Staying home – a society in solidarity during Coronavirus COVID-19

“A society grows great when old men plant trees

whose shade they know shall never sit in.”

– Greek Proverb

Last Spring, I remember on my morning off work, wishing I had more time to enjoy my garden in what I thought would be the best time of year. I remember telling my colleague I wish I could spend more time at home enjoying it. They do say that you should be careful about what you wish for! One year on, and we are in week six of lockdown with Coronavirus Covid-19 where our homes have become an office, place of play and everything in-between as we try to prevent the spread of the virus and keep ourselves safe in what is now known as the ‘new normal’ for the time being in the global pandemic.

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It is now weeks since we have been living in our homes since lockdown, and our lives have had to change as we sacrifice our freedom in the societies that we live in across the world. Easter has come and gone and will be one to remember. We may have now gotten into a routine and begun to accept that this is what we have to do to get through this phase in controlling the virus. Since I last blogged, the devastating effect of the coronavirus on the world in the sheer high numbers of deaths has been sad and heartbreaking. The number of deaths has peaked in many countries with the daily data on deaths in hospitals and the community is still being counted. Since last month, I have also had the sad news that a distant relative in New York has died of the virus and have also seen friends on social media who have lost loved ones. It is absolutely sad and devastating to lose a loved one to infectious Covid-19 without a proper good-bye in most cases. It is with this deep sadness and survival instinct that we carry on at a time as if it is normal, although we are in desperate times to prevent more deaths, stay safe and live in what is now our ‘new normal’.

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William Morris

The most devastating story has been the number of medical and other key workers who have been at risk or even died by contacting this dangerous virus, exacerbated by the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Other countries have lost many keyworkers too, but in the UK due to (including lack of preparedness and a focus on Brexit) the high level at 64% of Ethnic Minorities and immigrant persons working in the National Health Service (NHS), there has been a disproportionate amount of persons who have died or been at risk. A Black British friend called me to discuss this and she thinks it was very obvious that this is true, and also she is looking for a better term to discuss the term BAME (let me know if you have a better idea). In some USA states, there are reports of low levels of Afro-Americans residents…but higher levels of coronavirus cases in this demography. The virus does not discriminate but it does seem to affect those exposed in the front line due to circumstances.

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There are several poignant stories of death and its effect on families. One of the saddest is Dr Abdul Chowdhory’s plea for PPE a few weeks before he died. There are many more whose lives were not supposed to die so prematurely and unpreparedly for this pandemic in a country as rich as the UK. There are several critics to the government’s policy and their spin on this that I see on social media more than mainstream media, especially when you compare the performance, competence and accountability of other countries.

The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.

— Mahatma Gandhi

It has been remarkable that companies have used their facilities to help provide PPE, support the NHS and keyworkers in any way they can. There are several reasons for the shortage of PPE, but it has been great to see some libraries using their facilities to create PPE, and some companies who have also help in this effort to control the pandemic. Companies and employees are affected all across the world. There have been high levels of unemployment in the UK, Canada and the USA – as with everywhere affected by the economic fallout of the lockdown. This is a real issue for families on the bread line, facing redundancies or being furloughed. Businesses are also going to find it a huge task to survive, and recover when we come out of this ‘new normal’. This is a time when collectively the economy, people, government and society must come together to reset from the shock of a pandemic and humanitarian crisis.

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Key workers are proving us with essential services in public services, and some private organisations such as shops and contracted services. They have been our supermarket workers, postal services, rubbish collectors, pharmacists and other services we just cannot do without in these strange times. A great number of community groups and volunteers have been providing services to people in the community in my neighbourhood, and also in all parts of the world. The ironic memoir for me is that I have been busy working during the day and so I am unable to volunteer as much I would like to. Also, I don’t want to put my family at risk so I have been sticking to the rules of social distancing. It is rightly so that communities across the world are paying tributes and appreciation to these special people with messages of thanks, support and hope. They are sacrificing their time and continuing these important activities in dangerous circumstances, which will not end for a while yet. In my neighbourhood, it has been heartwarming to see this display of support, solidarity and hope with the rainbow symbol and other messages of compassion and empathy. The reality in hospitals and care homes must be worst.

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As the weeks have progressed, there is more organisation in the shopping queues and local shops are getting great support. Some of them have had to adjust their service such as the local gardeners, home supplies (e.g. Homebase) and take-away services – with some of the essential services like pharmacies and post offices are still operating. This is some of the local businesses I have observed. I haven’t been on public transport since the 18th March 2020, and I am very grateful for those key workers who are out there providing essential services. So how am I filling up my days in lockdown? Believe it or not – I have been steadily busy with work since the lockdown with switching a lot of our services to online and therefore we have adjusted and adapted our service offerings using digital and web-based resources. We have used all the video conferencing services I mentioned in my last blog post, and I have since used some new ones such as Microsoft Teams for a webinar this week. Most of the time these are well attended and there are only minor issues with sound and connectivity. Our team is now virtual and we have been having regular meetings to ensure that we are supported, communicating and working together in challenging circumstances.

