. It was different from what we did for the girls. But it’s important to not dwell on what we are missing out on and appreciating what we’ve got, making the most out of everything.”

Antoinette Holligan

My third interview was with my friend Antoinette Holligan. She is an HLTA (higher level teaching assistant) and single mum, to her daughter Abigail, who is six. She is classed in the vulnerable category, so has been advised by the government to shield.

We began by talking about her current experience of lockdown. Antionette explained, “It’s bit like ground-hog day this time round. I am logging into Google classrooms for the teacher and the rest of the time I’m homeschooling. I have been shielding more than I have actually been at the school. I started my role in September, and I shielded for a month in November and now it’s happening again.”

Antionette shared the difference between this lockdown and the first.

“It was a shock to the system because our routine and life changed in an instant. I can remember being concerned about the pandemic and thinking if I should take Abigail out of school or not. I spoke to her teacher and she was very honest and said that there weren’t many staff in at the moment, so it probably won’t be long before they closed the school anyway. I wasn’t working at the time, so I wasn’t entitled for her to go in as a key worker child. So, I thought I would keep her home and then I think it was the day afterwards when they decided to close the schools.”

As a person that is shielding, what does this mean for you? What does this mean for your life as a parent as well?

“Apart from all the letters and emails telling me to stay at home. I think it was the labelling that I hated the most. I understand I fall into a particular category, but I felt like it was just reinforcing the fact that elements of my life have in effect have been taken away. It was now reiterated that I’m one of the people that needs to be really careful and in great danger of catching the virus.

“I can remember reading one of the first letters that I had received, and it just basically said I can’t leave my house, but it was fine to open a window. I just thought what kind of life is that for someone, especially if you have a young child? It was also quite frightening because I was in that category. It made it seem that I didn’t have a safe space outside anymore. My only safe space was inside, that was intense and difficult to grasp and accept.

“But it was also my friend’s reactions to me shielding as well. They always wanted to be cautious and careful, so even when we were allowed to meet up with a certain number of people outside, they would just come to the window and talk to me or have video calls because they were so concerned that they might have the virus and would give it to me. Some people were comfortable seeing me and others weren’t. At times, it has been a very lonely experience.”

As we continued to discuss her experience, this led to us sharing our experiences of homeschooling. For Antoinette as a single mother, she explained, “It was different because then I had another role that I am not used to having with my daughter, which was that of teacher. And of course, I’ve had the capacity of teaching other children, but working in schools, never with my own child. It is completely different for several reasons. Sitting down with them on a one-to-one basis is and can be challenging. You are mum first and foremost, you don’t have that kind of detachment you have when you’re working in a school.

“When the first lock down happened, I didn’t want her to be behind because she is very academic. She loves school, loves routine and was just in her element. I was planning what we’re going to be learning day to day and how long the lessons would last. I wanted to give her that structure and that routine that she was used to, but in our home environment it’s different. I pushed on with that for a few weeks, but I just couldn’t sustain it, I was just so exhausted. It’s a lot of mental and emotional work on a daily basis.

“It was also a humbling experience as well. Because the school didn’t know what was going to happen at first, I was able to create a lot of the curriculum that I knew she wouldn’t get in school. We did a lot of Black history and I signed her up to Imagine Me Stories, getting a package every month of different books that focus on fantastic people throughout Black history and researching Africa as a continent and the different countries and languages. I was also teaching her how to help around the house, chores, making your bed, baking and cooking and going outside for walks, she is constantly learning, as well as learning through play.”

I asked Antoinette how she has been looking after herself during the lockdowns.

“I’m on my third round of shielding, and I can’t focus on the negatives. I can’t focus on how crappy a start to the year it’s been because I am so committed to protecting my mental health and being present for my daughter. I have to accept that this is how things are right now. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like it and I’m very angry about it but it’s completely out of my control and I think once that kind of sunk in, it made making decisions a little easier.

