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Hi! I'm Helia. Blog boss at We Are Cardiff, I mostly love culture, travel, reading, writing, and riding my bike. Cardiff, Wales, and the world!

Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Debbie Hiskins

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Debbie Hiskins, who writes about being pregnant during the lockdown. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Spending the final weeks of my first pregnancy in isolation with my husband wasn’t quite what we’d had planned.

The diary was full of grown-up activities we might struggle to enjoy for a bit – meals out, evening drinks with friends, visits to my family in Kent (a 4 hour drive away), cinema trips, my brother’s 30th, a Christmas present of stargazing in the Brecon Beacons and our first wedding anniversary celebrations.

Covid-19 had other ideas though and in the run up to lockdown one by one the cancellation emails arrived. Then the announcement that pregnant women were in the vulnerable category and should self-isolate meaning I’d spent my last day in the office without even knowing it and hadn’t said bye to anyone. Initially I felt really upset about missing all these things I’d been looking forward to doing. When would I next see friends from work? How were we going to meet new parents if our NCT classes didn’t go ahead? Would the hospitals be overrun?

Then came a reality check about how lucky we are. We’re fortunate to work for Principality Building Society, a company which immediately let staff know that no one would be furloughed and changed its operations to support working from home for nearly everyone. We could both do our jobs remotely with surprising ease and that comfortable chair I’d bought for feeding the baby could be used immediately at my new make-shift desk. We work together normally so the adjustment to spending a lot of time with each other during the day was easy although we did set up in separate rooms to avoid hearing each other on calls saying phrases like “let’s drilldown on that” or “going forward…”.

We have a home we love and being there 24/7 meant we had more time to crack on with the jobs that needed sorting before the baby arrived. We tried to pace them out to break up the first few weekends. Soon the nursery was decorated, the wardrobes were full on Marie Kondo bliss, the bathroom cupboards an oasis of organisation. Who knew you could hoard so many half-used bottles of moisturiser?

Our NCT classes went ahead virtually and it wasn’t the crackly, awkward experience I’d feared. Everyone was lovely and we could chat in smaller breakout rooms on Zoom, view the information slides and laugh on mute between the two of us about the hilarious grey(?) knitted (?!) breast used to demonstrate breast feeding without anyone else being able to hear.

We also signed up for hypnobirthing with Claire from Yumi Yoga to help prep for the birth better. I hadn’t been feeling anxious about it but the news that the mid-wife led unit at the Heath had been closed (it’s now back open) and that we wouldn’t be able to stay together for some parts of labour, or if I needed to stay in after the birth, had made me feel less in control. The three sessions, run successfully on Zoom, were really helpful and allowed us to meet another friendly group of very local parents too.

Most significantly all the fun activities we’d had planned could still be achieved with a bit of forethought. The independent restaurants of Cardiff have done an amazing job diversifying their businesses to protect staff and customers but still be able to trade.

Paella made with fish from Ashtons and Spanish ingredients from Curado

We’ve had some splendid romantic dinner takeaways from Heaney’s, Bully’s, Dusty Knuckle, Leyli Joon, Hoof, Matsudai Ramen, Da Ling Kitchen and Mr Croquewich. We’ve also been able to get food delivered without relying on the supermarkets where we could never get a slot. Fresh veg every week from Paul’s Organic Veg, fresh meat and eggs from Oriel Jones and fish from Ashtons, cheese from Ty Caws, tapas treats from Curado, bread and amazing brownies from Pettigrew Bakery. Being able to cook proper meals has helped make things feel a bit more like normal even if you do have to get a bit creative to use up some of the random veg.

Salad made with veg from the veg box and Ty Caws cheese!

We’ve got subscriptions so we could still watch films and binge on box sets. My parents got Facebook so we could video call (albeit with a six second delay due to their appalling bandwidth). We did virtual pub quizzes and an escape room. I started a book club with my octogenarian granny, sister and mum. If anything I was too busy!

Family zoom session!

It’s fair to say the video chat fatigue has set in a bit. Now our classes are finished we’re taking a complete break from video calls next week. After all it might be our last one as a twosome before the baby arrives and we’ve got another “new normal” to adjust to.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Ashley West

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

Bute Park. Photo by We Are Cardiff

My anxiety was waiving
My isolation already grown
As we entered into lockdown;
I felt even more alone.

One daily routine of exercise
Didn’t seem to change
The way in which I was feeling
In a world that turned so strange.
Our worlds got flipped, turned upside down,
It happened overnight.
No one could have predicted
That we would ever face this fight.
Each day brings on new worries
As I sit and hear the news.
But I’ve had to try to distance myself
As our leaders set out to confuse.
I work from home to bring normality,
To keep a routine, I’d guess you’d say.
But each morning I get up I think
“Here’s another struggle today.”
So many lives are being lost.
Groceries we had to ration.
It has spread through the world like wildfire
This virus has no compassion.
However, positives are being seen
As the world now starts to heal.
Pollution slowed, travel stopped,
Although still does not feel real.
Even though this has been tough,
This storm we can weather.
As communities have rallied round
Showing we can all get through this together.
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The Welsh Blood Service needs you!