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For our users and our staff across the information industry – we are all very digitally aware but there is so much to learn always, and we all do not have the same skill levels. I also understand that the digital divide does still exist even in a ‘first world’ country like Britain. In addition, there are inequalities in accessibility for the young and old. Some classes have switched online. I live in a mixed neighbourhood and therefore parents are trying to home school their children but there will be other parts of this world where parents will find this extremely difficult as they may not have access to simple educational materials like books, much less so with computers.  I have seen articles where it really depends on your access to home equipment and parental support that will make lockdown learning a success. It is difficult enough to do everything at home – it must be harder to become qualified teachers and trainers to children in the last few weeks. If you are doing this comfortably – keep up the great work!

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I believe that most public libraries are closed in lockdown. I recently mentioned in an SLA Europe Webinar that although we are on the vanguard of delivering digital services remotely – one of the main challenges with delivering library services in lockdown is the obvious barriers for delivering person-to-person services, access to a rich plethora of hard copy materials, the events and exhibitions that a physical space facilitates. There will always be an essential use of physical space in libraries and museums.

In a lockdown, I have been so busy working that I have little time to do that extra Zoom lesson exercise or dance class on offer now. I have been mainly catching up on Continuous Professional Development (CPD) with all the free webinars that are available. However, I have made an effort to take my exercise time seriously and have been out on my walks most days.

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Mindfulness has been a keyword we have been seeing more in the last few years, and this has been some of the ways we are able to cope with the pressure, anxiety and mental illnesses that the lockdown is sure to cause in all of us. I think you are superhuman if you don’t feel a little bit uncomfortable in lockdown without our normal freedoms and human interactions. Therefore, finding the time for conscious wellbeing, wellness and fitness are essential and I have been making full use of my time in the open air.

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I have been enjoying time in the garden and really do appreciate the time I have spent in it recently. I have even managed to do some guerrilla gardening in my neighbourhood as a form of exercise and swapped plants with another local resident. In this time off, I have absolutely loved my exercise time walking around my neighbourhood and discovering new parts. This is the best time of year for seeing all the blooms and to appreciate all the support and community solidarity that is shown in windows in Walthamstow. I have particularly liked discovering local persons who lived in the area as displayed on blue plaques or local heritage signs. These are great signs to see the soul of the area and to reassure us that things will hopefully be better in the future. It has also been great encountering the Free Little Libraries in the neighbourhood.

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I have also had a wander in the natural areas around or close to Walthamstow. I want to cycle and may do so next week. I was able to go out in the fresh air to visit the Walthamstow Wetlands, Epping Forest and the Chalet Wood Bluebells in Wanstead. There is also something very positive and energising being outdoors in nature that takes you away from the claustrophobia of being in lockdown. Nature has an amazing way of reminding us that some things are bigger than us and we need access to escape to these beautiful areas. I do understand that not everyone is able to get away and therefore may be stuck within their home walls, and in urban densely populated areas. Some persons have been reprimanded for not observing social distancing rules in parks, and even my local park has reduced its’ opening time to prevent gatherings in the evening. It is a time for us to really appreciate our green spaces, and ensure that we maintain our social distancing so we can continue to use it in lockdown.

One of the most treasured memories of being in lockdown (and we still don’t know how long this will last) is spending time with my family.  We are watching film, listening to music, cooking and baking in our time. We are getting our groceries locally, and weekly at the larger supermarket. The supermarket is a lot better but still short of some supplies – the toilet rolls are back but the flour supplies are extremely low. Everybody is baking apparently. I have gotten some flour from the Turkish shops locally. I am enjoying my time with family, but I am thinking of family and friends who are on their own. It has been great to chat and share some time, over the fences, with our neighbours close by too. This must be a deeply challenging time and we must try to stay in touch – even if it is a quick hello.

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As I end my thoughts for this month, it is now almost 40 days in lockdown as I was away from the office since 13th March and I know a bit more on what to expect and have developed a routine. I am more than grateful to our healthcare and keyworkers who are on the frontline of this pandemic, and my sincere condolences to the families of the thousands of persons who have died across this world. Take care of yourselves, stay safe and well. There is no doubt about our role in helping and supporting each other in our societies in this great time of need.

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