A story by Frances, Across the UK
What challenge does this story focus on?
Looking after my physical and mental health as the country went into Lockdown (I have chronic bi-lateral lymphoedema) . Finding ways to connect with my community throughout these times and continuing the work of our charity.
How has this challenge affected you?
The enforced lockdown in March 2020 affected me personally in several different ways.
Firstly, my Husband and I became so much closer. The charity had taken so much of my time up, I hardly had any quality time with my husband. Also, I spent a lot of time swimming and doing aqua fit whilst he walked the dogs so we spent a lot of time away from each other.
Lockdown meant we spent more time together. We spent more time talking and really sharing our views and opinions in a different way than ever before. As we are Christians, we also spent more time praying fervently about the world situation; the pandemic and other concerns on our heart. We spent a lot more time walking together. Walking was the one thing we could do. The dog got a lot more exercise.
We noticed how much quieter it was out. There were no planes in the sky. We could hear the birds singing. The air seemed fresher. We were able to smile at other people we saw out and about and appreciated seeing human beings again.
I was walking as I couldn’t swim and I found my walking improved so much ( I have chronic bi-lateral lymphoedema). I also spent a lot more time doing my personal crafting – card-making. I also spent more time painting and drawing I spent more time on my balcony listening to the birds.
The weather was quite good for a lot of the time. I remember April being quite hot.. I re-ignited my previous love for gardening. Before I had my health problems I had grown vegetables. I started a vegetable garden again and ordered some wooden containers to start growing veg. I had a lot of stuff delivered from Amazon!. I ordered a lot of plants online so I could carry on with my gardening.
I conquered the blockage with technology. I had a panic the first few days of lockdown when I didn’t have a functioning phone and our internet was down. However, very soon, I learnt to use zoom! and gained confidence in technology.
What has or is helping you to move forward with this challenge?
I met Kim Furnish and learnt about ‘Postive Psychology’ and did a Positive Psychology course online over zoom. This revolutionised my life and I especially learnt a lot about self-compassion and now am a much more self-compassionate person. I am an ongoing member of the Positive Psychology Practice Group and Kim has become one of my best friends and an ally.
I really appreciated the fact that I was able to still connect with our Blue Sky Natural voice choir and have meetings over zoom. Although we had to sing to ourselves and have our microphone muted, it meant we could still sing together. My husband learnt to use zoom also and sing with the salty seadogs. He also connected with his folk song group over zoom.
We realised how much our church friends meant to us. The online services became very meaningful. We started an online fellowship meeting over coffee, which was really lovely because I think we listened to each other properly, maybe for the first time in perhaps a more intimate way than before.
We had to go to the church to be recorded for the church services to be streamed online. Preaching to a mobile phone and no congregation was a novel experience! We did online services from the church and had a small church group working together when we were allowed to meet like that. I think we learnt to appreciate each other as a team working together in that way. When we could meet up again with one other individual that became very precious i.e. meeting a friend for a cup of tea at a distance
The church met outside so we started our services a lot earlier than other churches. The local community had more awareness about what we were doing. New people joined us. Worshipping in the open air was wonderful. When we were finally able to meet up indoors we really appreciated what we had missed. People still couldn’t sing so a number of people learned to sign the worship songs and learned new ways of expressing worship.
Our open air event at Christmas was wonderful. People dressed up as characters from the bible or Christmas characters and we took a float around the streets with Christmas music and gave out bags with items in to make a Christingle as we couldn’t hold the service at the church.
What have you learnt as a result of this challenge?
When we were able to come out of lockdown we had a wonderful time meeting up with Blue Sky Natural voice choir on the common and singing together in the open air. My Ron also met with the Salty seadogs in this way. It was brilliant singing in the open air. We had a wonderful time of singing carols to people in the street at Christmas and it was much appreciated and people’s spirits were lifted by the experience.
I am proud of our charity during the lockdown in 2020 and in 2021 when restrictions were still in place and when they finally eased. Within 10 days of lockdown we had a virtual service up and running over zoom. We had meetings every day and sometimes twice or three times a day.Our members adapted to the zoom meetings very quickly. We did a photo meet up and singing on a Monday. We developed a ‘isolation’ support group on a Tuesday. Our art tutor taught online twice a week. The men had a meet up over zoom as did the women.
Later on in the summer when we could meet up we bought a gazebo and folding tables and chairs so we could meet up outside. We learnt to do our sessions in the outdoors. We had art classes on the common and in the new forest
Our sports worker met up with people firstly on a 1-1 for walks etc., then in small groups for cycling and walking. Lots of our members got really fit cycling and walking Our sports worker delivered an online fitness session
We did a ‘time to thrive, thriving beyond covid19’ course on a Monday and Tuesday evening. I was able to use funding we had from the Lloyds React Fund for covid19 to bring in Kim to deliver Positive Psychology We did a positive psychology course 1 and 2 over zoom on a Saturday.
When we were able to hold support meetings we held short meetings on a Wednesday and developed a new wellbeing hub emphasis with a theme each week which linked in with the quiz and a talk. Although it was just for one and a half hours with limited nos. this was found to be very meaningful for people.
Despite the restrictions, we were able to be successful in achieving a Notional Lottery covid19 grant and developed a new ‘Hope’ hub on a Saturday night, which was a pre-crisis support and aimed at recovery. We took on a team of professionals for this.
Despite the restrictions Creative Options continued to offer a face to face service throughout all the lockdowns (as a permitted support group – albeit for limited nos. – up to 15) We are proud to say we were almost the only organisation that was offering a face to face service at the time. We became a literal lifeline to some people. I was privileged to intervene personally with people who were going through very difficult times and glad to say that they are still alive today to tell their story because of our intervention. We constantly adapted to ensure our service could continue. We also launched our suicide prevention awareness and connection project in May 2021 S.P.A.C.E. and did positive psychology 1 and 2, core-art journalling, inter-active theatre forum and laughter yoga. We initially started this work over zoom and then face to face when we were able to do so. We also re-launched Hope workshop and our tutor learnt to teach people online to begin with and then face to face at the Flourish unit in town.
How do you use this learning in your life now?
Covid19 has had a very adverse effect on the mental health of our members and has affected our attendance greatly and some people are struggling. However, ; our members have reported finding personal resilience and a strength they didn’t know they had. They had to become more self-reliant and find that strength from within themselves. We have noted a real change in some for the better and the adversity had really developed them as people.
The charity suffered financially in that we lost some £5k from cancelled fund-raising events. However, we were fortunate to receive some very generous funding out of the blue from grateful relatives of one of our beneficiaries. This happened when our coffers were almost empty. For this, we are very grateful.
Since the release of lockdown, we have developed a new programme and a new way of working. There have been lots of changes and lots of challenges. We do believe people are experiencing an ongoing effect of the covid19 lockdown and particularly that people lost confidence and some lost skills they had developed previously and now need to rebuild those skills.
Both in our charity and in our local church community we have realised that people are needing to learn to connect again. We restarted the art club at the end of the summer last year and it has taken many months for people to develop the confidence to come out again. Only now, the group is building up it’s numbers and it has taken almost a year to get a regular group meeting again.
I believe people have lost the art of connecting with one another in many ways. For this reason, I am really grateful that I have completed the story telling course because I believe that the story-telling will be key in both my church and community life and in the life of the charity as we reconnect with each other and rebuild our personal and corporate lives.
What positive message would you like the reader to go away with?
I think we learnt to constantly adapt and change the way we did things.I think our relationships and appreciation of our friendships was much more meaningful. We learnt not to take people for granted.