“Whatever I can do on a daily basis to make sure that I am happy, whether it’s writing or learning French or reading. I have daily and weekly goals and it’s not lots of things, it could literally be going for a walk. It could be just to finish the next chapter in my book, but there’s something so gratifying about writing it down and then having accomplished it. It makes me feel like I have had a personal win, you know, that there’s something to take ownership of that’s not necessarily associated with Abigail.

“But there are days when I don’t make it through my list and that’s ok too. I’m not going to beat myself up because there’s so many things to deal with right now, I am doing the job of two people. I have to look after my mental and physical health because if I’m not ok, then Abigail definitely won’t be.”

What is your biggest takeaway from all the lockdowns? What are the things that you will hold onto forever?

“I think it’s maybe more than one. I think going back to mental health, it’s never been something I had really taken into consideration before. I have always been the kind of person that just gets on with it. It wasn’t until going through these lockdowns and experiencing some really challenging times and making that connection back to my mental health that I needed to focus on it. Every morning I pretty much do meditation and affirmations.

“I think one of the biggest takeaways is not taking loved ones for granted because tomorrow is not promised. All I want to focus on is embracing loved ones and keeping on telling them that they are loved. So many people have been affected. People have lost loved ones, livelihoods, homes, and I’m grateful for what I think now on a deeper level.”

Adam Chapel and Jessica Peters

My next interview was with Adam Chapel and Jessica Peters, a couple with two young children Elodie, four, and Serena, two, who moved down to Hastings from London during the summer of 2020. Adam began by explaining that their first lockdown was in London and, “It was challenging but it was also novel. We were living in a two-bed flat in London and we were lucky with where we lived because there was a park right near us. It wasn’t as grinding as it has been subsequently. Everyone thought it was for a limited period of time and there was a lot of people giving each other support.”

Jessica explained that it brought its own challenges. “We had Adam working from home from our bedroom and two young children stuck in the house most of the time. I think we got through because of the nicer weather, it definitely made it easier. You can go out for your one walk a day and then find stuff to do in the house and we got into a bit of a routine, so it was hard, but at the same time it wasn’t.

“Our living condition was a lot worse than it is now.  Serena, our youngest, was so much younger, she was around nine months old. She wasn’t moving during the first lockdown. It was more about keeping Elodie, our eldest’s, spirits up. She was three and a half and used to going to nursery and seeing lots of people and having play dates and seeing her grandparents, and suddenly all of that stopped. It’s very hard to explain to a three-year-old. We explained it in as much as saying that there was lots of people who were getting ill and we are trying to stop that and she understood it like that.”

As we moved on to discuss their big move, both Adam and Jess explained that they had been discussing this for quite some time. Jess had family living locally and this helped them with their decision. She added that, “We knew it was going to happen, but not as quickly as it did. We had an opportunity to move down here and found somewhere to live. So, we moved down at the end of June, so only just before the end of the first lockdown and before the second one.”

Adam further explained, “I think the lockdown accelerated the whole process because everything that was good about living in London suddenly stopped being good. The ease of being able to get to the local shops, museums, places to eat, festivals, all this stuff that was usually going on suddenly ended and there was no sense of it coming back any time soon.

“But it was always on the cards that we were coming here, to be closer to her family and have more space. But it did get completely accelerated. I had been resistant to the idea because I have a lot of my friends where we were living and family. I was born in London and bred, I had never lived anywhere else but once we made the decision, it was a quick transition. Even with two young kids.”

“But it also felt right,” Jess continued, “because we’d spent so much time cramped in our last flat. Adam working at the foot of our bed and having to sneak around trying not to make too much noise while he’s on the phone, we’ve spent time in a pressure cooker. Once we knew there was no chance of Adam going back to the office any time soon, we kind of knew that it was time. It was a relief to get out rather than a wrench.”

Along with their big move, we discussed if they were ok with being called DFL’s (Down from Londoners).

“It’s tricky,” Jess started, “I do bristle at it because DFL has a negative connotation. You don’t want to be that, but it is essentially what we are. We are very lucky to be able to relocate. There are lots of people who can’t. We didn’t choose Hastings because of cheap housing, but because we have family here, because we could see ourselves being able to have a life. We’ve got the girls’ grandparents, uncles, cousins and great grandparent here.”

