Volunteer – your community really needs you!

Just be yourself….  This has been my guiding thoughts in recent years especially after using social media for such a long time in a transparent and open way.  It is hard not to be real or your authentic self and it is where I have been bringing my true self from my local community to my global activities with family, friends and fellow professionals everywhere.   

The last few months has been challenging for me as I get to grips with the loss of my mother but it also seems to be a time when my professional volunteering and work have ramped up with some fierce momentum.  I wanted to let you know some of the main highlights of these activities, how fulfilling volunteering…and work can be, especially if you have direct impact and responsibility for your global and local communities.

August started with my colleagues and I collaborating in the British Library’s Community Engagement programme in our local borough with their holiday club with teenagers, which is part of the footballer Marcus Rashford’s holiday club programme.  We spent two days with young teenagers giving them support, tips and techniques for business ideas.  It was refreshing hearing about the innovative and cutting-edge perspectives they have for new technologies, and other new business models. There is nothing like youth to keep you on your toes!

I particularly like some of the skilful youth workers who knew how to keep young people engaged for the holiday club, and there really is an art to making sure that you connect in a learning environment with teenagers.  It was also a good time for me to be involved with our Community Engagement team in one of their outreach programmes for our local community in the heart of a busy ‘world-class’ city.  I was able to get to know the community engagement project team better and hopefully will be in a position to contribute with them in the future.  We are looking forward to hosting a sustainable theme event in future and ideas are already circulating. So watch this space!

I know that my past employers are doing community engagement, and was aware of the benefits of community from my childhood. In the Community Affairs team at PWC, I was inspired by one of the founders of the department over twenty years ago, where they implemented literacy programmes and various funding streams that were awarded to staff to help with their local communities.  It is good corporate social responsibility, and we need this in such challenging times regardless if we are a first world…or developing country. It makes great business sense to use these outreach and localised initiatives to help with digital literacy, reading and good citizenship. Therefore we can see allies and benefactors in these corporate social responsibility initiatives for our communities and citizens in general.

On a global level, I am beginning to see new ways that world challenges are being incorporated into lines of work and company missions with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in 2015 by the UN for a sustainable future in 2030. These guiding principles and focus are now visible in job descriptions, research, books and information being produced in industry, science, academia, etc.  I recently attended online the SLA Europe and SLA Conference where there were great content and visual presentations for example by Elsevier on their resources. They were actively tracking the number of research outputs coming out from countries, their impact and rankings.  Personally, I think the SDGs are great for reminding us of what we should be working on collectively now, and how much more that still needs to be done whilst we sit comfortably on our mainly first world problems. The pandemic has created lots of new challenges whereby we have to be in a position to incorporate, and actively work on these issues and opportunities as a matter of course and urgency. IFLA have also produced a resources page for the SDGs here.

There has been a lot of ways that we can incorporate social good in our volunteering. There are activities in my profession that require us to reach out to others who may need that support, helping hand and lifting up.  Mentoring, informal chats or social get-togethers are great for helping us to make those connections and support systems.  There is something special when we get insights from someone who may be able to offer us guidance, and a support network whether we are looking for a new job, ad-hoc support or industry insights.  I certainly needed a bit of a sounding wall recently for my professional life, and did the same to someone who contacted me after recently moving to Ireland, and another who wanted to chat from New York.  These were held in my own time and it makes it all worthwhile when conversations are fruitful, encouraging and positive.  The pandemic has enabled more meeting by video-conferencing calls, and it is certainly one of the best times to think wider and broader with technology to collaborate with those we can engage with now, and in the future. It was only about seven years ago that I spent £18.00 on a telephone call to Germany when I was introducing a volunteer to her role in supporting me.

As we reposition ourselves in the new normal during this pandemic, it is good to remind us that there is still a lot of work to be done for social justice and equity in the profession…and also in wider society.  It is shamefully shocking how imbalances and unfair some of the societal systems are in place in a predominantly white privileged and supremacist systemic structure. In large countries such as the USA and UK, there are great levels of ignorance which is brought on by inequalities that I can identify with terms such as disinvestment, information poverty, and micro-inequalities.  It is actually very sad and disheartening to see the evidence and context of these terms in the wider context.  Yet we haven’t done enough.  Why is this? Are we given enough funds? Power to execute plans? Support and time?

One thing the pandemic has taught us is the importance of caring for those near and far to us.

Regardless of the big issues we can’t control around us, I still try to do a little as I can when I can.  I recently, have been hearing from local gardeners in my neighbourhood who are busy helping with our local green spaces.  I have less to do as we have actually sorted out green spaces in our neighbourhood over the years but if left unattended…it can become like weeds (which is also good for better ecosystem really).  It has been great to bump into the local professional gardener recently as he said that he can advise me on buying a tree for the street, what soil I may need, and which supplier to use! When it is easy to search online it is so great to get this free advice from a fellow volunteer in the local community.

To sum up my last few weeks, I wanted to remember the people who have inspired me in their generosity in giving their time, effort and perhaps financial support to those causes small and big that will have an impact other people’s life, near or far.  Programmes in our local community and global organisations can all do better and more to engage us with the issues at hand from fighting social mobility, poverty, access to literacy, education, work, care and love. I recently met an ethical fashion business founder who was helping rural communities in India but who also want to ensure that their stories are heard and organic products are showcased.  By building in her story with her strategic partners overseas, she has created a better value proposition for her customers, and it is great for getting their joint story on the road to success within these global sustainable development goals.

Don’t tell me it can’t be done.

Do tell me that this makes good business sense.

Euro 2020 – A festival of Football

I really was looking forward to Euros 2020 …last year.  As you know this is now happening in Summer 2021 as it was postponed due to the pandemic.  The football tournament really has light up social media and mainstream media channels!  It has some of us talking in real time again as we are obviously looking at the games live.  I also in typical ‘look away style’, I had one person say to me they don’t want to hear the scores as they can catch up on the game later on playback television.  Football has this magic to get fans and an occasional fan like me excited and interested tournaments, competitions and league games. It is exciting as well as reassuringly almost ‘normal’ in the pandemic to see all the national teams, players, managers, broadcasters and fans enjoying this festival of football.

In Trinidad, Cricket was the main part of our childhood sporting play regime for boys and girls in school and in our consciousness in small villages in the 1970s.  My interest in football started in the early 1980s as my brothers collected footballer profiles cards, and by my classmates too who chatted about the excitement of the World Cup 1982. Otherwise it was also seen on television as we had weekly round ups of the English Football League (shows like Big League Soccer with Brian Moore as presenter), and Italian Serie A at the weekend.  With only one television and two brothers meant that I had no choice but to sit and watch the sport shows with them.  However, it was interesting seeing the usually foggy games in cold England and the sunny glamourous games in Italy.  It is just the way it was presented. And just as the live Wimbledon tennis finals, we used to get the live coverage if the FA Cup final on Saturdays there too.  At this point, I had some understanding of the game and knew of some of the Talisman players like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Zico and Paolo Rossi. The festival like opening ceremony of the World Cup 1986 in Mexico followed by the game with Bulgaria vs Italy (the defending champions) was actually the game when I got most interested in watching football.  Hereafter I tried to follow all major Euro and World Cups, as well as the Champions League, except I did actually see many games for the Euros 1992 as I was too busy being a student.

The World Cup 1986 was ideal for getting me interesting as the games started at 4pm when we were at home after school, and they went on in the evening before a school night.  My classmates in my all-girl convent school were all very interesting in the games too and we also ‘fancied’ some of the players. One classmate used to write with chalk ‘A Player of the Day’ on the blackboard. I have had several crushes on footballers over the years and I guess it totally natural to admire some of these players or even managers.  Mexico was so exciting and the players that we saw on our screen exposed me to the world, their fans and all the various cultures at the time.  I obviously loved looking at the game of football too.  I remember the Brazilian fans with their samba drums specifically and after Italy were knocked out…. I actually wanted France to win with Michel Platini was their captain.  They too lost the semi-finals and I had my first feeling of football loss and hurt when they didn’t make it to the final.  However, we all know that legendary and super talented Diego Maradona and his Argentinian Team lit up the World Cup 1986.  I remember that my school had a summer fair the same time of the final in 1986 and they used an annexe room with a projector to show the final between Germany and Argentina.  I truly was a great vintage year to get hooked on these international tournaments. 

After the World Cup 1986, I used to then love looking at the Italian Serie A TV and newspaper news roundup with some of the star footballers I got to know from the tournament and it was great to follow the league for a few more years until I moved to England.  I also remember seeing the Heysel Stadium Disaster as it was shown live in the afternoon in Trinidad, and we also had the news on the Hillsborough Disaster the day it happened.  Both of these are still sad to think about and we forgot when England was punished for participating in European competitions due to the Heysel Disaster. It also took a long time for the Hillsborough Disaster to be resolved and it is still remembered on the sad anniversary.

Fast forward a few years and the World Cup 1990 in Italy was also great.  I was by now studying in England and it was one of the best campaigns in a major competition, with the Paul Gascoigne becoming a star for English fans.  I still had (and believe I still do) like to other countries too that I take too depending on the competition.  The theme song Nessun Dorma always reminds of that campaign and I do have lovely memories of looking at it during the heatwave of 1990. One of the best take-aways of 1990s is that Gascoigne moved to Lazio in Italy and eventually lead to Italian Football being shown on Channel Four.  My brother used to look at these games but eventually I met my Italian husband whose first love is football! He told me so and eventually I also witness the same with my son.  My husband remains a bit football fan with my son and I am sure he has lots of stories if going to football matches in the 1960s and onwards when they were affordable and he can catch a train to London and still have change to food and the tickets etc. I must get him to write those stories!

Again a lot of my time in 1990s with my husband was spent looking at Italian football and other games and competition.  I had no problem looking at these games and really got into the Italian football, and the amusing Football Italia that was brilliantly presented by James Richardson in some fabulous looking Italian venue with his cocktail, or espresso.  It was exciting to see the game and stadiums live in Italy and although I have seen some live football games in the UK…. I still dream of going to see a game in the San Siro in Milan.  These were the heady days of great Italian footballers with style, flair, glamour and talent. Personally, I am sure the games tactics and fitness regimes etc were adopted by the English game with Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, etc coming to the English clubs and influencing their game.  At the same time there were also other pop culture show such as Fantasy Football which were amusing to watch.

One of the things I wanted to highlight about those 1990s stars and players that I love is that they are now currently managers of the Euro 2020 with some of them having their children playing in some of the international teams.  I checked on social media and I am not the only one who is beginning to feel old.  It is great when football is universal and inter-generational like this. I have been thinking how difficult it must be to manage these teams and to win (as well as lose) these competitions.  In must be such a demanding job but also one that comes with a lot of responsibility and insight into the game and players.  It is always interesting to see how people respond and also how tense it be!

One of the best highlights of the 1990s is Italian making but losing the World Cup 1994 when I saw how passionate my Italian relatives get about football.  I also went to a great ‘Festival of Football’ organised by a journalist on the cusp of the World Cup 1998 at the National Theatre on the Southbank where the programme had football related cultural activities and talks.  I saw interviews with George Weah, George Best and the finale was a Football theme Ballet by a Scottish Production company. 

