Illness, death, fear, panic buying supplies, shops with no meat, no vegetables, and no toilet paper! Schools closing, exams being cancelled, the opening of the NHS Louisa Jordan emergency hospital in the SECC, air travel stopped, petrol prices falling – it's like something out of a movie and we knew it must be serious!
The much-anticipated UK Government announcement that the UK would lockdown, with only essential travel being permitted, brought about some feelings of relief, but the harsh reality of what this would mean was grim.
Within Nether Johnstone House we all experienced this announcement very differently. We all watched the Prime Minister's announcement together and our young people really 'got it' – they really understood the purpose and rationale for keeping people safe – in its simplest form this is what lockdown aimed to achieve.
For the adults, the announcement came with additional thoughts and worries - from the society and world we live in, to practical concerns about travelling to work, the safety of their families, and concern about how they could and would support our young people, who faced an immediate uncertainty about how and when they would see their families.
The staff rose to the challenge, as I knew they would. I recently read about the role of residential child care in preparing you for identifying, supporting and tackling crises. A skillset we already had in place, and this helped the team find the momentum to tackle the new reality of day to day living in Nether Johnstone House.
Central to our way of thinking was our belief that out of the tragedy of COVID-19 there would be a chance to embrace new opportunities. We were all committed to embracing each of these opportunities and creating a positive environment for everyone, which echoed our core values of Love, Live, Laugh, Learn, Nurture, Joy and Hope. These have never seemed more important.
As time went by, our young people began to struggle with the reality of daily living in lockdown.
The depth of the implications of lockdown became apparent to the young people and the adults, and out of this came our 'COVID-19 survival list'. A list each young person would complete weekly of things they might like or need to help get them through the restrictions of lockdown. This was an opportunity for our young people to spend time with the team looking at what might help them through the coming days. It offered a level of predictability amongst all the uncertainty and helped them to feel a sense of control about what was happening, how they were feeling, and how they could influence or change that. These lists have developed over time – sometimes featuring comfort foods, and identifying more practical and purposeful ways to relax and support our young people. One thing the lists have consistently brought is shared connections, time, discussion and a reminder of kindness and strength for both the young people and the team.
Week four of lockdown saw two of our young people speaking about their covid-19 challenges, over dinner, with Nether Johnstone House carers – they shared information about their past, how this influenced their current thinking about covid-19, and together they supported one another to identify a new way of tackling life, throughout COVID-19 and beyond.
For one of the young people the impact of lockdown forced them to evaluate their own life choices. He set his goals and with support from the young people and the team collectively, he smashed these! A 17k bike ride was the icing on the cake – from a young person whom at the beginning of COVID-19 struggled to cycle at all. The pride and sense of achievement was felt throughout the house. With so many people involved in helping them meet this achievement, it provided food for thought about how we can continue to empower our young people to achieve and be the best version of themselves that they can be.
Our young people wanted to learn new skills, they wanted to challenge themselves, they wanted to make the most of the new opportunities – and they did. They looked at creating a new way of communicating their thoughts and feelings for upcoming 'Looked After Children' reviews, as well as journaling, upcycling furniture, designing outfits for a fashion show, trying new sports such as boxing, archery, and assault courses, baking new things and cooking meals for each other. The list of learning is endless.
Time – this is probably the most important lesson from COVID-19 for all of us at Nether Johnstone House. Despite the chaos and panic outside, within the house there was a definite slowing of pace. Our diary was no longer jam-packed with appointments and tasks to be done; the cars sat dormant for days on end and our presence within the house could be felt. Day-to-day life, amidst all the uncertainty had become calm. Baking in the morning, bike rides in the afternoon and focusing on learning a new virtual way of education helped with the natural flow that emerged. This undoubtedly furnished the development of a new resilience for our young people. The pace of life slowed enough for them to find new ways of coping, an opportunity to relax, less daily transitions.
It's not surprising that the reduced demands faced by our young people had a positive impact on their ability to grow, be curious and develop. The real challenge comes as we emerge from COVID-19 and how we ensure this new natural way of life becomes the norm, the standard of care we expect and deliver for our young people.
COVID-19 has been the most horrific, tragic and unnerving event of our generation. It has upturned our whole way of life in a heartbeat, loved ones have been lost and our process of grieving has been challenged, our physical connections to people have been disrupted and we have had to adapt to the unknown. Despite all of this, we have seen unbelievable acts of kindness, compassion and a strong sense of humanity prevail. Time – our biggest lesson. Out of time comes connections.
At Nether Johnstone House we have learned an invaluable lesson. Moving forward now, as lockdown restrictions lift, we are going to take our time, we are going to keep our connections and we are going to move forward into a new pace of life. One that continues to offer opportunities for our young people to feel empowered, challenged, and importantly to feel our presence beside them as they navigate their way through the next chapter of unchartered waters.