Taking a brief break today from the Letters from Lockdown, we bring you this plea for help from the Welsh Blood Service.

The Welsh Blood Service needs to collect 350 units of blood every day to supply the 19 hospitals in Wales, which is a tough ask during the lockdown. At present only THREE PERCENT of the population donate blood. We need more of you than this!

Sobering stats. Get your butts out to donate! Donating blood is considered essential travel, so you can safely travel to any donation location.  

At the moment they can only accept donors with an appointment, so if you’re keen to donate, please head to the Welsh Blood Service website, register with them and make yourself an appointment.

It’s essential people continue to donate so patients can receive the treatment they need. YOUR BLOOD WILL BE SAVING LIVES! The WBS have taken extra measures to ensure donors and staff are safe while in clinic: read more about that here – Welsh Blood Service – coronavirus.

If you’ve been trying to book an appointment in Cardiff but haven’t found one yet, good news! The Welsh Blood Service will be visiting Plasnewydd Community Centre for five extra days from 1-5 June. They’re looking for people to donate, so please head over to the Welsh Blood Service website, register and book an appointment.

And because we don’t just preach, we practise too, Helia from the We Are Cardiff crew is heading out to give blood next week, and because she is 100% dedicated to life in the Matrix (and to try and encourage more of you to do it) she’ll be posting the whole thing LIVE on we WAC socials. Head to the We Are Cardiff Instagram on Wednesday 27 May for the full bloody Monty.




Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Abbie Morgan

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

“2020 is going to be my year!” is the statement I made to friends at the end of January. So many other humans had used that phrase before me that it caused an eye roll for most, but I was trying to persuade myself that this would be the case. Moving to a new house, getting back to the person I have always been after the end of a really tough relationship and as I went through February and the start of March, it really felt like I was on track to make the most of that statement. Then came lockdown.

At the first suggestion of some time working from home, I was apprehensive but at the same time believed I could use the time wisely. I bought art supplies in the week running up to my last day in the office and reassured myself that I would be completely fine, knowing full well that loneliness had caused so many mental health issues in the past. Turns out I have done very little drawing or painting but taking photographs has definitely become a thing. Its almost like I have been trying to document what’s been happening to us all with the least amount of mental/physical effort.

Then the day came, as part of my job I had to make sure a few others in the office were okay before leaving. Little did I know that 7/8 weeks later I would miss their faces so much.

Working from home is okay… Just okay I’m afraid. One great piece of advice from my best friend was to make an office space so I could feel like I was in a work environment, not just curled up on the sofa every day or worse still, not getting out of bed other than to eat. My little breakfast bar is the spot, but it means sitting on a bar stool type chair every day leading to having to get up and stretch A LOT.

I have two cats as my isolation buddies and, If I am completely honest, are a great source of company despite sleeping for most of the day. They keep me in a routine and force me to get up at 5am to be fed. If you have ever experienced two cats screaming in your face at that time of day, you will know it is definitely a sound you cannot ignore. This in turn has led to me heading out for a run first thing in the morning and making the most of Cardiff Bay at that time of day. I stop at points on the route each time to take a photo or two and share them on my Instagram stories for those who sleep way past sunrise.

During this whole situation there has been the question of dating. I went on a few dates prior to lockdown being in full force and it was great to have the idea of getting to know someone new.

Dealing with what is now lovingly known as the new normal whilst trying to date or connect with someone new throws up all sorts of challenges. How many messages a day is reasonable? How much do you need to share about your boring day in the flat? How do you know if you actually like this person or how much do they like you without being in each other’s company? Is this just a lockdown thing or are the plans you have made for later this year real or just a fantasy?

It’s a mental health nightmare, especially for an overthinker like myself. All I can say is that the idea of company at the end of a phone from someone who thinks enough of you to reply is a nice feeling. Maybe it’ll be something or, maybe it’ll be a strange version of a holiday romance and once lockdown changes, their attention will head back to their life before. Either way, a connection with someone who you are slowly getting know, a message or call at a time, has allowed me to dream about a time without restrictions.

My favourite personal challenge during this time has been to post a photo of all the outfits I have decided to wear. It has to be plural as I often feel the need for a costume change half way through a day. I have spent 17 years collecting so many different items of clothing from vintage fairs, charity shops and even some expensive gowns for posh events in the past. Most have only seen the light of day once so it felt like a good time to show them off. There have been fancy dress Zoom parties and dressing up for VE day which have been little excuses to dig right to the back of the wardrobe for something special.