National pride and patriotism are also evident in international football competition and there is a whole sub-culture with club football.  I do believe some people live and breathe football and swear allegiance as well as rivalry based on clubs, locations, religion, politics etc.  It is just a game of football but there is so much more at stake with the business of football.  Being a business information professional, I used to obtain many copies of football reports and reviews by accountancy firms.  The club leagues and international competition is big business.  Nations are building their countries’ national identity – think if Nelson Mandela for South African 2010 and the introduction to the ‘vuvuzuela’.

Cities with infrastructure and investment aim to host competitions as it also brings in funds, on top of the broadcasting rights and merchandising etc.  The player market or transfer market is also so unbelievable.  I used to pay attention to these topics and know that there are apps and game information etc.  Play Station games and other goods are some of the everyday items I see in my own home.  The cost of tickets is atrocious but the last game I went to was to fundraise at local Leyton Orient (I am still serious about Milan though!).

As we are midway through the Euro 2020, this has been a great way to find entertainment in our own homes.  Stadiums in the pandemic are mostly not filled to capacity but it is interesting to see how some games have adapted.  Fans are still enjoying the experience and it different to normal years.  The bars, pubs and homes in neighbourhood are also getting into the festival of football fever.

The football has been great and some of the games really make you come alive with excitement or nail-biting tension – so our emotions can go from one extreme to another.  It is great too to see technology being developed for and around the game such as VAR.  Football will continue to a world gripping sport to play…as well as to watch.  It truly is a beautiful game.

Health is Wealth – lottery or duty of care

The pandemic will leave an imprint on our lives and if there is one thing that has been the overriding story of it is Health is Wealth. I choose this title for my blog post as it really has been one of the priorities in the last 15 months. Health and wellness are key to happiness and peace in one’s life, but there are so many factors that may pose a risk as well as a ‘lottery’ on how well we are cared and treated in the places where we live. In recent months, I have been preoccupied with worry and concern with my loved ones as the pandemic adds another level of strain on our wellbeing.  Yes, we have a vaccine…but we are not there yet internationally.  There are still a lot to take this country, and world, back to a pre-covid normal.   Therefore, I will share with you my thoughts on some of the difficult situations that we are in at present, and some of the structural issues that affect us with our health.

“The first wealth is health.” –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is no greater time to think of one’s health than in the last year! The pandemic has been a ‘game changer’. This year started very badly with the second wave of the pandemic in the UK, and as mentioned before, I had COVID-19 at the peak of that second wave in the middle of January. I had visited the testing centres in my local area and I didn’t need any medical attention.  I did feel extreme tiredness with cold like symptoms.  It was a very cold time of the year, with all that I was able to do was self-isolate mainly amusing myself by watching Netflix. I was let off lightly compared to all the sad, devastating and horrific stories on human illness and death causes by the coronavirus.  The second wave with the UK variant was a real horror story that was only three months ago, as well as other variants spreading now to other regions in India and Brazil.  However, it seems like there is some normalising now with the vaccine roll-out and as we get ready to open back in the summer months. 

My local library has been busy giving out vaccines by appointment only, but also having days when they are open to people who turn up by a specific criterion.  At one point I saw about 1000 person in the queue for the vaccine. I was sent information that my local authority have appointments for my vaccines in a couple of local venues, and I choose a local leisure centre.  It was a straightforward process when I received the Astra Zeneca Vaccine and the only side effect was a sore arm for a few days afterwards.  The vaccine rollout is going great in the UK because of the health systems in place, and the state’s support and programme for medical research and vaccine development – possibly putting them in the front of the queue for supplies.  This has brought about discussions, and perhaps “vaccine nationalism” as it has been described and mentioned in the last few months.  Vaccine nationalism seems to have been tone down a bit lately, but it really was strange to watch as you know that we are not safe unless all of us are safe! A few months ago, I couldn’t visit family in Bedford, and I currently cannot travel to the Caribbean to visit family there too especially now that Trinidad has a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.  I am looking forward to when I can visit as I haven’t seen close family and friends for four years.

Access to quality care and high standards in healthcare are basic human rights but it seems to be the luck of the draw (like a lottery) in which country you are living in, and the effective policies and duty of care that is practiced from policy makers, health providers, doctors, care staff, etc.  In Britain, the NHS is praised, respected and recognised as a great health service.  Obviously, there may be some minor issues but generally the standard of care and professionalism are very high.  It is a privilege that we have exemplary care free at the point of access, and I have heard amazing real stories over the years.  There are other countries with great health systems that have performed better in the pandemic from Cuba, South Korea, Germany to New Zealand. It has been great seeing from the very beginning countries such as Cuba helping out Italy, India sending vaccines to the Caribbean, and China is now sending the Cenopharm vaccine to Trinidad. This is the spirit of collaboration and co-operation that I prefer, rather than the vaccine nationalism that was distinctive a few months ago.  There are winners and losers in the way the pandemic has impacted on countries and communities, but we really need fairer healthcare for everyone.

“Health is not valued till sickness comes.” – 

Thomas Fuller

I do feel immense sadness at the devastating impact the variants have had in India and Brazil.  However living in London, the media here has been censored with ‘mollycoddling’ of the British public. I understand that there is patient and professional sensitivity and privacy, but the UK mainstream media were quick to show dead bodies on motorbikes being transported in India! Are you telling me that it was so clean and clinical here?  The balanced news reporting is non-existent considering the number of deaths in the UK. The images of global pandemic death that we have seen in other countries is likely to make me feel compassion, concern, as well as dread for this devastating virus.

However in pre-covid times, there is much talk about the impact of inequalities in access to health, much more so in a pandemic.  Access to treatment, ventilators and hospital beds have been one of the major issues globally and the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The United Nations has been working throughout this time as an arbiter in talking about the access to health for various countries that are not doing so well.  It is also a time to reflect on the current health systems in place in not only poor countries but also the rich ones! I read that in the USA there are still issues with the access to healthcare, and perhaps vaccine distribution in communities that are marginalised. The article Equitable Enforcement of Pandemic-Related Public Health Laws: Strategies for Achieving Racial and Health Justice states that: “Early data show that the pandemic is exacerbating inequities that existed long before the pandemic began. People of color face greater social, health, and economic risks associated with COVID19. Equitable enforcement can promote racial and health justice, increase community resilience, and improve outcomes during public health emergencies and beyond”.

It seems like if you have access to health insurance in advanced economies, you may be in a position to buy your way to better healthcare.  However, there is a practice of some professionals who do the basics for national health systems but expect you to pay for that enhance care in private medical care.  I know this is normal practice by consultants, and perhaps they can offer that specialist service outside of the national systems, but it is usually very expensive for patients already with a crucial condition.  It is ironic that a lot of health systems are also outsourced to private companies – without elaborating, it seems like health really is wealth! There have been enough healthcare contract scandals reported in the British press recently. Healthcare providers may also face issues with some staff that are low paid, lack the motivation to maintain high standards and ideals for patients in their care, especially if there is a profit making or racketeering initiative.  I know that things are not perfect everywhere, but this time you really do want to remind persons that compassion and a duty of care are basic human rights.

Everybody has the right to health — UN rights experts

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1060372

Health care has some positive issues for us all to think about in terms of demanding higher standards, value for money, state provision of affordable healthcare, and professionals who pride themselves in good ethics and practices.  This is not a new wish-list, but if you, or someone close to you is unwell – you would be expecting the basic as well as the…best care available to help with treatment and recovery.  Although I had access to free health as a child covered by my parent’s work insurance, and here in the UK now – we should be demanding better for everyone…everywhere.  Realistically, I know this is the way of the world but sometimes you really hope that we all win, and get better health. 

We join the call given by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response that “covid-19 should be the last pandemic and with our failure to take preparedness seriously, we will condemn the world to successive catastrophes.” _ Dr Tedros

https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/05/23/an-international-treaty-for-pandemic-preparedness-and-response-is-an-urgent-necessity/

Recently I have been discussing the pandemic with other information professionals and one theme for the lessons learnt is preparedness in the pandemic.  It seems there are organisations who are willing to share their best practice with others to make health an universal wealth…regardless of where we are.  Good leadership and policy-makers will choose to make things better by helping, supporting and working together to raise healthcare standards, by providing citizens with access to enriched healthcare advice and services with investment, accountability, programming, healthcare professionals and better designed facilities. It really doesn’t matter how advanced we are as a society – the greatest wealth is health.

“Today be thankful and think how rich you are. Your family is priceless, your time is gold and your health is wealth.”

– Zig Ziglar

Food and Drink – Elixir of Life

One year on in the pandemic, last four months of lockdown, and we are mainly in our homes.  Without a doubt, one of the essential aspects of existence is food and this has been a source of comfort in these times.  In addition as I walk in my local area, food market, shops, suppliers and take-aways are the only shops open for the last four months.  Most restaurants are only offering take-aways and because we have all the time to cook – enjoying food has been one of the most pleasurable aspects of life in the last year.  For this sustenance and pleasure in a pandemic, I have decided to write about this ever-relevant topic now as an Elixir of Life. 

Elixir of Life

As I walk along the usually busy market and high roads in my neighbourhood – they are still being use for supplying food to residents.  If we recall, we ran out of pasta last March, but it seems supplies have stabilised with local shops able to supplement some of the stock we couldn’t get from the larger national supermarkets.  In the meantime, there are other issues with supplies due to Brexit, and I have certainly noticed some items missing on supermarket shelves.  As part of my daily walking routine, I intentionally take routes that would take me past local shops that I may want to pick up some items from a variety of local shops. 

I have discovered some real great speciality shops – including Kurdish, Turkish, Asian and Caribbean.  I usually go into them to get pigeon peas, salt fish, curry powder from Trinidad, brown lentils (£1.29), and other items that is imported from far, far, away. I have been able to make dishes from my homeland such as saltfish ‘Bujol’ salad, pilau (rice) with the pigeon peas, curries and stews. Usually I buy puy lentils from the larger supermarkets but they are more expensive at £3.50.

In the last few months, I have also discovered the joy of buying fresh fish from the local fish shop. Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, it was very normal to grow up on fresh fish dishes and I remember seeing cleaning of fishes with gills and scales etc.  Therefore it is no big deal for me to buy fish like this but the shop is able to clean and slice these up if you want them to do so.  The local fish shop does have an amazing selection of fishes that I haven’t seen in ages – Trevally, Red Snapper, Sprats, large fresh prawns, shark, lobster including crabs.

Shark served in a home-made fried bread bun, known as ‘shark & bake’ is actually a real delicacy in Trinidad and Tobago.  It is famously served from the beach huts on Maracas Beach in Trinidad – we usually take a picnic for lunch but try to get a ‘shake & bake’ before making our way home. We bought some shark in January which I hope to replicate here in London.  However, this was the moment I realised that I definitely had Covid-19 when I could not smell or taste the ‘shake and bake’ I made at home.  I have been telling my friends that I was feeling unwell that morning and was in no mood to cook but as it was shark and unfamiliar to my husband – I had to cook it with other items plus could not smell or taste it as it I had Covid-19! The next day I had a test and it confirmed that I was Covid-19 Positive.

