Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Sara Williams

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

Lockdown life for me has been full of contradiction. The very nature of quarantining is a contradiction. There is a global pandemic (one which the world has not seen the likes of since the Spanish flu) people are dying, the economy is in turmoil; but unless you are classified as a key worker the most useful thing you can do is stay in and sit on your arse?! It’s a world of anxiety and fear versus the boring and mundane.

The first six weeks went fairly well. I work for an international development charity and our chief exec had been proactive around preparing the organisation for the impact of COVID-19. We shut our Cardiff office before lockdown was announced and decamped to work from home from the 16th March. It was a busy time – my role is focussed on managing partnerships and also fundraising; so I was focussed on disseminating information to the partners we work with in other countries on how we as an organisation were adapting to the pandemic and asking corporates and previous donors for funds towards our COVID relief fund.

But after a month of working from home; it suddenly felt not so busy. Our partners and country programmes were now in lockdown themselves and all the donors that were going to give to international rather than domestic causes at this time had given. I began to think furlough was inevitable – the not-for-profit sector is always at risk in these situations and our organisation runs to a very tight budget so it seemed like the right step to take for the long term future. Sure enough I with the majority of staff (leaving 6 out of 19 behind) were placed on furlough for May; this has now been extended into June.

It has been a humbling experience, to realise that the most value you can bring to your job right now is to just not work.

I definitely agree it was the right thing to do and will give the organisation (along with many others) some breathing room around its reserves and long term survival. But all the same it’s a dent to the ego! My partner is still working from home as are a lot of our friends and when I announced I was joining the nine million on furlough – there were a lot of questions about what I was going to do with that time and I felt a lot of pressure to fill the time wisely…even though it wasn’t a planned sabbatical but rather an enforced paid leave of absence(!).

So I did fill the time. I got in touch with my old work; another charity that supports unpaid carers across Wales and offered myself as a volunteer. They were happy to have me; carers are put under even more strain than normal at the moment as loved ones are being discharged from the hospital sooner that they would be usually due to the risks of being in hospital and transmitting COVID. I am a qualified yoga teacher so I have put together yoga videos for carers as well as running interviews with individual carers about their experiences as part of a Carer Aware project – again that has been humbling. In our home it is just myself and my partner, we have no children or family members to care for and with me taking home 80% pay and my partner still working we are comfortable financially.

I decided to use my buying power to help in this situation too, it started off with supporting local businesses; suddenly ordering a takeaway felt like a civic duty rather than being self-indulgent!

It expanded to donations towards women’s refuges upon reading about the increase in domestic abuse and how lockdown isn’t a safe haven for a lot of people. And in the last week my focus has been donations to the George Floyd memorial fund and the Minnesota bail out for protestors; to be in solidarity with the black lives matter movement.

It has made me realise that even on lockdown we are so connected – with our neighbours, with people in Cardiff, with people across the UK and then globally. My partner has long been involved with Extinction Rebellion and has used lockdown time to support their call for a citizens assembly and run a local save the northern meadows campaign.

If we can be this united around coronavirus, can we become this united around climate change?

I took a flight free pledge for 2020 and weirdly this has become the year for the majority of flights to be grounded; but will we take this behaviour change with us after lockdown easing? Will we still stand in solidarity over racism when normal everyday life takes hold? I hope so.

The final contradiction of my own personal lockdown experience has been health and I am fighting opposing forces here! I mentioned I practice yoga regularly as a teacher, but my cardio is sincerely lacking so I decided to get into running – I have just finished the couch to 5k and intend to carry on to 10k. I have also been taking part in an online yoga nidra (guided mediation course). So feel I am covering physical and emotional wellbeing….

But then on the other side there has been a big upswing in the drinking and the baking. I have definitely been partaking in the ‘furlough merlot’ (a “quarantism” that I love) and I have never baked as much in my life as I have in the last 10 weeks. I haven’t got into the banana bread or sourdough starter phase (yet – there is still time), but I am all over peanut butter chip cookies, courgette and beetroot cakes! The cakes and biscuits themselves are definitely a comfort but I think there is something soothing about following recipes too? There must be considering the national shortage of flour going on?

I am looking forward to seeing my nanny and grampy from a distance this week with the news we can see one other household in Wales.

I am also looking forward to the five miles limit eventually being lifted as I have to say I am sick of the sight of Bute Park and the Bay. It is interesting how such small things like these can be so exciting. I hope that I take that appreciation back out of lockdown with me but perhaps leave the over enthusiastic appreciation of merlot behind …

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