Adam shrugged his shoulders as he added, “We’ve been coming to this part of the world for many years now, we don’t want it but that is essentially what we are.”

Now with two lockdowns in Hastings under their belt, I asked them what it has been like for them.

Jess started: “The shorter one before Christmas, didn’t really feel like one because we’ve got younger kids, we were allowed to leave for exercise, nurseries were still open and she was happy there, that’s all we usually do anyway. This one has been a lot harder because the weather makes it harder to get out. We know what to expect a bit more than with the first lockdown.

“It’s really easy to be negative because I know that we are all exhausted and fed up. We all want to see and be with friends and family but we have more access to the countryside and different kinds of walks, we can go to the beach, and into the woods. There are still playgrounds open. That was something really hard, how Elodie’s face looked like when we walked past all the playgrounds and they were locked up. It was just heartbreaking, but this time at least we have got more space and the kids know what to expect. They’ve adjusted to this way of life in respects and obviously there are other aspects that are still very hard to understand.

“There is something a little depressing about how Elodie has become resigned to the fact there are certain things you know she wants to do, and we can’t do it. It’s hard seeing a four-year-old who wants to do stuff and experience life and know she can’t do them. Hopefully, that will change as because we moved down here to have a different kind of life, we want to be close to family, get out and get our lives started.”

Adam continued, “Each of the lockdowns has brought its own challenges. It was definitely more boring because things weren’t open. It did bring massive advantages by being down here because we have more space.

“There was also the sense that the first lockdown was for a limited time, but this one it just feels like a constant moving goal post. In this lockdown now the rhetoric changes from week to week and there’s no sense of it getting lifted, which is hard. We do want to get our lives started and to make friends and see family properly and it feels a bit like we’re just waiting. We have definitely moved, but we haven’t really moved into the area. There’s so much that Hastings has to offer. We wanted to live somewhere that isn’t just a satellite and has a completely different culture so we can get involved and fully explore what Hastings has to offer.”

The last question I asked them was what their biggest takeaway from this experience was.

Adam started with, “I didn’t realise how difficult it was to keep children happy and entertained, occupied and healthy. I just think what an amazing job teachers do. And missing the things you would never expect to. I mean, giving someone a hug, it is a total minefield now.”

“For me,” Jess began, “It’s the old saying that it takes a village to raise kids is absolutely true. For them to have different influences that aren’t their parents and makes you realise how important that is. Not to take normal life for granted.”

Dom Warren

Dom from Dom’s Food Mission kindly took some time out of his extremely busy day to have a quick chat about the charity and his experience of lockdown. In the last four weeks alone, from January to February he and his team have delivered 34,000 meals in Hastings and have collected 17 tons worth of food. On the morning of this interview, they had delivered fresh fruit and vegetables to a local preschool.

He added, “We have started to do things differently this year. We have started to weigh everything that comes in now and the numbers are phenomenal. This year, we’re on target to give out 500,000 meals.  It also means that we can then go back through the years for a rough guide of how much we saved through the years. Also, it’s the emissions, it’s the fuel, it’s everything that we do for the environment and we can then work out the impact. It’s wonderful thing to be able to actually stop that amount of food from going in the bin.”

I asked how Dom’s food mission began.

“I had a rare morning off work to take my two little ones to school and I saw children who were clearly struggling. You just think, ‘Why are they like that?’  This is because they haven’t had breakfast club. I thought that breakfast club was free but it turns out you have to pay for them, and obviously not all parents can afford to pay. I wanted to do something and talked to my wife about it, but we couldn’t afford to pay for all the children. We can pay for a couple but when you find out that so many need this, I started to think how I can do something.

“We were getting married in August, so this wasn’t the greatest time to start this, but I called my wife and said, I am going to start Dom’s food mission, we are going to take surplus food from everyone’s cupboards and that’s how we are going to feed the children. I went home, started drawing up the plans and set up a small Facebook group.