A few weeks after when I regained my tastebuds and sense of smell, I was able to buy some red snapper and fresh prawns to savour their freshness and flavours.  I made a Trinidadian Fish stew the long way with my own stock and come cornmeal cou-cou. Again one of the most enjoyable aspects in the pandemic is catching up on social media with family and friends and watching interesting cooking programmes.  The social media algorithm has definitely worked to push videos of local Caribbean cooking to me, and if I have the time, I have been looking at them.  The most popular and relevant to my cultural background is Foodie Nation. There are also some other local celebrities with less glamour and more gritty presentation styles – such as using their own kitchen or event an earthen/mud-based stove with wood burning fire, which I remember from growing up in the Caribbean. I am getting inspired to cook all these amazing dishes but I must also watch my waistline!

In a city as diverse and multicultural as London, it is wonderful having access to a wide variety of foods and supplies in local markets. I sometimes still see vegetables or products that I still haven’t seen before.  It really makes me curious as to what they are, and how I can use them.  I recently spent time looking at the BBC’s Rick Stein in South Asia, and other parts of the world.  I was so inspired by some of the ingredients I saw for the recipes, such as fresh coconut, turmeric, tamarind, lemon grass, shrimp paste et cetera. I made some of these dishes from using these raw ingredients as they are same ingredients that we use in the Caribbean.  Facebook shows fabulous videos by authentic cooks, who use social media to share their home cooking with these tropical flavours.  It is great that I can find some of these ingredients in the heart of winter in a European country.

I live in Walthamstow which has gone through gentrification…and literally upmarket in the last few years.  There are numerous hipster and trendy shops that are also mixed with the local East End London shops.  For example, my colleague Neil also mentioned that there is a downward trend in Curry Houses (Asian restaurants) as younger people adopt healthy lifestyles.  Therefore, Asian restaurants are having to adapt their menus to more healthy options to complete with these lifestyle changes.  In addition prior to the pandemic, there was also a downwards trend for Pubs in the UK – just imagine how this will also be impacted during and after the pandemic. For the last few months there has been an upward trend to go for coffee, tea or hot drinks takeaways as the pubs and restaurants have been closed due to the pandemic restrictions. 

Talking about takeaways in lockdown, we have also ordered food on Uber Eats three times for family meals from local restaurants – from local Turkish, Nigerian, and West Indian restaurants. We had a home-cooking gift from Lina Stores from Soho to make a couple of Italian dishes.

Despite the great access to so much food at a reasonable price that is available in our local market in Walthamstow, there are a lot of people who are experiencing hardship to make ends met before, and especially now in the pandemic.  There have been food banks already available in our local areas as displayed by the Trussell Trust, and they are being use more so in the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic a year ago, our local charities and support systems got into motion to provide food to those shielding and vulnerable.  Now there are other challenges with redundancies and other inequalities due to the negative impact of the pandemic.   It is great to see that our local charities and food banks are being supported. One local creative gentleman created little food banks with crowdfunding for the community to leave items for donation and collection.  I have made a note to put some items in it, and will try to do so.

As we go into the Spring, I am getting ready to prepare some Easter Italian baking and also to try some more new recipes I have found digitally.  Usually when I share my own cooking on social media I get messages for the recipes. My family are foodies and do eat a lot of Italian food too! There is very little that we can do socially in these challenging times, but sustaining ourselves with good, tasty and interesting food has been one of the key pleasures we have been able to continue in the comfort of our own homes.

Glory glorious food – Oliver (The Musical)

Food, glorious food!
What wouldn’t we give for
That extra bit more —
That’s all that we live for
Why should we be fated to
Do nothing but brood
On food,
Magical food,
Wonderful food,
Marvellous food,
Fabulous food,

[OLIVER]
Beautiful food,

[BOYS]
Glorious food

Other Sources:

Foodie Nation – https://www.foodienationtt.com/

Cooking with Ria – https://cookingwithria.com/2011/07/trinidad-pelau.html

The Spruce Eats – https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-bake-and-shark-2137995

#ChoosetoChallenge – Celebrating the 110th International Women’s Day

It is exactly 10 years since I first celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) for the first time, and it feels right to write about the progress, changes and challenges that women are facing.  The theme for this year’s IWD on 8th March is #ChoosetoChallenge, which spans the whole month of March for Women’s History Month. I will look at some of the areas that affect women and my views on the topics as gender conversations have certainly moved on with more fluid and open discussions.  Non-binary gender identities, gender pay gaps, gender bias, feminist protests and leadership roles are some of the topics that are being pushed up the agenda and discussed in many (not all) countries to challenge the status quo and act as “agents of change”.  Like with many aspects of life, there are some countries that are performing better than others and new generations are demanding more equality and inclusivity – we can’t run away from this.  What we can do is learn from each other, support causes that we care about that affect women…and lift each other up in what is a difficult era in a pandemic.

Some of the main areas where I feel we have made progress over the last few years are in our openness to discuss in greater details inequalities in the workplace, health information, body positive images in the media (think Lizzo!), learning about key women heroines and achievements, finding places where we can network and most importantly, amplifying our voice on feminist issues. 

There are stories of the feminist movement of women rights who had led the way in the past, and they will always be great for inspiring new generations of girls and women.  I certainly didn’t know all feminist over time but some of characters that I have discovered on the last ten years – Ada Lovelace, Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, Mary W. Jackson, Claudia Jones, Manuela Saenz and many many more!  The access to information on the internet and social media have made their struggles, achievements and stories celebrated with new energy and creativity. 

At university, I completed a module on women’s right from the industrial age to 1990s and therefore learnt about the suffragette movement with admiration for figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett and other women who fought for the vote. It was great to actually do a tour of Westminster a few years ago where the struggles and battles they won were highlight in the living recollection in the space where their hardships and successes were made collectively to give us the vote.  This was obviously an international achievement with New Zealand as the first self-governing country to give women the vote in 1893. We mustn’t take this hard-won right for granted. I still don’t know a lot of great women but it seems the topic is covered in education in schools now, and this generation of girls and young women are able to freely aspire for greater equality, and continue to push and challenge for changes that will affect them in their lives.

The struggles are real still in many parts of the work – education and access to work are some of the basic rights that women have to still fight for in the 21st century – the UN facts and figures women states: “women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate people”.  There are other challenges such as poverty, work, health and getting into leadership roles which are specific to locations, but generally we still have a way to go. Low literacy and education levels really makes me sad when I hear that some women don’t get the basic right to education.  My parents allowed me to leave a happy home to come to study in a foreign land when I was 18 years – because they believed in me.  I will be forever grateful for their support and help they showed me by financing my studies here. I know that this was NOT a privilege.  I haven’t had free university education – a privilege that many of my university friends may have took for granted 30 years ago. It was difficult and I didn’t see my family for four years, but at least it gave me the ability to support myself and follow some of my teenage dreams.  There is this great graph below by Statista which shows the top 10 countries which have full equal rights for women.

Source: Statista

Not all girls or young women have this option to this day.  Adult learning is possible (plus you never really stop learning), but there are still countries where the cost of education is too high, accessibility and social structures are barriers too.  The cost of higher education in the UK is so high currently that I am deterred to further my studies until I am more financially secure.  One reason I pro-actively keep up my Continued Professional Development (CPD) is because I work in a professional field that never stops serving, changing and develops with technology.  I wish the governments and organisations would value this industry so that we are not at a disadvantaged professionally.  Generally, there are less negative gender equality issues in my professional field as there are more women who work in this area, but men in the sector are usually paid more, and get the top leadership roles. 

“Companies that overlook half of the world’s population overlook half of the world’s talent. To compete effectively, we need to reflect the diversity of the world in which we, and our clients, live and work.” Sheila Penrose Fotolia. Chair of the Board Jones Lang LaSalle

According to this review by Hampton Alexander on the FTSE 350 companies, 33% of women are on UK board leadership roles. In other sectors, the glass ceilings have been smashed but the percentage is still low. In the 2000s, I heard the term ‘old boys’ network’ for the first time but it seems change is slowly taking effect in the last few decades.  Businesses need women for diversity of thought, opportunities and for understanding their customers and stakeholders. Women offer insights and perspectives which open up new markets and ideas rather than having all-male boards.  Women also make up a large amount of the consumption and economic power of business services and products, and therefore you would be missing a new era of inclusive thought if talent and insights were not brought to your business. It is great to have diversity in business as it yields better results and cultivates innovation.  Having women in the decision-making roles also correlates to better business results according to Women on Boards

Over the years there are lots of research I have seen where it makes great sense to have structures, policies and initiatives in the workplace which foster greater support for women to progress beyond their roles and to “smash the glass ceilings”.  These may include improvement in attracting women to traditional male-dominated roles, offering better working patterns for working mothers and families, being flexible, and more defined supported routes and policy such as mentoring or training.  Giving opportunities can also one of ways that women in the workplace are not overlooked. Gender pay gaps, gender bias, greater pay transparency and inclusive policies are still work in progress. It would seem rather strange if organisations still have all-male boards in this 2020s decade, and let’s hope there are more deserving women in leadership roles and better equal representation.

It is important for leaders to communicate with their teams and understand that while the pandemic has affected everyone, it has not been the same for every employee. I think the last nine months have made certain qualities of leadership come to the fore. I think empathy is the strongest trait leaders have shown and understanding that everybody is dealing with professional stresses and strains.

Victoria Head – Legal at Football Association

One aspect where women are challenging the stereotypes and making their headway for themselves is by being entrepreneurial and starting their own businesses. Women have always been in great roles as entrepreneurs in the past, such as Madam C. J. Walker in the film ‘Self-Made’. I also recently attend a fabulous Sound Heritage workshop where I learnt of other remarkable women such as Mary Quaint, Audre Lorde and Rene Sawyer, who fought for greater rights and fairness.

As I work in the business information sector, I meet and admire women who are creating their own businesses. They are really passionate about starting up with their own ideas and visions, being their own bosses and having the freedom to follow their own paths to success. As reported by Hult International Business School, US women-owned businesses have increased by 74% over the past 20 years – 1.5 times the national average. They harness their own entrepreneurial talents and open up a world of opportunity, and in turn are in a position to hire other talented diverse persons for their teams.

Local Business Women

Sadly, I recently read that the pandemic will have a negative impact in gender pay and also entrench imbalances, as mentioned in Italy here in the FT’s Women in Business. Therefore, with high levels of inequalities and economic hardship brought on by one year in the pandemic, the next few years are going to be tough on all of us, especially women.  It has also been mentioned that the disparities for ethnic minorities are having the most negative economic and health impact with working in health and social care. Mckinsey have also reported in ‘Women in the workplace 2020’ that: ‘For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted’.

This is a clear message that all of this research is telling us – there is still a lot of work to do for greater equality, representation and diverse policies for business cultures.

Not all men discriminate against women, and some women also do not support other women. However, there are more inclusive practices in the workplace.  Women are also challenging barriers in various fields but they are generally under-represented in some sectors such as STEM, Tech, construction, emergency services, sports, etc.  The UN has created this great datagraphic which demonstrates the under-representation in all fields, and it is still very striking in the ratio between men and women, for example – directors at the Oscars, Nobel Peace prizes, chefs with Michelin three stars, etc. Our challenge is to continue to create structures, policies and supportive environment where young girls and women can fulfil their ambitions and careers. This may seem overwhelming at times but women do tend to support each other and this is the best way in actually working towards more equity for us all.

