There’s nothing like a global pandemic to start you thinking about your place in the world!
Collectively our initial concern was for the vulnerable people we work with on a daily basis (strangely, in the initial days this seemed more urgent that working out how we would keep our team together and survive a situation which took all our commercial trading income away from us. Don’t worry, we quickly turned our attention to this in parallel)! But let’s face it – no one who works for a social enterprise sees it as just a job – we are all a part of a movement really, a movement towards a better society and whilst politically the response to Covid-19 may feel divisive, at a community level, it’s a massive opportunity and one that is seeing inspiring stories and actions come forwards.
Personally, I have found great opportunity in the time to hear silence. I often describe my work life as being full of noise – the hubbub of conversations that my personal practice around community engagement thrives on and the buzz of our open plan shared office space and our Urban Workbench manufacturing workshop over in West Everton.
Having had a particularly stressful year during which I became a carer for my Mum who has had two long spells in hospital and also being diagnosed myself with a long-term and life-altering autoimmune disease, a bit of space has been a very useful thing. I think my response to lockdown has been a little bit like the change curve that Kübler-Ross described around the 7 stages of grief (see below for my illustration of it)– and I think that is a healthy thing; it’s given me time to process the events of the last year and to think about the societal injustices that we work to address each day at We Make Places.
There’s been a lot more time for yoga – something I had already committed to every morning to keep my inflamed joints and ligaments moving, but now it’s not a snatched 5 mins, it’s a glorious 40-60 mins and I am so much healthier for it! I’ve also started walking – there’s been a lot of walking! I’ve wanted to walk the Camino Way for a while and I had started to feel that my diagnosis had taken that opportunity away from me; it was a very strong part of my grief. So, a month into my personal lockdown I picked up the guidebook and started setting daily distance goals and reading about where I would be staying that night if I walked on the real Camino. I then walked around my neighbourhood – keeping my distance and avoiding anywhere with shops or lots of other people. It’s been an astonishing experience – I’ve proven I can walk most days, I’ve needed a few more rest days than people usually take on the Camino and I’ve only averaged around 11 km a day which is less than you would need to do, but considering the challenge, I have risen to it and feel more hopeful of achieving the real walk in the future.
So 10 weeks into my lockdown, I feel more rested, more creative and more able to lead this wonderful organisation through the next phase of our work – which I know will be more or differently demanding than it has been in the past, but which I also know will be more important than any work we have done before. And I recognise that this feeling may change tomorrow or the next day and that that is ok, none of us are going to handle this the same way or take our journey in a smooth curve.
Kübler-Ross Change Curve
As well as this personal, inward-looking time, the work our team did around the Social Emergency Plan has been something that I struggled with not being able to implement immediately due to the loss of our consultancy contracts – at a time when I felt they were potentially more important than ever (this was very definitely the front part of my curve)!
The resulting period of furlough has also allowed me time to move into the Experiment and Decision stages and this has been fun and inspiring as I have tested parts of our Social Emergency Plan in our local community – in the street I live in with one of our co-founders Steve (who also has the dubious honour of being my husband, so we are in lockdown together, with my Mum and her friend who has moved in). I’ve loved the Street Bingo, but one of my favourite activities was when we all wrote Haiku and shared them in our windows. We closed the street for a couple of hours and everyone came out and walked the street reading them – in their family groups and keeping their safe distances. I’ve never written poetry, and frequently struggle with the ‘blank page’ in my work life, however……
these Haiku seem to
infinitely flow from me
as my gift to you
In a funny way I have become my own subject – and I can now happily confirm that the objectives we have within We Make Places to help people;
- increase their self-esteem
- find their latent creativity
- find their place within their community and
- increase their circle of support
are well worth striving for!
You can read more about our street activities in Steve’s blog and also check out some of the videos we have created about these events on our social media accounts…… (teaching myself to use video editing software has been one of my creative projects whilst furloughed too).
Being the beautiful humans that they are, the whole extended We Make Places team have been making good use of their time in lockdown and some of them have agreed to share their experiences here with you and me – I think it is fitting we are launching these blogs during Mental Health Awareness Week and I hope that something in one of them is helpful to those of you reading them.
Andy has been focusing on his artistic archive, getting to grips with Instagram and fixing things
Betty’s unique lockdown perspective is influenced by her global distance from her family
Lizzie has been contemplating the value and techniques of community engagement and getting to know her neighbours
Michelle has been finding new ways to support young people in her community and identifying other people that are slipping through the net of state support
Steve has been building things for the home and the community in true Urban Workbench style, and has been running events in the street in which we live
Kate Stewart is our CEO and co-founder, a creative producer and a jewellery designer/maker. She leads on our cultural and community engagement programmes.