As I write this, I am currently wearing outfit 65.. and still have, I think, at least another 30 days’ worth to go. I honestly do not want this lock down to continue until I run out of clothes, but I get the feeling that may well be the case!

Follow Abbie on Instagram @babos87 

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Claire Ait-Hammi, The Med Shed

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Claire Ait-Hammi of The Med Shed. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

One thing I am absolutely loving at the moment is getting to know our local community a lot more. Usually I am dashing to work/from work/running after the kids/working at weekends, so I am really loving being able to take leisurely walks in our local area of Penylan.

So here’s my summary of my life so far in lockdown – as a mum to Zach (nine) and Sophia (seven), wife (to Nabil), full-time employee and co-owner of a small food business.

Even though it seems we were following the spread of COVID-19 for ages, and lockdown was inevitable, it still came on a bit sudden. One minute I was in the office, Nabil was at work, the kids at school. Next minute routine was completely out the window as I enjoyed a delicious amount of free time with Nabil and the kids but was the only one who had to get up the next day to work.

Anyway after a few weeks I started to get into the rhythm of things a little bit. Nabil and I were tinkering with various projects in the house, starting painting and tidying jobs that were well overdue.

Zach and Sophia were enjoying (and still very much are), the freedom of childhood not currently bound by strict timetabling and ferrying from one extracurricular activity to the other.

Unfortunately we are not the type of people happy to tinker in the house for very long. Despite working full-time, our weekends are usually busy with events for our street food business – The Med Shed.  At first I was enjoying the freedom of evenings and weekends at home, but we quickly became bored.

We started to see fellow food businesses branch out into other ventures – including offering meals to NHS workers and offering a takeaway service.

We approached a charity based in West Wales – FeedtheNHSWales and began supplying meals to our hardworking NHS staff in Cardiff and Llandough. It can be tough coming up with suitable meals – considering reheating, presentation and flavour – but we’ve had some great feedback so far.

It certainly presented a new and exciting challenge doing bulk catering from a domestic registered premises!  Meals that we have provided so far include:

  • Poulet Roti with Pommes Lyonnaise
  • Algerian Meatballs & Couscous
  • Tchakchouka & Couscous
  • Chicken Shawarma Wraps
  • Falafel Wraps
  • Butternut Squash & Goat’s Cheese Lasagne
  • Goats Cheese & Caramelised Onion Tartlet.

Nabil is Algerian, so our street food is usually heavily influenced by North Africa, but we decided to create a Mediterranean name and theme to enable us to offer dishes from all over the Med and experiment with different cuisine.

One week in to providing meals for the NHS we got the fever and started to offer takeaway delivery service to locals on a Saturday. We usually take orders during the week and offer a Saturday night delivery. This is going very well and has certainly been a huge learning curve taking on different aspects to a food business during this time!

We have had great support from various local suppliers in helping to feed the NHS. Huge thanks goes out to The Orchard Butchers (Rumney) and C Snell Potatoes. Their generosity knows no bounds and they offer quality produce.

One thing I am absolutely loving at the moment is getting to know our local community a lot more. Usually I am dashing to work/from work/running after the kids/working at weekends, so I am really loving being able to take leisurely walks in our local area of Penylan.

Being a member of a Facebook group such as the Penylan/Cyncoed/Roath community is lovely, but it doesn’t work as well as personal interaction. We were looking forward to hopefully working with everyone at the Penylan Picnic event this year (organised by Waterloo Gardens Fete).

Last year’s event made a huge difference to our community and it was great to meet so many other locals. Hopefully next year! I’m hoping that when things start to go back to ‘normal’ (not sure I ever knew the meaning of the word!), I don’t forget our family evening walks, bike rides and chats (currently at a distance!) to other locals. As someone who has split their time as a full time employee working from home, tutor and food business owner, I never anticipated the lack of energy I sometimes have for either one thing or the other.

Can I confess something? I had big plans for home educating when all this started. I have all the resources/subscription to Twinkl/years of early education/personal tutoring, but sometimes I really can’t be bothered!

I’m often feeling torn between thinking I could (or is that should?) do more with my children; and thinking hang on! They are happy – and as long as they continue to be happy and can reintegrate when all this is over isn’t that enough? Please tell me I’m not alone in feeling this way!

So in short – I, like so many others, am just doing the best I can during this time. I won’t be taking up another language or learning a new subject (although languages is a huge passion of mine and I’ve always wanted to study forensic linguistics), because I really don’t feel like it at the moment.

However I will try my best to get to know my community of Cardiff better and try to be content with what I achieve on a day to day basis. Who else is with me?!