Sadly, I wanted to mentioned that this month has been a very sad time in my homeland with the murder of a young woman, Andrea Bharatt, who was making her work home in a taxi (falsely licensed when she boarded it). She was brutally murdered at the prime of her young life and leaves behind a lone parent. It is a terribly devastating story, and unfortunately there has been a high level of gender-based violence and murder in recent times in such a small country, as featured in this article by Brown Girl Magazine.  This has forced a national protest on these crimes and a call for a better justice system as a result of the fear and lack of confidence in personal safety felt by the general population in recent year.  It really is horrific – my contacts were sharing an outpouring of grief on social media and to say ‘enough is enough’!  This ‘femicide’ and other gender-based violence is prevalent in other parts of the world, such as I saw reported in Mexico and India recently. It is great to see that public displays of peaceful protest by women are still challenging for better policies, demanding personal safety, well-being services, general equality and…respect.

I wish you a great International Women’s Day month of understanding and finding out more stories and facts on women’s role in society.  I have always felt that there should be harmony with all genders and do believe that we need boys, young men and gentlemen to be our allies in understanding our roles in the world.  It could be my upbringing and because I went to an all-girls convent school! This is only the tip of the iceberg on the issues women encounter. However, I will continue to keep an eye on ideas, little tips and stories to help other women along the way. I also look forward to discovering new great female figures from the past and our present times this month. With this in mind, do stand up for and against the barriers in our way to greater equality, and remember to #ChoosetoChallenge for women everywhere.

My fifth anniversary of blogging – sharing stories and discovering new content

This year is the fifth anniversary of this blog ‘Connecting the Dots’ and therefore I wanted to write about this personal commitment to myself, share my experience and insights from over this time.  I am proud that I have consistently blogged monthly and although I am not sure who exactly is my audience, I do know that WordPress have a community of bloggers, I have about 120 blog followers and I do get some interaction on my blog posts.  I am very active on social media and having a blog gives me one other excuse for sharing ‘stuff’ with you. 

“If you’re uninterested in a particular topic you’re writing about, it’s probably because you haven’t stopped to think big-picture. Understanding how the topic you’re writing about will fit into a reader’s broader challenges will help you find meaning and value in any post you write, and will enable you to connect with your readers better. – Caroline Forsey, Editor of the HubSpot Marketing Blog.

I think I also need to look at it from the point of view of – What if I didn’t blog? …If I didn’t blog, I won’t be discovering stories and content myself as I do sometime have to research topics from scratch. I also won’t get to the point of feeling confident enough about it putting ‘pen to paper’ or in this instance – text and images to WordPress in a blog post! As an information professional, my own blog allows me to focus on research, professional skills and insights, as well as getting to know about the various platforms that can be used for blogging or sharing stories. 

Over this period of time, I seem to have stayed focussed on the type of content I write, and the word category is great for guiding me, but also by chance, I write stories subconsciously that they seem to have these subjects category interwoven. So it is good to think about your choice of subject content.

Here are some of my top tips for writing your own blog:

  • Stories – with your own blog, you have the creative and artistic freedom to write the stories you want to explore, discuss and share.  I work in business information and still have this professional perspective on most topics, but on my blog, I push myself to write about stories that are culturally, historically or geographically interesting to me. I can even share a memoir of my travel and family holidays with you.  It is totally up to me. Some of the most memorable is my trip to New York for which I got a lot of feedback and views.  I also have stories of my trips to my homeland in Trinidad, and even our 30th school reunion that was so great to write about.  I haven’t as yet blogged about the region of Italy where we have family but perhaps, I can do so in the future.  I have explored diverse stories such as Carnival, Holi, Diwali, Caribbean history, Immigrant cultures, the Library and Information Profession and general fun times over the five years.
  • Schedule – I wasn’t sure that I could blog regularly when I first started this blog but to be honest, having a monthly schedule and a very vague and rough idea on what I want write about is great for literary freedom.  I can set my own agenda and work towards the ideas and thoughts I want to share with my audience.  I do have deadline pressure points having to fit the blog around work and family life, but some months are better than others and my commitment to the blog means I can plan when I want to start and when I want it published.  Usually it is to the last minute but I honestly do give it some thought and organisation for at least a week in advance.  I once blogged in Wales when I was away on a training course but needed to get the blog completed. I also blogged in Trinidad when I was on holiday.  The software and equipment are easy to access so it is only the stories that need time to plan, organise and think about. 
  • Photographs – Photos are some of the best aspects of blogging as you can share context and stories but having images gives it another visual storytelling and evidence to what you are trying to convey. I am aware of copyright and tend to look for copyright free images if not using my own.  I used the images for Holi from a photographer in the Caribbean as I didn’t have access to my own photos nor where they available from the internet freely.  I have attributed them to the photographer source with their permission but I haven’t made any commercial revenue from this blog and in terms of fair use – I think I can safely say that I am just trying to tell a story.  If copyright had become an issue, I would remove the photos, but it hasn’t and I grateful to share those photos.  Being a library and information professional, I do know lots of way to get copyright free photos from archives and also from free sources but in actual fact, I use most of my own photos! I am hoping to write a blog post just about photography as an art, format and archive, but hopefully museums and picture galleries will be open again for me to get inspired! I love what the National Archive of Trinidad and Tobago are going recently – sharing amazing photos on their social media feeds.
  • Research – Setting my own agenda on subject content means that at times, it is a new topic that I may not know much about. Therefore I have to research the topic and what others have written on it.  I then decide what I want to ‘say’ and then share my thoughts or view on the topic. I usually look for articles on specialist databases and sources.  Some of these topics that I recall are online retailing and the impact of Black Friday, gender issues, decolonisation and Covid-19.   However, I do spend time researching before writing so I gain a lot more knowledge on a topic more than I can possibly convey and this is my reason for long blogs. I use social media daily for quick links and stories that I may never write about but get just excited in sharing then in short bursts of content e.g. Twitter. It has been recommended that the tone in blogs is more conversational rather than formal ways of writing.  One unique aspect is that I really do tend to write like I speak, so hopefully the text and words used are easy to follow and lack pomposity. I really don’t care about perfect grammar or the punctuation police anymore.
  • Blogging Community – There are other bloggers who actually have been successful in creating businesses, profitable income and influence by blogging.  I frequently have to convince new businesses that they should blog about their business. I do believe it is great for sharing the topics that you think your audience, and in this case, customer want to hear about.  I also try to follow persons who blog too and follow my blog – one good turn deserves another!  There is one gentleman from India who shares great recipes and I try to read them with every alert I receive. Other persons market their blog extremely well and therefore get a large and committed following and obviously have a great impact on their audience. They actually become Influencers – there are some great ones out there and they really do work their blog magic!

“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.” Seth Godin

  • Social Interaction – I specifically decided to call my blog ‘Connecting the Dots’ as I wanted to make a connection with the topics I wrote about.  I also had a loose idea five years ago to write disjointed topics and incidents in my simple life and then build stories around them…as if I was connecting the dots and I still use this technique to write my blog.  I literally brainstorm a topic as well.  However, the main aspect of doing it is making sure that I get some feedback and interaction from the final product on all the social networks I share it on.  I hope to literally ‘hit a nerve’ with my audience to like, comment or feedback on what I blogged about. It makes it all worthwhile when you get someone interacting with your content and it propels you to continue with blogging. Even if there was no social interaction…doing it for myself is self-gratifying as I would have thought through the topic as part of the process of a blog post.
  • Getting Help – Blogging is not easy if you didn’t have publishing experience in the past but nowadays there is so much help online, courses you can attend and support from bloggers.  I must give credit to my colleague Neil Infield (his own blog ‘In from the Outfield’) for supporting me in the beginning and for some of the other professional times I blogged before I started.  There is still so much more I can do to ramp up my blog but having a full-time job make this less of a priority for me. I still think back to when I did a course on PageMaker at university in the early 1990s and the principles still come in handy. I know most technical issues about blogging but there is always something to learn.
  • Technology and Analytics – When choosing your blog, there are lots of platform to choose and some have come in and out of flavour. I chose WordPress as I was familiar with it in the past, Neil could support me if I had any queries, and it also has a whole blogger community when you publish your content.  The analytics are also great to tell you the number of views, engagement and geographical metrics of your content. I am happy with the metrics I get and certainly can promote my content more, but my blogs can be a bit ‘dense’ and I think you have to be in a certain wave length to understand where I am going with my stories and content.  Regardless of the variety of topics and stories – I do get a respectable level of analytics to encourage me to continue with blogging.

So to the next five years! There are lots of other aspects I can share with you but for now, I would like to say that I still come across so many new discoveries and stories I have never heard before.  I like looking at old and new subjects and finding more about them.  I am curious and you can probably tell from my social media shares. I know my blog is only like ‘short essays’ but it has given me lots of confidence in the skills I need to research and note about interesting topics.  I certainly feel that given the time and space – I can possibly write a tale of fiction or fact about growing up in the Caribbean or coming to study in London over 30 years ago.  There are unique, deep and funny stories I could tell, and even if no one buys the book – it will be a memoir for my family.  We need more writers with diverse backgrounds and experiences. For example, I am loving Netflix for the story on Simon Bolivar and also La Reina de la Indias y El Conquistador – I know they are film but there are so many adventurous stories that can be told from a different perspective and experience that may be richer and more culturally diverse than those on offered in the near past. It also takes a lot of imagination to bring these stories to life but if you have lived them – they seem more real and easy to put ‘pen to paper’. Don’t hold me to this as I am not sure how the next five years will be but my blog has certainly given me an idea to explore creative writing.

“You don’t have to be big. You have to be remarkable.” – Joe Pulizzi

Thank you for reading my blogs over the five years. Do come back again and I wish you a happy and healthy year ahead in this challenging time.  

Some days you have to create your own sunshine.

We are all in this together – a crucial time for information professionals in the next normal

The last few months has been very intense in our personal lives but also in our professional lives. For most libraries and information services, it has been a time for us to close our physical spaces and switch completely to digital services. We have not been closed behind the scenes – we are diligently working to re-open libraries like many other sectors with physical spaces.   For example, I have seen NHS libraries still operating in providing critical information and evidence in this very challenging and critical time in essential services. We certainly owe them for the great work they are doing as medical practitioners. I have noticed most other libraries I have seen also emphasize that they have always remained open since Coronavirus COVID-19 disrupted our global lives. I have decided to dedicate this month to looking how this has affected me in a professional capacity as it has been unavoidable for me not to think of work, libraries and the whole process of initially shutting down very quickly to… gradually opening up libraries and information services again. It really is an extraordinary experience.

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It has been four months since our official full time working from home, and initially, it was difficult to switch to all virtual and digital services. However, in the last couple of months, I actually got into a pattern of my working from home during the day, with fitting in some exercise, errands as well as family time. I was able to do some of the digital things I have been hoping for a long time, in terms of using more digital platforms and working from home tools – it has also made me super…super…busy. I am very much ‘living and breathing’ video conferencing for everything! This includes my local book club, social events and even family catch up. I haven’t been keep track of the many Zoom meetings I have attended but they have been intense for adjusting our current services, plans on reopening the physical and special resources, giving business information and advice as well as providing the face to face sharing of ideas, information and knowledge.

