Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Natalie Pilllinger

This instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series is from Natalie Pillinger. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!

I’m writing this on 22 April, 2020. I’ve been working from home since the 18 March, 2020. It’s day 35 for me and my three sons in lockdown.

A little bit of background; I’m the lone parent of three sons; Taylor (19), Jack (17) and Cale (13), affectionately known as my teen aliens. I manage JETS, Reach, Community benefits and targeted recruitment and training.

Reflecting on the early days of lockdown – day seven was the hardest for me. The office was still open and people were still going about their daily lives, but I felt really isolated. I felt overwhelmed and worried. I was out of the loop, my routine had all but disappeared and the pandemic was triggering so many of my anxieties.

What would happen to my children if I was taken ill? What would I do if they are taken ill and I couldn’t see them? Social media was reporting terrible things, supermarkets were empty, people were panic buying, my stocks were running low and I couldn’t go out, my brother has a congenital heart defect, was he going to die? I wanted to run away and hide. To top it all off I had no alcohol, paracetamol or toilet roll.

Irrational thoughts and feelings started to gain control, negative thoughts and feelings. What was I going to do? How could I fix it?

When things at home are hard I anchor myself in work, and vice versa. But both of these places were becoming difficult to manage. Nothing felt safe or secure, and I wasn’t in control.

I went to bed on Tuesday 24 March after having had a very ‘ugly’ cry (you know the kind I mean) to my cousin on the phone. I did some breathing techniques, and revisited some of my coping strategies. I woke up on Wednesday 25 March and decided to make a plan of action. I booked three days of annual leave, and decided to get the house sorted.

I felt that that was one thing I could control, and it would have a positive effect on me and my boys. This was by far the best decision I made in the early lockdown.

I had already set up a self-isolation WhatsApp group with my friends and family (there’s now 20+ of us on there!) and they have been (and continue to be) my life-line.

We have pulled each other along, organised quizzes, we had a DJ set from one of the girls. We talk about everything and anything, nothing is held back. It’s raw, funny, brilliant and there’s always someone to talk to. We have laughed together, and we have cried together. I felt and still feel very lucky to have these wonderful women in my life. I’m talking to my friends and family more than ever and I love it.

My son Taylor (the oldest) is a keyworker, so is pretty much self-isolating when he’s home. He’s just started to study for a new career, and is very determined. He has dyslexia, so this is not easy for him. Having to drive him to work at the moment is actually useful, as it  means I can deliver essentials to my parents as well. I get to see them in person (from a safe distance!) at the end of their drive – this is good for us all. I feel for the people who can’t do this.

My other son Jack is studying mechanical engineering at college. He was worried about not passing because of the pandemic, but he’s  now studying and completing assignments to ensure he stays on track, which is amazing! He’s also dismantled my rotten shed and chopped it into firewood and is helping me out more than ever before around the house. I feel that he’s adapting really well. We now have a lovely back garden to sit in and enjoy. It’s a lovely sun trap, which was previously taken up by something ugly. It’s really lovely to lay back in the sunshine.

My youngest son Cale struggled and needed us to set him a new routine at home. He now has a plan, for meals, exercising, school work, and free time. He is cooking – even making bread from scratch! He pretty much follows any recipe I put in front of him – he wants to be a chef (has since he was about six) so he’s able to have the time to learn and practice these skills. We are enjoying talking to each other and learning new things together, and having a safe fire pit and chopping wood in the garden helps. He’s missing rugby training and his friends. He has control over his new routine, in terms of timings, he needs the flexibility too. I bought him a basketball net and he walks the dog everyday. We’re so lucky to have great countryside right by where we live.

We are sitting down together to eat meals now. I didn’t realise I was missing it until we started doing it again.

I now feel like we’ve got the hang of the lockdown. We have created lists of projects and tasks to complete around the home; for all of us to do when we need to occupy our time and distract ourselves.

I plan our meals and snacks, because the food bill has skyrocketed. I’ve found local suppliers for deliveries; milk and eggs, butchers, fruit and veg. How on earth I would afford wine to get me through was one concern, although it didn’t take too long to sort that out!

In terms of work, it’s been tough. My team were feeling a little frustrated, as things were changing quickly, there was so many communications coming from lots of different angles; emails, chats and phone calls. I listened to the team, we problem-solved, and we came up with a plan of action to continue delivering the support projects offer to tenants and the wider community.

We had clarification from our funders that funding would continue, which was brilliant and alleviated some concerns about jobs being secure. We talked about fun things to do and had after work drinks together wearing improvised masks.

I speak to everyone from work daily – face to face, over the phone, on WhatsApp. It’s not always work related, sometimes just to check in on people. Some are coping, some aren’t, but that’s OK – we are all all different and have different pressures. We’re united and we are supporting each other.

Working from home has meant we connect more online. We are also able to focus and communicate better away from the office distractions and interruptions. It’s less formal. I like it, but I really miss their faces and the chats we have in person!

I don’t miss sitting next to the photocopier, but I do miss my interactions with others in the office, we all do in some way or another.

Thinking about the future, I’m reflecting and considering it. What do I want to do? What can I do to make it happen? How will our ‘new normal’ look for everyone? What will my personal ‘new norm’ look like?

One thing is for sure, now is the time to make some decisions and plans personally, and professionally.

So, on day 35 I’m sat here having drunk far too much cider last night; I feel settled, I’m happy and I’m safe and I’m loved. I have a lovely warm cup of tea, I have the music on, my boys are around making noise, the back door is open, the breeze is lovely and the sunshine is beautiful too.

I’m feel optimistic, I am happy in my own skin, more than ever before and I know what works for me won’t work for everyone else.

At the end of the day I can only control my reactions, my life, I can’t ‘get’ others to do things the same way, but I can share, open up and empathise.

We all have things in common, we are, after all human beings, we are all in this together; we all have a chance to reshape, reflect, pause, consider, and create our own unique ‘new norm’.

From me to you


Natalie Pillinger is originally from Ely, but now lives in Talbot Green and works for a social housing provider.  She originally wrote this article to share in work, and we’re grateful that she decided to share it with us. Follow Nat on Twitter @NpPillinger.

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