Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Jodie Ashdown

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Jodie Ashdown. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!

I went fully freelance for the first time in January 2020. Initially, it was going well – I had a few offers of work (I’m a writer and script editor for TV and Film) and I was beginning to gather a bit of momentum with a few projects and things were on the up. However, when the lockdown was issued, that all stopped.

TV sets and theatres are crowded places with a mixture of people of varying ages who often travel in for work. It would be crazy to keep them open so of course, they shut down. Projects were cancelled or postponed, people lost their jobs, future plans were scrapped and the entire industry just ground to a halt.

My girlfriend, who had moved to London for a new show (she works in the Art Department in Film and TV) and was looking forward to a summer in the city, moved back to Cardiff and we began to prepare for the lockdown.

TV and film is a notoriously fickle industry with short term, freelance contracts with little to no job security. Of course, it’s exciting and creative and interesting but there’s definitely an undercurrent of panic, especially when you’re starting out! The machine carries on, whether you’re on it or not. However, after lockdown, people who were previously constantly busy working 13 hour days had time to assess the situation we were in.

Facebook groups were set up to try to help and advise people who had lost their jobs and try to make sense of what government help they were eligible for (a mix of PAYE and short term freelance contracts makes things complicated). A lot of people aren’t eligible for any help.

Bectu (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) estimates around 50,000 industry freelancers will have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic with little to no warning. This uncertainty, mixed with the very real threat COVID-19, made for dark times.

But then, little by little, pockets of positivity began opening up; many theatres and production companies have sprung into action by offering emergency funding pots which people could apply to for money to support them in lieu of lost projects and other charities and popping up. There are also call outs for writers, directors and actors to create monologues and short films, many of which are paid work. The National Theatre is just one of the companies releasing its previous productions online for free.

Industry professionals are holding free or charity-donation-advised masterclasses on Zoom, online workshops are springing up all over. Shows which were previously destined to be on stage are now being acted out online from various different living rooms / kitchens / gardens. I’ve just got work script editing a production which will be written and filmed under social isolation regulations. It seems like the industry which had been flattened by the Indiana-Jones style giant rolling boulder has got over the shock, dusted itself off and is now looking for a different way to the Lost Ark. It’s adapting and it’s learning and it seems more compassionate and giving than ever – I hope that part of it stays.

Apart from all this, my girlfriend and I are just trying to get on with it – it’s just the two of us which makes things a lot easier. Our excellent crossfit gym dropped off equipment to us before lockdown and they run classes twice a day over Zoom.

I’m glad that I can still go out running but I’m keeping runs under an hour and trying to avoid parks and other busy areas, I also go out at quieter times. My running club is doing a virtual relay instead of our weekly meets up.

We’ve done up our garden and I’ve bought a sewing machine and some patterns and I’m giving dressmaking a go (it’s not going super well at the moment but I’m still trying!). Sure, it sucks not being able to see our friends face to face but our situation is a lot better than people who have no garden or live in a crowded space, so we can’t complain. Also, I know people who have lost loved ones to coronavirus which really puts things in perspective.

I’m also feeling more part of a community than I ever have done before. We recently did up our elderly neighbour’s garden because it was a bit of a mess so he wasn’t really able to use it. We did a call out on our local mutual aid Facebook group for flowers and people started turning up with bulbs, seedlings, flowers, pots and in one case, some baby trees!

It was amazing and he was really happy with the results. He’s often out there now, pottering around and enjoying the nice weather we’ve been having. We didn’t want payment but he insisted on us giving six bottles of wine which put a bit of dent in our ‘healthy lockdown living’ due to our utter lack of self control.

Early on, we went out and posted our address and mobile number to everyone on our street in case they needed help while they were self isolating. We’ve done a couple of shopping and prescription runs but most of the texts I get from it are from people offering help. All these people who live on my road and I hardly know any of them!

Through the mutual aid Facebook group I’ve got to know a couple of my neighbours – it seems my street is full of lovely people. Ironic that it takes a lockdown for me to get out and meet my neighbours.

This is a new time for everyone and we’re all just trying to feel our way through it. I’m trying to remain positive but sometimes it really hits me – I’ve got a new little baby niece who was born at the beginning of April. She’s only in London but she may as well be across the other side of the world. I wonder when I’ll get to meet her. I dropped off some essentials at my mum’s house and even though I was only stood at the end of the drive, it felt like there was this big chasm between us. It’s difficult but it’s temporary, and I try to keep that in mind.

Take each day one at a time and be kind.

Jodie Ashdown is a writer who lives in Canton with her girlfriend and too many plants. Jodie is one of this year’s BBC Welsh Voices. Follow Jodie on Twitter @surfingsunshine.

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