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We have also had to focus on Black Lives Matter as a very urgent issue. I will remember this time too for the Black Lives Matter and how it is being discussed with a new hope for genuine change within the library and library profession.

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I was also able to join a great chat up on a SLA’s Virtual Mocktails, Cocktails hangout – which was great for talking about visiting other countries, the social and cultural impact of drinks such as beer, bourbon and gin! Obviously an alcoholic drink was not compulsory for attending and it was nice to see persons I have met on my trip to New Orleans in 2019, and who I hope to meet in the future! It also made me realise – just like in my professional capacity – I will see and meet people virtually but may never meet them in real life. I still correspond with a contact in Singapore for over 25 years although I have never met her in real life.

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This really has given us the opportunity to create the digital transformation that we all wanted but never had the time or the resources to do. It has made me remember the time when I work for a global accountancy firm but even now I am learning new systems and providing different services by current technology. Since the lockdown in March, I am impressed that our wider department has implemented a new library enquiry system by Springshare called LibAnswers. I am also using Lib Chat to answer, “real live queries in the clouds”. Springshare’s slogan in their website says they are making librarians into rock stars!

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The Springshare system has lots of customer interaction and relationship features that are also used for retailers on the high street and is beneficial for global teams who are working virtually and remotely. It reminds me of chatting online with someone from the retailers Monsoon who was based in Scotland, and also when I use the ‘automated’ chat on Go-to-Webinar when I need to clarify my queries or my curiosity! These are some of the new skills that we are all learning or refining in a truly digital space. Just like retailers, gyms, cinemas, restaurants and all physical spaces – we are communicating with our customers virtually but it is likely that we are going to reopen more of our physical spaces with new safety measures, social distancing, clear signage and new ways in the ‘next normal’.

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I have only seen my local library reopen but have not been inside although we have a project with local libraries virtually in Covid-19. They are also offering a reduced service in my local branch but their current campaign is hashtag #ALLTogetherNowWF. It is ironic that I am seeing more little free libraries than local libraries in my walks. In the last few months, I have interacted and met 1000s of customers and library patrons without leaving my home! That is phenomenal.

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This a time to really learn from each other and I am really developing at a very accelerated speed in the last few months. I was asked to moderate the fabulous inaugural ‘Info Trends’ for SLA with Eugene Guidice – who is great at chatting, sharing his knowledge and making you feel at ease. We haven’t met in person but we already seem to get on great! I learnt so much from the presenters, the new virtual conference format was on the Remo platform, and it really was mind-blowing hearing of the new technological trends in the sector being used such as virtual reality, chatbots, AI, Fab Labs, search developments, social media for research etc. In hindsight, it was a great honour to participate on this global and high level at a virtual conference, and to represent SLA Europe, my current employers and the libraries and information profession here in the UK. It really was a highlight of the last few weeks and I am very pleased I was asked to take part. I will try to attend the Info Trends event next time too! I wanted to also say a special thanks to Tara Murray, Diana Shapiro, Eugene Guidice and all the SLA headquarters for the opportunity.

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And again, I was pleased to be asked by Tara, co-present with Eugene, for the Madhya Pradesh Library Association in India. I knew some of our hosts from SLA Connect virtually, and it was really nice to make new contact with professionals in South Asia. I also had to present on the very topical and important topic of ‘Libraries and Librarianship in times of Crisis: Covid-19 and Beyond’, and this was some initial finding on the bigger project I am working on as the Chair of the Task Force on Reopening Specialised Libraries. I found the session exhilarating and personally good for my development on a very pertinent topic to a very large and diverse audience. Apparently, there were about 1000 professionals registered, and they were really pleased and appreciative of our work. It was the first time I used Webex by Cisco, and made lots of notes from Eugene and Tara as we spoke for 1.5hours. My team do a lot of public speaking in our roles at the British Library but this event is really special as it took me back to my roots in India as a descendant of Indian indentured labourers to the Caribbean. My family was really happy for me, especially my mother. I hope these links made will be used again in the future for sharing insights and collaborating on professionals issues.

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Due to COVID-19, I was unable to give a Presidential talk and presentations in-person at both the SLA Conference in Charlotte USA, neither the flagship SLA Europe summer soiree and networking event. We have still put on great new and topical virtual events, which have been reactive to the current situation ranging from Mindfulness, Business Research, Mind-mapping to using Data and Insights for recovery in Covid-19.

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This year SLA has moved conferences for 2020 and 2021 to virtual events, so I am not likely to go to my first SLA Conference until 2022. I know virtual conferences are better for the environment and stretched finances, but I hope I do make it one day to meet some of the fabulous people I got to know over 15plus years. I am usually very active in SLA Europe and love going to their events, so hopefully sometime in the future we can go back to hosting events that are safe and socially appropriate. These are some of the reasons why networking in real life and person-to-person contact are still essential and part of what makes us human. I do advocate for us working together virtually but also for conferring in person to make human connections with shared missions by being in a physical space together.

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I thank my fellow volunteers at SLA Europe who give up time freely to do this in their own time and go out of their way to support the organisation, come up with great events and ideas on how we can support each other and the wider profession. We inspire and learn from each other – I would be lost without being part of this great professional community over the years!

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One of the biggest honour and tasks I have been given by Tara and the SLA Board is to chair the Task Force on Reopening Specialized Libraries. This topic is HUGE! Working as a library and information professional during Covid-19 really is hopefully a once in a lifetime experience in crisis management. It should also be a great opportunity to learn from little and large organisation, local and global libraries on how we can take the next steps in providing services to our stakeholders and customers in a global pandemic. I have since been in touch virtually with other task force members (two members I met the New Orleans Leadership Symposium 2019) and others only recently virtually. It is very interesting, developing as we speak, creating some brilliant collaborative learning, exchange of insights and knowledgeable ideas on reopening as best practices and guidance.

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Remember this is a global pandemic and has affected everyone we know, everywhere! It is very interesting learning, seeing and reading how libraries have responded everywhere. I have seen and learnt about libraries and information services, systems, processes, challenges opportunities and staff and customers safety and well-being issues that we are facing at this time. Yes, we are making full use of digital and virtual technology, but it is interesting to see how much people also want and need physical collections, spaces and our human in-person services.   You might understand and see the re-opening synergies with the way we react to retailers and hospitality in the pandemic.   The Living Knowledge Network has also hosted great webinars from public libraries in Denmark, who are a little ahead of us and Christian Lauersen is a superstar! Their talks have been great at inspiring as well as motivating me to keep on track of these necessary, and heart-warming services we provide to citizens near and far.

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So this is definitely a challenging, busy…as well as an exciting time. It is certainly right up there with unexpected changes, crisis and preparedness such as the launch of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, the Millennium Bug crashing our Library Management System, working from home due to terrorism or riots, social media introduction in our lives, and other unique watershed moments in the library and information world. I said this in my presentation to Madhya Pradesh Library Association but I have since seen it repeat by others…and we truly are in this together.

 

 

Black Lives Matter – social justice and protest during the pandemic

In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.

– Angela Davis

If being in the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, the last month brought about an intensifying and urgent need for social change and activism in the short term, and hopefully in the long term. The reason for this watershed moment is the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Police in Minnesota USA, with bystanders recording the arrest showing officers restraining him and one, in particular, resting a knee on his neck, whilst Floyd can be heard pleading “I can breathe”. This racial violence was recorded on smartphones and shared on social media, which made the brutality of his death on camera go viral across the globe. You can only imagine what happens between the police and black men off the camera – hold that thought. Shocking and uncomfortable to watch and discuss. Floyd’s death has given greater coverage and a wider mission to the Black Lives Movement (BLM) from the across the USA, UK, Paris, Rome, India, Hong Kong to Oceania. In the same month, there was the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks. This has exposed the emotion, anger, annoyance and the solidarity with the BLM cause and movement.  It has made the social justice fight more obviously to everyone’s consciousness, and this is an opportunity for positive change to correct the disparities in inequality between rich and poor, black and white, good and bad. I also know that there are good cops… and there are bad cops but some reform, training and education are needed.

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Obviously, I am speaking on behalf of the black population that are marginalised and systematically oppressed over four centuries. For balance, we must also remember there are lots to celebrate in the black community’s resilience by the successes and excellence they gave and have achieved in all walks of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish there were more police walking the beat in my neighbourhood after having two police stations decimated about 10 years ago, and even greater reductions across the United Kingdom. However, the main issue is that Black Lives Matter, but there are high levels of the black population who are more than twice as likely to die in police custody, with little justice received by families. There are fewer opportunities for black people due to inequalities of wealth, education, employment and numerous barriers due to the colour of their skin. The prison service has a large number of black people who may not be able to live the normal peaceful life that most of us take for granted. There is a cycle of lack of opportunities and social mobility in very rich countries such as the USA and UK. In addition, there are not enough opportunities for black people in normal organisations…and higher up the corporate ladder.

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It also seems that centuries of history of Afro-American slavery, the Americas’ and Europe’s relationship to the black community are being put to test due to the systemic, institutional racism and prejudices that continue to exist in society. We cannot deny this fact.

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The Black Lives Matter movement started about seven years ago to respond to high levels of deaths and discrimination in the Black population and has a wider remit to encompass and campaign with activism for more equality in a world, which has been shaped like this over centuries of inequality, injustice and white supremacy – especially in former colonies. The shackles of slavery to the Americas have created insurmountable inequality and racial tensions throughout the centuries – Atlantic African Slave Labour was used for consumption and industry in Europe too. The wealth and remnants of slave traders, “West Indian Trader” and merchants are still honoured in our city centres, buildings, and richness treasures – procured, stolen or extracted with human slave labour and is still very much in our midst.

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I didn’t study American history but we were taught indigenous history of the Americas and the Caribbean up to the modern-day. It is no shock to learn about the brutality and de-humanisation of slavery. There was no whitewashing of history and there is intellectual confidence in my peers in the Caribbean. Luckily I have personal insight and experience to know that the story is one of redemption, reconciliation and resilience for the descendants of slaves who still live in my homeland. The Afro-Caribbean community in the Caribbean are mainly okay now and have excelled in their chosen fields. They do not have the same levels of inequalities and barriers you get from the USA and UK. The societal structures are less rigid or oppressive, and you can have great levels of social mobility with a well-rounded education and opportunities. There was no knowledge deficit.

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Consistent. Some things don’t change for me. This is my A’Level West Indian (we did European History too) history book.

Learning about the Caribbean, and Europe, gave us a well-grounded and balanced reality, which meant we are able to rise about it. I am also the descendant of indentured labourers and business migrants from India, and so I empathise and understand with my Caribbean heritage its’ global influences. One thing the British Imperialist get wrong is the imbalances in the historical narratives – the feeling that they are better than others because of the Empire, the imperialistic pomp and ceremony, riches and splendour that accrued over time from the colonies at the expense of black (and other people of colour) lives.  You just have to look at some modern-day black lives film (e.g. Twelve Years a Slave or Selma), and TV dramas to see that it was one rule for them and one rule for the others.