“Next thing we know, we had food coming in from all angles. It is a lot more technical than that. We have gone from operating from a car park, from the back of a car, to where we are now, I think it’s incredible.  We have gone from saying, ‘Meet us at Tesco’s car park on Saturday morning with the surplus food you don’t want,’ to getting a call from a superstore five months later saying they want to work with me. This is without a team, charity number and without van, it has been 1,000 mph since day one.”

Dom’s passion for his charity was incredible to hear as he continued to explain the impact of the charity.

“In 2019, I was able to leave my job on the electrical board and become a CEO of this charity. It became a lottery funded project for the next three years to enable me to become a CEO and for me to take on number of staff. It’s created jobs and changed lives, delivering thousands of meals a month.

“We’ve won national awards, we were targeted by the Pride of Britain, we met the Royals and this has been a whirlwind for me and my family, it’s just exploded and obviously the need is so big in Hastings alone. We get to people from all walks of life, from homeless to refugees, to women and children in safe houses, to delivering parcels to children’s homes and preschools. It’s incredible, we built a charity from the ground up and it’s able to run though Covid.

“The journey’s only just beginning, with sixth year anniversary coming up, it’s nearly the whole of my son’s life. He’s coming up to eight and he’s seeing this nearly his whole life. We get called from all over, different countries and towns to tell us that they love Dom’s Food Mission. It’s sad that it’s needed but I am just grateful that I didn’t just put some money in the school for breakfast club and walked away. We (Dom’s Food Mission) are the best team in the world, it’s a family, not just a charity. I love it and there is so much to come.”

I asked Dom if he could explain what he had in mind for the future.

“Eventually, I want to be able to take this across the country. I can teach people how to do it. I just need a few days just to show them how it should be done.  We have stopped so much food from going to the bin this year alone, let alone five-six years ago. Just this morning we picked up 18.5 crates worth of food. We have won an environmental award and there’s a lot more to come.”

Now that we are coming out of our third lockdown, I asked what it has been like for Dom and his charity over the last year.

“The first one was really strange because obviously no one was ready for this. Luckily, we’ve structured this to be strong as an ox. No one knew there was going to be a global pandemic, so  we started getting many calls every day from everywhere. From NHS staff, to fire brigade, to children’s homes referring people. The second lockdown was near enough the same, but with more of a push.

“This one was controlled a lot more because we were ready for it and we had a lot more different ways to do it. Instead of the school sending people to us, we would then drop to the schools to make sure that they were fully stocked. It has been tiring because I’ve gone down from a big team to a skeleton crew and we’ve just worked our socks off all the way through it, but we’ve done it. To us, it’s busy every day.

“It would be nice to operate from our centre again and work back in the schools. We have set up five food hubs where people are able to go and get food from five different parts of town. It runs for an hour and a half and we serve about 64 individuals each time. It has been a testing time, with flat tyres and sometimes the phone doesn’t stop, and the emails can keep you up at night. All we can do is our best.”

I asked Dom for his final thought on his experience and what he has learned from running Dom’s Food Mission.

“Everyone can be kind. People are fighting a different battle every day and just that little bit of kindness can go a massive way. I see so many things and I get so many emails about us, just talking to people on the doorstep means the world to them. I was born and bred here, and I’m very grateful to be able to help people. Kindness is always the way forward.”

My experience

My own experiences of lockdown have varied drastically, with family life of two children, my partner, a cat and a dog, working from home and then going back into work on a rota in a local school has proved at times overwhelming, disorientating and chaotic to say the least. However, I have also learnt new things and the season of sudden upheaval has brought unique insights and an appreciation of life in the midst of tragedy.

Teaching my children perseverance and resilience, thinking of others and remaining hopeful for the future as well as homeschooling is an experience not one of us will ever forget. As we continue to hope that the easing of lockdown measures will be the right way forward, may we hold onto the lessons that have helped us through and remember those who have experienced loss.

If you would like to donate to Dom’s Food Mission click on this link. There is also Hastings Food Bank, not to mention Education Futures Trust that provides alternative and outdoor educational opportunities for families, children and individuals and also works with schools.

 

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Thank you for your continued support!

Posted 20:10 Monday, Mar 22, 2021 In: Hastings People

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