As the country slid towards lockdown throughout March, and the reality and gravity of the situation dawned on me, my heart sank. Especially when I understood the impact a global pandemic would have on live events. As a freelance producer, engaged in the creation and delivery of events, my Spring and Summer diary commitments and revenue stream disappeared almost overnight. The projects I had spent the dark winter months carefully planning were cancelled along with the contract work supporting various literary events across the North. Furthermore, with current levels of uncertainty it is almost impossible to use this unexpected abundance of time to plan for live events in the Autumn as nobody can predict when it will be safe for audiences to assemble again.
As someone, who is at her most content when engaged with making things happen, I am ashamed to admit that I felt myself envying key workers and those who possessed “essential” skills and experience. I admired everyone working in healthcare, food distribution, teaching or developing a response strategy for their business. It seemed to me that they all had purpose and the opportunity to demonstrate their value to society. In comparison I felt redundant. Otiose.
As a response to my sense of adequacy, I jumped at the chance to join a production line of homeworkers in my Ryedale community who were making PPE for the NHS. I needed no persuasion to get my sewing machine out, download a pattern for full scrubs and delve deep into my grey matter to recall what my teenage-self had learned about dress-making from my mother. My efforts were by no means flawless, but the opportunity to make a tangible contribution in support of the heroic efforts of the staff working at the frontline was rewarding for me. I am grateful to the enterprising and charismatic team, who I know via the local Youth Theatre, for galvanising a small army of volunteers into action. They have coordinated the creation and distribution of an impressive volume of PPE, all made from donated fabric. I know that similar initiatives have taken place all over the country and it may be inappropriate, but I draw comparison with the knitting of socks for the soldiers in the trenches a century ago. I see this type of project as evidence that, as a Nation in crisis, we still have the capacity to pull together and be generous with our time and skills.
At the risk of sound old-fashioned my teenage children will tell you of how I have chuntered on about my concerns about the increasingly disparate and fragmented Society we will in. I observed almost everyone absorbed in the content of the screens on their smart phones and too preoccupied to observe the world most proximate to them. Not enough people making eye contact, let alone conversation with the person sitting next to them on the train or bus, in the gym or in the school playground. I worried about the wider impact of our reticence and general inability to have direct and personal conversations. Mental health cases of depression increasing, long waiting lists for counselling sessions so we can unburden ourselves to professionals. I wondered if people communicated better with the people they were physically sharing their day to day lives with if they would feel more connected, more visible and more alive…
One positive I have gleaned from this crisis is just this. I rejoice to hear stories about the smiles and offers of help and enquires about health and general well-being that neighbours are now sharing. Many reports of people helping those less fortunate than themselves. Although the lockdown experience has been extremely challenging for many due to lack of personal space in a shared home or lonely isolation away from regular sources of support from friends and family and professionals I believe it has encouraged us all to be more resourceful, tolerant, appreciative of what we had and to find pleasure in simple things. I sincerely hope we do not forget and revert to our former mindsets.
I am not an avid devotee of the Mindfulness ethos, but it seems to me that Covid-19 has caused many of us to communicate more regularly and effectively with the people whom we love and value and care about. I noticed comments about the birdsong, flowers blooming and the leaves on the trees unfurling as Nature responded to the changing seasons, almost as though they were being appreciated for the first time. I certainly took comfort from the evidence that our precious planet was still orbiting around the sun undeterred by the global crisis that was threatening the survival of its human inhabitants.
At the time of writing we are facing the Second Wave and whilst not personally being a vulnerable person I am anxious that the effort and personal sacrifices the majority of people made by adhering responsibly to the official guidance (notable exceptions excluded) will have been in vain. Surely it is common sense that if we all rush to resume our former lifestyles, because the rules say we can, the long-term effect is that we will suffer more loss and struggle to reach an end to this pandemic?
Creatively I have enjoyed the time the crisis has given me. Instead of feeling under constant pressure, multi-tasking and meeting deadlines, it has been possible to consider the development of a number of ideas organically rather than rushing them along. I have been able to discuss concepts with people whose diaries might have been too busy for such leisurely conversations in a pre-Covid climate.
I have enjoyed the time become better acquainted with the Balbir Singh Dance Company and familiarised myself with its amazing educational work with schools and commitment to enhancing the quality of life for residents in care homes. I have more respect for the collaborative genius and gentle leadership qualities of Balbir himself and admiration for the impressive resilience, enthusiasm and flexible creativity of the artists in the company.
BSDC is a good example of how artists and operators in the Creative Sector have proved how adaptable they can be. To have such a rich source of art accessible to so many people via the Internet is an achievement we should all be proud of and I am pleased that the general public seems willing to acknowledge the value art, in all its forms, contributes to our lives.
Whilst not saving lives, or doing anything significant or remarkable I try to be content by being patient whilst keeping my family as safe as possible and looking out for those people who I know may be feeling lonely, overwhelmed, unwell or afraid. Being restless and complaining would seem to me to be disrespectful to those who are grieving and stressed at work and putting their lives on the line. Whilst financial worries are real I consider my circumstances to be privileged because my job does not put my health at risk, nor are my children young enough to be returning to school this summer.
I am practicing what I have preached (!) and am reading for self-indulgent pleasure. I am also making the most of having time to read with my sons again, even though they are old enough to read independently. I share reading recommendations and try to use a shared interest in reading as an opportunity to connect with people who may be feeling isolated. I am plotting and planning new commissions that can be shared with a digital audience with Autumn and hopefully toured next Spring. I am setting up a mini-free-library for a time when it is safe to swap and share books again. I also assemble a playlist of upbeat tunes for a regular kitchen disco and share it with whoever might fancy joining me in their kitchen for a dance, sing along and temporary escape to the memory of a more carefree existence.
In summary, the very least I can do is stay positive and have faith we will find a way through this together. I am trying to appreciate and be grateful for all that is good in my life, but I do look forward to a time when I will feel as if I am making a worthy contribution to Society again.