Putting this simply – the term white privilege and white supremacy was brought about as a form of oppression between classes and races that the elite-controlled to keep the status quo. The rules and infrastructure of segregation between the races were created for the so-called ‘white supremacy’ to uphold privileges and prevent integration of races. We are talking about systematic and institutional racism that still exists in the UK, and most evidently still in the USA. You just have to look at the issues with Windrush Scandal in the UK, and other major inequalities to see that this issue has not gone away. Lack of empathy and knowledge is the real impact of colonisation in the 21st Century. There is also a need for humility and recognition of injustices in the past from our white community as the celebration of Empire and colonialism had deep scars and hurt. This is one of the reasons for a call for decolonisation of history and adding Black British history to the curriculum. In recent weeks, I have seen many discussions on the lack of teaching about centuries of African Slavery in British Colonies in British schools today.

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I am not naive to think in the Caribbean and other parts of the world do not have their own racism. I also think it will not ever go away and we will need to keep reminding people to think of our privileges, unconscious and conscious biases. We must aim to be anti-racist as civilised human beings in the 21st century.

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Home – Upper Walthamstow.

It was twenty years ago that I was asked to catalogue the Macpherson report when it was released on the 1993 killing of Stephen Lawrence, and the institutional racism that prevented his family from getting the justice they deserved. You could say that I don’t know what I am talking about, or that I am a trouble-maker but these are the same issues we should be talking about as librarian and information professionals who are serving various communities across our countries in a global world. At the SLA Leadership symposium in New Orleans, there was a strong focus on Diversity and Inclusion with a practical exercise on white privilege. This endorsed my libraries and information professional stance. There is also a test for you to check your privilege and there are numerous resources, best practice and reading materials I have helped collated, seen and shared in the last few weeks. We are also looking to make these into actionable targets, to make a genuine change with organisation culture and in wider ways with the Black community and everyone.

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I also mentioned the Black Lives Movement and Decolonisation campaigns in my talk in September 2019 at the SLA Europe conference. It is rigid and unfair institutional racial structures, media irresponsibility and personal unconscious and conscious bias that makes humans behave this way.   In recent weeks, the sheer shocking emotions and discrimination witnessed by everyone are being discussed now and has come to the forefront of our social consciousness for social justice. It is with this momentum that I was asked to take part in the SLA Diversity Inclusion Community and Equity (DICE) arranged talk on ‘What is the reality of COVID-19 where you live now; What does the protest movement look like where you are; and what have these individual or combined epic events mean to you? ‘. This solidarity and standing up for the injustices for people in our community is not something we can just let it go by until it blows over. There does seem to be a real sea change for action and genuine empathy and understanding in the current mood during a global pandemic that is not just a few weeks old…but a couple of centuries late!

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The protest movement in Bristol a couple of weeks ago on the dismantle of Edward Colston’s statue was a defining moment in British Slave History. I don’t know much about British Slave owners in the UK but I do remember learning in secondary school about the champion of freedom such as Toussaint L’Ouverture in the Haitian Revolution and abolitionists such as William Wilberforce. It is a shame that slave owners and traders are still glorified today without some context to their supposed acquired wealth and glory. I must admit that I was pleased to see that the statue was dismantled considering the enormous part Colston played in slavery, death of Africans bound to the Americas and the pretentiousness of his philanthropy in Bristol. When we talk about plantations in the Caribbean and America – we know whose labour was used for the sugar cane, cotton, minerals etc. These products were then sent back to Europe – where there is very little to explain where and how the raw materials and wealth came to Britain. The death of George Floyd in the last few weeks created a wave of protest against institutional and systematic racism which still perpetuates today and the dismantle and vandalising of statues and buildings that glorify this dirty and seedy economic and human history are only catching up with the shady past. Obviously, I don’t encourage the damage of property but the wounds, emotion and feeling in the current generation of all races are raw as ever. The Black Lives Matter movement has given an identity and a label to this energy to make a difference just like Toussaint and Wilberforce.

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Shared on Facebook.

A lot of white people are saying that ‘All Lives Matter’ – yes they do but…the correct argument is that Black Lives are more disproportionally at risk from death in police custody, poverty, inequality, injustices, employment, promotion, reward and life chances. A young black boy may be stopped by the police 40 more times than a young white boy. The young black boy may be more exposed to crime due to the area and the lack of opportunities he has (I do know that not all young black men are into crime). The black role models in our media are lacking in the UK in positions of authority and power. Even as an adult, there are still struggles, barriers and oppression. White Privilege means that you are unlikely to experience these barriers, obstacles and constant judgement based on the colour of your skin. I am brown and I am certain that I do not encounter all the issues that a black person may experience throughout their life. You Gov have recently published a survey on 1001 BAME persons which states that virtually identical numbers of people believe racism exists in the country today (84%) compared to (86%) thirty years ago. This is the true negative ‘lived experience’ of being Black and British from four hundred years ago…to now.

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I am also grateful to see that my employers and others leading businesses have taken a stance on correcting some of the wrongs, allowing and partaking in open discussions in large groups, which is being enabled by video conferencing. On the one hand, we are still trying to work through a pandemic of COVID-19…and on the other hand, we are trying to focus attention on Black Lives Matter – a pandemic within a pandemic as it has recently been put in protests. It seems that racism within the police force mentioned in the Macpherson Report is still happening now in the 21st century. It is not enough to just not be a racist. It shows great leadership to demonstrate and work towards being an anti-racist organisation at all levels in a global community.

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There are other issues too with lower-paid and front line jobs compared to the white middle-classes who tend to have better jobs, reward packages and benefit from social mobility and better quality of life. In COVID-19, there have been higher deaths in the BAME population both for health and social care staff employees, but also for patients who have died. Inequalities, being in the front line for lower-paid jobs and racism are some of the reason for the disproportionate levels of the death being higher in the BAME community in the UK during COVID-19. We have every reason to shout BLACK LIVES MATTER!

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Only in darkness can you see the stars.

– Martin Luther King

The Black Lives Matter protest movement has been great for bringing communities together to protest and campaign for better rights, better equality, understanding and respect to the black community for their part in building societies from America, the UK and other parts of the world. For far too long the rhetoric and the ‘systems’ have been prejudiced against black persons, indigenous and people of colour. I loved seeing the Rolling for Rights protest videos last week in San Diego – there were thousands of young and mixed supporters marching for Black Lives Matter, this has been replicated in various cities of the world.

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In my own neighbourhood, the Stand Up to Racism campaign with volunteers has brought about solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter causes from the long term and new instances. It is a meeting place for young and old supporters to tell their stories of biases and what still needs to be done to improve relations and representation in a multicultural city. Multiculturalism and multiple ethnicities are the legacies of colonisation and imperialism. There is a disconnection with other cultures and the people in this world that played the part of all our shared global histories. The saddest part for me is hearing of deaths in police custody or at the hands of the police at this event. I am also not happy with the high level of deaths of young black men in the city that I live in too due to gang culture and drug dealing! I also do not like terrorism in the city that I live in. There is a lot of hatred and misunderstanding as a result of race, cultural and religious differences. In all aspects of life, we try to avoid talking intelligently and fairly about race and politics, but they have been put on the agenda in the last decade (or forever!) due to the current political and racial tensions. Race is uncomfortable for all of us to discuss but there are some tips here by the Smithsonian Museum.

So what do we do now?

Big and small businesses are responding to the situation by being proactive with changes and actions in their messages, recruitment and corporate culture in a world that is diverse. At my employers, the British Library, we are working on Black Lives Matter and it is on the agenda for the long term. There have been some proactive demonstrations of leadership on BLM and I hope this will be sustained in future.  Some best examples are SONY, Ben and Jerry Ice Creams, KPMG, Netflix etc – this is the best practice. It is also up to us to have a personal responsibility to be anti-racist and to check our own biases and privileges for a fair society for humanity. We should use creative arts, culture and education to connect us to our history and the myriad of colours and people that are part of the same history. We should also re-balance history with the great ancient civilisations of Africa, as I saw mentioned recently by a Black British celebrity.

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Read and be Educated on the Topic.

We should be allies of the Black Lives Matter movement just as you may want gender equality, LGBT+ equality and rights, and even white-male-bonding-without-the-racism. We should aim to make steps forward, take positive and confident action to bring about genuine change in a colourful world that is far more interesting in just black and white.

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I have had my own little battles over the years but generally do not encounter overt racism. People tend to look at me and see an Indian woman – they do not know that I am Trinidadian and I am way ahead of the game in my knowledge of slavery, my respect for black role models and black culture, which is part of my Trinidadian culture and identity. What I can do for my black brothers and sisters, is to share my insight, support and knowledge of our place in global history, the present and hope for the future. I will take personal responsibility to stay true to my authentic self, and will stand up for other races, cultures and lives in a multicultural connected world.

We may have come on different ships, but we are on the same boat now.

–  Martin Luther King.

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Personal Resilience in a Pandemic – a Next Phase to Go

As we move into the 12th week of shutdown and lockdown in the UK, some part of life now seems like the new routine but there are changes being implemented this week to see our lives returning with adjustments to the old normal. This is not likely to happen overnight and therefore humans, organisations and society will return different and with varying levels to these increased freedoms and enticements to ‘get the economy going’. For our healthcare workers and key workers, they have been working throughout this pandemic and therefore, hopefully, will not have more strains than the present and will remain as resilient as we go into the next phase as other countries have in the last few weeks. This virus has not made us all resilient – it has shown the cracks, the weaknesses and the fragile areas where it has won us over as we collectively and personally struggled to cope in very challenging times – be it the politics, economy, social and health care system etc. The last few weeks have been an endurance test as we are protected for our own health, safety and wellbeing in our homes.

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I met with friends for a chat via a Zoom meeting – one friend is a nurse and reminded me how privileged I am working from home, getting on full pay for now and having a home with a garden in a nice part of London! I was certainly in accord to my position compared to other people are furloughed, redundant, far away from loved ones, alone, vulnerable, stuck in indoors, don’t have access to green spaces and who are in other desperate situations during this pandemic. It is with great respect and admiration that I heard first-hand stories of her working with colleagues who had the virus and who are treating patients in a COVID-19 ward. They are exhausted, very busy and only just getting some relief after the peak of the pandemic – however, we also had a ‘wait and see’ discussion about the ‘second wave’ as more and more people go about socialising in the era of ‘social distancing’. Personally, I can give beauty spots a miss and have stuck to local areas to exercise and for relaxation.

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In my book club via Zoom conferencing, I have now heard from neighbours who have lost relatives and more of us know someone who has contacted or even died of Covid-19. The sheer numbers of official deaths due to COVID-19 has been staggering to see in the last few weeks and the UK is undoubtedly one of the countries with the highest deaths in the world. Therefore, this will have a real impact on personal and professional interests and does have effects on our psychological and physical wellbeing. I have seen many examples of people trying to keep up with the changes we need to survive and stay clear from the dangers of the virus. There are also personal fears and anxieties that are very valid with so many changes in the way we live, work, play and…socialise with other people outside our own household. Therefore it is very important that we seek ways to maintain our good mental, physical wellbeing and develop resilience. I will shortly be doing a course on resilience but hopefully, I am practising this in my own little ways.

