Ben: I'm an Opera Stage Manager who was working on The Marriage of Figaro with English National Opera as the Deputy Stage Manager. We had our opening night on Saturday 14th March: it was the only time that it was ever seen by the public! I was extremely lucky that as soon as the closures were announced, ENO committed to paying all of their freelancers until the end of the season (mid-April).
I have had two key worker/volunteer roles since the beginning of lockdown. After one or two weeks of sitting at home looking for volunteer opportunities I decided to go and get a job at a supermarket - I knew they were struggling for staff too so even though it wasn't a volunteer role, I still felt I'd be doing my bit. I have now been volunteering with Newham Council for seven weeks.
At Tesco I worked eight hour shifts on the tills, dealing with approx. 300-400 customers a day. I was behind a plastic screen, wearing gloves and a mask most of the time, but I still felt very exposed to the virus. The scary thought is that I could have been asymptomatic and passed it onto so many people by how much social interaction I was having. This was also in Newham, the worst affected area in the UK, with a predominantly BAME community.
Volunteering with the council I work approximately six hours shifts, four days a week, packing the food parcels that get sent out to 2500 vulnerable residents in Newham every week. Each parcel contains four soups, various other tins, cleaning products, long life milk, eggs, bread, cereals, loo roll, essentials like that. Every day we pack between 300 and 600 boxes.
I am very lucky to qualify for the SEISS. If I was five days younger I would be in the academic year beneath where I am, which would have meant graduating in 2019 instead of 2018. This would have meant I did not qualify. So many of my closest friends do not, and therefore receive no help.
Sophia: At the start of Lockdown I’d just finished the UK leg of a theatre tour - I’d already lost some work in Hong Kong in February, and in the space of a week contracts in 8 different countries were postponed or cancelled. I think it hit home for me at Heathrow - we were waiting to fly to Switzerland, and while waiting to board an announcement came over the tannoy that all flights had been cancelled. After a few phone calls, I was told to go home and I haven’t worked in theatre since!
I was offered some shifts at my local Tesco. That lasted until mid-June. I also spent some time with a MedTech start-up administering Covid tests for a month to help them over the initial panic. The MedTech start-up provides private medical services and when the virus hit the UK their workload increased massively. I was in the office helping to field customer enquiries and to streamline their workflow - it was a wonderful group of people, and despite my own views on private healthcare they provided a valuable service to both patients and to NHS staff at their most stressful time.
After Tesco finished, Ben mentioned he’d started packing boxes for shielding people, and I thought it sounded like a nice thing to keep a bit of structure in my week.
In March, the Government told people all over the country not to leave their homes and to shield from the pandemic - a more severe lockdown than many of us. Some of these people don’t have the support to bring them groceries, and so each council sends them a food parcel every week. That’s what Ben and I have been doing - helping to assemble supplies for the most vulnerable people in the country. There are normally four of us and we can pack anywhere between 300 and 600 boxes a day, depending on what’s needed. It’s quite repetitive, but it’s a relaxed atmosphere and everyone is lovely to work with.
It’s been nice to reset, but this is also the most unstable I’ve been since 2013. I’m waiting for surgery on the NHS that isn’t deemed ‘essential’, so it feels like my whole life is on pause until that starts up again - and there’s no word on when that might be.