In March of 2020, the entire country shut down because of the effects of COVID-19. While restaurants, bars, shops and schools closed their doors for an indefinite amount of time, organisations to aid and support their local communities were needed more than ever. During the first national lockdown, manager of St Vincent’s Centre Leeds’ Sheena Eastwood felt compelled to write her candid thoughts, feelings and reflections. Almost an entire year later, we’re looking back at what happened, week by week, how St Vincent’s coped and the emotional affects it had…
I’ve never kept a diary and, as everyone that knows me would tell you, I`m not exactly known for my organisational skills. So, I can`t say what made me keep a record of what happened at St Vincent’s during Covid-19. It’s only some of what happened, and I will explain why a little bit later:
It’s Monday and I’m sure like everybody else in this country, I’m thinking, “Coronavirus will come and go, it probably won’t have much effect on St Vincent’s. Business as usual. I’ll buy some antibacterial wipes just in case”.
On Tuesday I had a call with the Risk Manager. I reluctantly agree to complete risk assessment.
During our standard immigration drop in on Thursday, I’m scared because people are passing drinks to each other, the café space is packed and children sharing cake.
Now I find myself wiping down tables, door handles, light switches.
Can’t find any more antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer in any shops or online.
Cleaning everything with antibacterial stuff is now routine. Everyone has daily programme of cleaning and hand washing. All still fine though - right??
Leeds centre closed for maintenance. The Bradford team are worried so we plan for some of them to work from home. One needs to go home as stepson is showing some symptoms.
Something has changed – I need to make a call. Against every bone in my body, I know we need to shut the centres.
The team meeting is very different this week. We agree to shut the classes, drop-ins and groups with immediate effect.
Our hearts our breaking as people want to come in - we’ve spent years encouraging this. Now look.
I try to explain the situation to all of our 130 volunteers. Many socially isolated. Some get it. Most don’t. We offer food parcels, shopping trips and check-in calls. We have to tell them all they can’t come to the centre. Some tears (from them and myself). We make a list of all of our most vulnerable volunteers and service users so we can check in on them if we need to. One won’t take porridge from the food store as it’s not their favourite brand. Call from another tells us he’s self-isolating for three months due to his history of mental health and underlying health issues. We check he`s got plenty of food (he`s got PLENTY as he`s been bulk buying).
Three of us have committed to coming in every day with a rota for one other of the team. We have decided if people can’t come in for free food as they have always done, we will set up outside & Dermott will make takeaway food for lunches. Some staff volunteer – but understandably, not everyone in the team feels able to help. There are people still at the door.
A man who was self-isolating rings the centre – he's in a bad way with his mental health. He lives in a tower block and he is scared. Sally and I drive to see him (outside) and he won`t let us into the building as he tells us we will catch the virus and die. We convince him to come to front door and he agrees, wearing one rubber glove. We safely exchange goods (beef casserole, books and a jigsaw) on the pavement like a deal.
We Join a local network group which council going to coordinate - great news!
People don’t seem to get social distancing. We try to explain. The local kids are already hungry.
We meet Joshua (11) for first time - he’s picking up for his family of five.
We need food donations. I cry over Marks & Spencer's closing as they were major source of bread. Luckily, Morrison’s call and they have fresh goods for us. They turn up with two cars full. I cry again.
Volunteers start calling - some have no food and no plan. We arrange food drop offs which means we can also do welfare checks. Vicky begins a routine of working through everyone on the list every week. One of them has a quite specific shopping list! We make the decision to only provide what we have at the centre. Some just need to talk.
More people join the twice daily (distanced) queue for food. Street homeless have found us too. Have to reassure everyone there is enough to go around. Food keeps coming (thank God).