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A couple of weeks ago we held a SLA Europe webinar with tips on how information professionals are coping in a pandemic, and due to direct feedback, we also programmed a follow-up event on managing stress in a different working environment as government and organisation make plans to facilitate employees back into their workplaces. In May, it was also Mental Awareness Week, which helped a conversation that is sometimes difficult to communicate on a normal day. We have come a long way in a decade and this is being discussed a lot more by organisations, the media, high profile persons and thankfully too on ‘positive’ social media. Some of the tips I picked up are really useful – such as spending time in nature and exercises for the various moods that we go through as ‘life gets in the way’. The one thing we need to remember is that persons are experiencing various levels of anxieties and fears especially in a pandemic and we just have to be conscious and mindful of these emotions. We should also make time to proactive take time out to maintain good levels of mental and physical wellbeing.

 

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Working from home 2020

As there are now plans, strategies and steps being made to prepare us to return to workplaces, travelling as well as the risk of redundancies – trade unions have seen a revival with campaigning and working with workforces to ensure that they can voice their concerns and come to a consensus on various safety and wellbeing issues that do not put people at unnecessary and unexpected risks. There has been increased in trade union memberships as people look for collective influence from their trade unions to protect and support their interests in very choppy waters.

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As I write, we are still in a phase where most employees are still not in the physical workplaces and sectors – schools, university, retailers, restaurant and hospitality, manufacturers, transport, aviation etc. Our key workers are also still fighting for the protection and enough equipment to ensure safety so it is obvious that the next phase would require planning, testing and adjustments to ensure robust mitigation against the obvious risks we will all face as we go gradually back to what was normal. In this period – we have seen redundancies announced by companies such as Roll Royce…who supply aviation engines to…British Airways who employ…thousands of people who are at risk of redundancies. This connectivity with business and people is very important and therefore all sides must remember this in good and bad times. It should not be a one-way approach for profiting – it was about a decade ago that governments had to bail out banks and now the situation is even worst and far widespread in a pandemic. There are forecasts for a global recession but hopefully, there will be a new way of doing business in future that will ensure that the balance is redressed.

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Graffiti on a local wall

I was due to leave for the USA this coming week and also travel to Trinidad to see relatives in July. However, I obviously can’t travel at this time as was happy to get a refund and also future travel vouchers to use up to April 2022. I would prefer to have this cash but I understand this is one way of helping the situation and all those people in the aviation industry. Although, it has been great to see the bright skies and sunny days during this working from home period due to better air quality in London. As you know, there are fewer aeroplanes in the skies and we should seek to think of air travel in terms of the environmental impact. I would use rail travel more to continental Europe, but this is not always cheaper when you are on a budget. There have been people flocking to beaches and other beautiful parts of England as lockdown has eased. It is worrying to see from a distance and I personally don’t see the attraction of going to the beach in a pandemic. The beach and the beauty spots can wait for a few more weeks…months…or year.

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With England and other parts of the UK having different rules – we have been in the ‘Stay Alert’ phase of the pandemic. As usual, there have been several reactions on social media and real conversations I have had where there are mixed and unclear messages coming from our policymakers. It has been a benefit in this digital age to see the collective views and echo of the pandemic. Most of the time, people are not happy with the messages and the rules as they seem to be open to interpreted differently by different people. I presume most people are sticking to the rules, but there are a few issues in my local park and the high street with social distancing so can imagine some other places too.

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In the last week – there has been public meltdowns with one rule for us, and one rule for others. Seriously, this was no joke – there were references to George Orwell’s book ‘Animal Farm’ where double standards exist to govern. Some other countries, on the other hand, have shown great examples of leadership and are working with their people to instil faith and positive examples for taking us to the next phase of this pandemic. Everyone seems to love Jacinta Ahern, Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Merkel. The most common feature is that they are female, but also seem to display humility and cautiousness in a time of grave danger to human life. There messaging has also been on point and exemplary.

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Mental Health Week in May 2020

Sadly, our Thursday evening neighbourly ‘Clap for Carer’ has come to an end – this has been one of the truly best aspects of the human side of praise for the keyworkers in a pandemic. As this disease continues, I will continue to remember and support them in my little way and hope you will too.

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In my book club, one of my neighbours said that we should all be keeping journals that we can look back on for future researchers, historians and family. I have been thinking of this and my reason for focusing the pandemic in my last three blog posts. However, I have been extremely busy in this period of working from home, as we have mainly switched most of our offerings online. I am also volunteering, catching up on CPD and various activities such as the news using digital technologies. This can be overwhelming during the day so I make sure I do get some exercise and have a wander around my community and neighbourhood. I frequently catch up later in the evening as we have family time in the evening. The digital divide is real. Also, the divide between those able to work from home and those on the front line is also explicit. Undoubtedly, I am privileged to have access to digital equipment and okay with my level of ability but we must remember that not everyone is able to work from home and so we have to also be empathic and careful for those who will eventually have to return to those physical settings whilst the pandemic is still around.

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Travelling are our main concerns – there are more initiatives for cycling but I personally also dread going on a crowded bus or underground train as I normally do. These are hard options to face as we hear about the relaxed in the rules. I still think of my grocery shopping as the most dangerous exposure to the virus as the busiest place I go to in the week. I still haven’t reverted back to online shopping for groceries. In the meantime, I am happy to make the best of my remote working as well as staying locally as much as I can.

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Film: Contagion

It has taken a long time but I have finally looked at the film Contagion 2011, and it does give you an understanding of what the world is going through at present. The film can easily show the similar stages that we still working towards until there is a cure to COVID-19. There are also some uncanny foresight as it was based on SARS – such as the global spread of the virus, working digitally, the unruliness of stockpiling, social distancing and contact tracing, experts and truth finders, budget issues, death and the race for a cure.   There is one line between the two investigating infectious diseases doctors – ‘if you are not doing fine – tell me’ that rang a bell to what is happening to persons during this month.

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In this time of surreal comfort, I have been making the most of my home as my office, my oasis and my temple of calm. My garden has had my full attention and one of the main highlights of Spring 2020 has been the time seeing Walthamstow in bloom, the positive messages for the community and support for key workers displayed. Gardens and flowers have been an absolute avenue for me to find solace and beauty.

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Garden centres were reopened three weeks ago and they were heaving on my first visit – with lots of plants… and people. However, the one I went to was very large and had enough social distancing guidance and signage. Linking this to my own spirituality and consciousness – I am hoping that regardless of the next few weeks, I have found new and old ways to ensure that my endurance and resilience are in tune to the next few weeks in a pandemic to help me cope with this unnatural way of working and living.

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Lockdown and Love in the time of Coronavirus COVID-19

Like you, I didn’t realise that our lives and way of living would change so drastically since my last blog post in February. I have been keeping an eye on the developments in China since January and I have mentioned Coronavirus in my last blog post, and social media since February but there was very little to prevent us from what we are now witnessing and experiencing in our own lives.

On 23 February on my drive back from the South East, the radio mentioned draconian measures enforced in Italy to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) – little did we know that this will lead to other lockdowns in the UK and most parts of the world. We are truly in this together and I am covering my experience of this time in quarantine, social distancing and social isolation, as they are now known. We are also going to give this virus a good fight and there are amazing human stories that are a result of this strange and exceptional time in history.

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The Coronavirus (COVID 19) virus is evidently infectious, contagious and dangerous to humans all over this world. It is currently having a devastating impact with a high level of mortality in China, Italy, Spain, Iran, France – with growing numbers in the UK, USA and other countries to follow. This virus has not only affected our working lives but the whole essence of our being and freedom with uncertainty in unprecedented times. We must stay in our homes with our immediate families to prevent the spread of the virus, and to decrease the pressure on health systems. The only places we are allowed to go to are places to get food, necessities and exercise.

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I have read about the history of pandemics but never thought that there will be a time when we will be in the same situation. I was amazed to see that these plagues or pandemics were threats that humans have had to fight off since the beginning of time. The infographic above was shared on social media and is a great eye-opener for previous pandemics, to the modern epidemics like Ebola, SARS etc. I still remember reading as a child that we say ‘Bless You’ after sneezes due to the plague whereby the Pope Gregory encouraged it as a blessing for the ill. Quarantine is also the Italian word for 40 days isolation (Quaranta) from the Middle Ages when merchant ships return to ports to prevent the spread of foreign diseases. It is also interesting to learn that Shakespeare also lived and wrote through the plague with references in some of his major works like ‘King Lear’ and ‘Macbeth’. It was also a terrible time for the theatres and other social gatherings such as theatres, which were closed in that period.

Diptych of a portrait of Shakespeare and an illustration of the plague.
Source: Slate. https://slate.com/culture/2020/03/shakespeare-plague-influence-hot-hand-ben-cohen.html

The most intriguing for me is the Spanish Flu 1918. I vaguely heard it mentioned in the past but due to the current coronavirus, there are similar references to it and a reminder that only a few living persons now have memories of it. The National Archives has a letter from 28th October 1918 by E.S. Bennett from Walthamstow with the rate of death is mentioned as Doctors are on ‘constant call’, while undertakers ‘can’t turn the coffins out or bury the people quick enough”. IWM 96/3/1 (28 Oct 1918)

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Spanish Flu Letter – Byron Road, Walthamstow, 28 October 1918

There are some other interesting blogs on this topic if you have the time to read – In 1918, the death rate in Britain exceeded the birth rate for the first year since Government started maintaining records in 1837.  Yet this was not due to the First World War, but to so-called ‘Spanish Flu’’. It is reassuring to see other human experience of this in the past and that it is not going to last forever despite the high level of death. These experiences will hopefully make us more resilient for the future.

Now back to the present time Coronavirus pandemic. When Ebola was getting under control a few years ago, I do remember this video by Bill Gates but it is interesting to hear his prediction on the current pandemic and the state of unpreparedness if this was to be on a larger global scale as it is now compared to the West Coast of Africa. This is now real. Believe me – I have family and friends in lockdown all over this world and we are worried and concerned about their safety and welfare. We have been hearing first hand from relatives from Italy as the scale of the pandemic increased, and they were put into lockdown. We were having first-hand stories on the situation and the changes they have had to make for work (getting permission to move about by Commune in Italy) and remaining at home. This was soon to be our own experiences. I remember seeing the sale of pasta flying off the shelves and the queues outside supermarkets in Italy as the country went into lockdown. However, they have generally been organised and didn’t have the level of panic buying as in the UK for groceries. Their tone has become more and more concerning as the weeks progressed with further bad news with the viruses devastating effect in Italy.

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Italy is by far the hardest-hit country in terms of recorded deaths as I write this blog post – even more than China where it starts perhaps late November 2019. It has been heart-breaking in the last few days seeing the level of deaths and this has to be investigated further for the reasons for the spread of the disease there. There are probably a number of reasons for the spread of the infectious fatal virus – Milan has links to suppliers in China, there was a football match in Milan between Atlanta (from Bergamo) and Valencia, the commutable towns close to Milan which are affected, and the whole social way of life and extended family life in Italy. It also has one of the highest aged populations in the world and other contributions to the spread – from the Italians communal living in flats, church attendance, general close human contact with the extended family and friends. This was sadly breathing grown for the virus and contagions to spread. This is just my personal view and thoughts from what I have read, but hopefully, there will lessons learnt from this devastating impact of Coronavirus in the Lombardy region. Similar stories are also now unfolding to various degrees of death and virus cases in Europe and other parts of the world.

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In the early weeks of lockdown, the Italians in quarantine were able to use their time to spread cheer, joy, happiness from their balconies and neighbourhoods. This has changed in recent days due to the sheer devastating number of death and virus cases coming out of Italy. In Spain, France, Iran and the UK – we have all been cheering on our healthcare workers and key workers through this difficult, anxious and dangerous time on the front line.

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Traveler at St Pancras – February 2020

In hindsight, we could have all been more prepared for the pandemic with critical care information, preventative and preparation for our lives and the health service. There has been a slow build-up of information for us to be more vigilant – with was your hands better, sanitizer and eventually with social distancing and self-isolation. Eventually, the state had to step in due to much movement in our everyday lives to work, school, business and other commitments. Coincidently, I was off from work from the 13th March and only went in for a few hours on 18th March. Since then we have been working form home and adjusting to life.

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At short notice too, I had to drive to Derby to pick up my son from University. My 16 year old had just finished his mock exams but was told that same week will be the last week of his year. This was also an abrupt end to his secondary year with a quick assembly to wish his friends and teachers goodbye…for now. Graduation ceremonies are also postponed. I do agree this had to be done because I think we were not aware of the impact on and the dangers of children spreading the disease further to others in society. Nurseries and other children services are also now closed. For parents with young or special needs children – this will be a challenging time. However, I think in the next 5-10 years, children will understand this shut down was for the greater good and it is to help with the prevention of the spread of the virus and support for our health systems.

Just like my colleagues at work, we were also unprepared and shocked by the lockdown that has been happening in China in the last few weeks. I made the decision to go into work on the 18th March to tie up a few loose ends, and even though I have worked remotely one day of the week when my children were younger, I haven’t done this at all at the British Library as we are very much face-to-face interactions with our customers in the reading room, workshops and in one-to-one advice. In the last ten days or so, we have really had to adjust our offering with continuing some of the digital information services and knowledge that we can share remotely. We have been working swiftly to change our programmes where possible to be delivered from our homes and I think this is going as good as you would expect considering the unexpected and unusual circumstances we find ourselves. Our physical events have moved to online events and we are seeking research resources that are open-sourced on the Internet. However, most of our resources are still unavailable due to the contractual and technical issues and are not available remotely. The library’s rich hard copy collection is also locked up securely until we are able to access them again. Information Professionals in the 21st century are digitally advanced and some of us are able to offer services remotely, and curate content that is available for free.

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Some of the winners in the digital switch in lockdown are systems such as Zoom, Skype, House Party, Whats App and VPN (Virtual Private Network). Also, effective digital communications have been an enabler in this real-life crisis management scenario. I have hosted and attend video conference meetings at home using Go-to-Meeting in the past, and will continue to do so in lockdown. We are also looking to host online learning and workshops with Go-to-Webinar. In both my stay-at-home day job and volunteering with SLA Europe – we are using these technologies. As with human behaviour – there is a lot of humour and reassurance with some technical issues that we are all experiencing. It certainly is a learning curve! However, I have been through the 7/7 London Bombings, the London Riots 2011 and other causes for working from home in a crisis.

It is also great to see that people are looking after their wellbeing, mindfulness, kindness and exercise routine despite being stuck at home. We have also hosted webinars for working remotely and doing research from home. Some of the best tips are to make sure you have a routine, a positive mindset, exercise, be realistic on what you can do from work, and also use your time wisely. This is where our home lives merge with work life and you have to understand your own boundaries.

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One of the most remarkable aspects of the pandemic was access to food and essential supplies. As I was off work on the 13th March – I noticed that there was panic buying and the supply chain was disrupted to a very severe level. These carried on for about two full weeks until my supermarket was able to introduce social distancing and more sanitised procedures for their customers and staff. Local shops have also been useful to supplement some of the supply issues the UK was experiencing. The whole joke about toilet rolls selling out was amusing…but seriously, it was also the same for fruit, vegetables, rice, bread, pasta etc. Online deliveries were also most affected and I was unable to get my normal slots. Even if I do online food shopping now, I am not sure if I can get everything I ordered with the disruptions in supply. The use of bidets in Italian homes may be one of the reasons there wasn’t the toilet paper panic buying there. In the UK since lockdown, there are also cases of people breaking the stay-at-home rules by having parties or going to beauty tourist spots when they should really stay in their vicinity.

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One to the biggest impact is that we are not allowed to travel and fly as freely as some may like, but seriously it is also one of the components for the escalation of the infections of the virus spreading so easily in the age of globalisation. It is also great that we may have some light relieve on our CO2 emissions in this quiet travel time. Airlines and travel agencies are obviously struggling due to travel restrictions but it may be a good time for us to reflect and change our behaviour with regards to unnecessary flying.

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The virus has no boundaries and affects all of us. It really brings to mind the way civilisations are organised, governed and the role of citizens. Businesses have had to shut down and are only able to open in cases of necessity. There are still some businesses that are still open like take-away food services, pharmacies and pet shops.  The others are closed due to public health orders to protect staff and the public from gathering. This fatal disease has not discriminated and so, big as well as small businesses are affected. The self-employed, charities and other voluntary organisations are also affected. Even if you are retired – you are still affected, as you do not have your freedom to roam. The pressure is building on businesses to adapt and implement their business continuity and crisis management plans. There are some positive aspects and re-purposing such as companies that are helping with changing their models – such as producing sanitizers, ventilators, Personal Preventive Equipment (PPE), food supply rather than restaurants, etc. However, it must be clear that the global economy will be affected and there are hard days ahead with a recession predicted. There are some companies that are stepping up to the challenges, collaborating and also protecting their staff and clients. The trade unions are also busy looking after workers and making sure that workers are protected in this very difficult time. We will also see that the use of goodwill and kindness will be essential when we press the reset button when this is over.

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Local community groups were foreseeing these changes before workplaces and government. One of my neighbours quickly organised community leaflets for older or non-digital neighbours to contact us should they need help with shopping or anything in the imminent lockdown. Thankfully we are able to coordinate and support each other on various local services and also cheer each other on in these difficult times. It is strange going around with shops and businesses closed. As we are allowed an hour of exercise, I have tried to go out every day for a walk locally to get some fresh air. It is difficult in an urban setting to practice social distancing but most of us are trying to keep our distance. In the run-up to lockdown, I had to cancel three social events with friends, and even birthdays and Mother’s Day are celebrated apart. We have been in touch with friends and family by Whats App, Facebook Messenger and Zoom – just imagine if we didn’t have these technologies and only had to rely on letters.

People are also using this time to catch up on all the leisure and homebound tasks that they do not have had time. This is one of the best aspects for using our time in lockdown to do the things we never really had time for – film, music, reading, gardening, talking more and spending time with dear ones in our homes. I do recognise that not all of us have families and there is a lot of loneliness, anxiety, depression and mental illness that will be exasperated by being confined. I dread to think of the homeless, people with mental illness and in the community who are less fortunate and how they are coping with this. I do believe that they are being cared for by social care and local government agencies.

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As the pandemic has spread across the globe, concern for the wellbeing and safety for family, friends and communities near and far has become an obsession. This is a global issue for human life where ever we are. It really is unique in our living collective experience. We are facing the same issues from within our homes and we are reliant on the same care systems to get us through it. Unfortunately, this is still on-going and we are still to know the devastation that the virus will have on less prepared and poorer countries. Italy, Spain, China, France Iran and USA are leading the death barometer, and they are struggling – we can only hope that the impact will not be as devastating in less developed countries. The assistance offered from Cuba and Russia and other countries to Italy has been good to see online and restores your faith in humanity. This story from the New York Times is a must-read on the situation for families in Italy during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Since January, there has been news coming from China but the number of deaths at first is alarming and the lockdown was weirdly fascinating to see in the news. However, since the virus’s exponential spread to Western Europe and the Middle East, this has been one situation where you can look at the news on social media and get information, news coverage and datagraphics that is supplementary from the normal broadcasting agencies. I am also able to keep abreast of the developments in the Caribbean and North America from social media and website feeds. I have been looking at facts and figures at BNO Newsroom, World in Data and the Financial Times (who has loosened their usual pay-wall). There are also the usual suspects – fake news, misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, fraud, cybercrime and scams by rogues. This is also a gentle reminder that the NHS has a great number of information centres and libraries with professionals who are providing library and knowledge services.

With the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelming healthcare systems and some level of lockdown in all corners of the world, we find ourselves in an unprecedented era of information demand. At the same time, the pace of discovery and dissemination of information is faster than ever before, creating uncertainty and stress about where to find reliable answers. …While these initiatives have not been associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the urgency of our current situation has shifted the focus to developing solutions to improve the knowledge ecosystem today.

– Dr Brian Alper EBSCO The Development of a Covid-19 Information Portal

https://health.ebsco.com/blog/article/the-development-of-a-covid-19-information-portal

 

The most important lesson to learn about Coronavirus Covid-19 is that we are fragile as humans. Good health and access to healthcare are the most important factors in our lives. This is something some of us have known for a long time and it is with utter respect and understanding that we should invest, support, provide and reward our health services in this country and around the world. Public services and local government services are also in need of our support to keep the engines of society and humanity at an equilibrium. Outside hospitals, good hygiene and sanitation are getting attention now but there is still a lot to be desired. Low paid ‘key workers’ have been providing us with our essential foods in the urban environments but we should be grateful to everyone – from the rural farmers, delivery drivers, the rubbish collector, postal services, local shop keepers, emergency services, police, firemen, park keepers, pharmacists etc. Those who do not use these now vital services, or any public services should go live in their own isolated country! Whilst we are inside our homes, the key workers are out in the front line fight overtime in the good fight for us.

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We still are in the heart of the Coronavirus pandemic and I am not sure how this will turn out for all of us. The cost of human life is enormous. And the impact in the economy is also bad. However, we need to support our health care systems and services. We also need to support everyone whilst we stay at home, follow instructions to avoid social gathering and practise social distancing. The human stories that find their way to the media are exceptional and very heart-breaking such as the medical staff who lost their lives, to the thousands who have died or been affected by the virus. One thing about past plagues in previous centuries is that life carried on to a certain extent and humanity was not totally wiped-out. Obviously, it is very sad for the millions of lives lost such as in the Spanish Flu 1918. I am not sure what the situation will be with Coronavirus by the end of April (or in future months) but we will come out of this hopefully together.

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Everything and everyone has become a player in this real-life apocalyptic movie with this deadliest disease in our modern memory. As we spend time with our families and dear ones, we must cherish and care for each other. We are discovering things about ourselves, and hopefully using this strange and quiet time in quarantine to do some fun and creative things we didn’t have the time to do. Love sustains. We will also be better resilient persons for understanding life and love in this time of coronavirus.

You just have to walk around in the quiet streets to realise that our human life is on pause until we beat this virus – country by country, community by community, and human by human.

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