Follow Claire on Facebook (Claire Ait-Hammi), or check out The Med Shed and order all the goodies from them! Email The Med Shed | The Med Shed Facebook | The Med Shed Twitter | The Med Shed Instagram

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Alice, aged two

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Alice, aged two. Full disclosure, she had some help from a human adult she has enslaved to look after her. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

My favourite lockdown activities include: clapping for key workers, swapping books with my friends, colouring the inside of a large cardboard box while sitting in it, yoga (I have invented extra poses, such as ‘fish’ and ‘snake’) and pretending to be a dinosaur. I would recommend all of them.

I ask most days if we can ‘do clapping’. But it turns out that’s only on Thursday nights. I like to see everyone outside clapping. It also means I get to wave to my friend, Jeremy, across the road, who, like me, is also in his pyjamas and sleeping bag by 8pm. When the clapping stops, I am known to shout “More clapping!” And sometimes that works.

It has been nice having Daddy at home. He’s normally at the university but he has been giving lectures to his students from the spare room. I have made the most of him being at home by waiting until I am outside his door to belt out Baby Shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo. I also once gave him a fright by running up the stairs and into his office while he was in a Zoom meeting and saying “What you up to?” (In case you were wondering, Mummy was just trying to wash her hands during all of this; they don’t call me Speedy GonzAlice for nothing.)

Mummy says our house now looks like we should be on an episode of Hoarders, whatever that is. It’s true that we have a lot more cardboard than we used to: a cardboard house, a cardboard boat, a cardboard TV and a cardboard under-the-sea scene. I also made an Elmer the Elephant using an old milk carton and some colourful paper squares. I say ‘made’, I mean project managed.

It is hard not seeing friends and family, though. I miss them. The other day I was walking past my favourite playground with Mummy and I asked if I could go on the seesaw with my friend Millie, but she said it’s closed now but we will do when we can. So instead we went into the grassy area of the park and I went up to all the trees and hugged them.

I feel a bit wary when I see people I don’t know walking around. I think it’s because Mummy sometimes picks me up or crosses the street if there are people about, and that’s very strange to me. I don’t always know how to react.

Normally I go to lots of different places, but now we have to keep a distance from everyone, even our friends. But we do make each other cards and talk on the phone. One time I said to Millie, “Wash your hands, nice and clean!” and then lay down on the floor and put a toilet roll on my tummy. It was hysterical. I think mummy would call that my peak lockdown moment.

I got upset the other day that I couldn’t go to the supermarket with Daddy. And when we saw an airplane I asked if I could go on it.

I’m lucky that I find beauty in small things. I am interested in all the different kinds of birds. I like spotting helicopters in the sky. Yesterday when I was in the garden, I watched a bee. Then I said “Excuse me, bee” and waited patiently for it to fly away before watering our apple tree.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Amy

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Amy of Dead Canary and La Pantera, who welcomed a second child to their family three weeks into the lockdown! We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Before lockdown, myself and my husband were busy running two bars in Cardiff city centre, as well as chasing after our wonderful two-year-old daughter and getting preparations ready for our son’s imminent arrival.

Our lockdown experience has been a rollercoaster of emotions, from stress and anxiety to laughter to wonderful life changing moments.

We own the Dead Canary, a speak easy style bar which has been open for almost five years, serving Cardiff cocktails made by the most wonderful, hard working and passionate team. In February we opened our second bar, La Pantera, a small taqueria situated above Sully’s / The Blue Honey Night Cafe.

Although only open for a few weeks before we were forced to close due to the coronavirus, it was an exciting new venture, which had, so far, been doing really well and we were so proud of all the feedback we were receiving.

La Pantera!

The start of lockdown was full of anxiety in regards to future of the two bars, as well as being able to look after our teams and our little family. Once the furlough scheme was announced and small business grants were put into place, it did allow for a bit of breathing space and to let us focus on our growing family.

The first three weeks of lockdown were full of creating jungles in the garden, baking questionable cupcakes, crafting crowns made from flowers and twigs and reading The Gruffalo to a hedgehog who was waking up after hibernating all winter in our outhouse. All these activities were to entertain myself as much as our two-yearold. To take my mind off the worries of bringing a new baby into the world in such an unknown time.

Three weeks and two days into lockdown, we welcomed our beautiful 9 lb 7.5 son to the world. The midwives and all of the team at the Heath Hospital were incredible. All were smiling and chipper, creating an air of ease and calm. I can not thank them all enough for their selfless efforts and for keeping us safe and well and delivering our son.

Aurora meets her little brother, lockdown baby Ozzie

Then home for the second chapter of our lockdown, as a family of four. Bit of a different experience to when we returned home with our daughter, where we saw plenty of visitors coming through our doors to say hello and have cwtches with our new bundle of joy.

We can not wait to show him off to the rest of loved ones, and to take him on little adventures.

We are grateful for our health and the safe arrival of our little boy, and having the time to bond and the time to take things easy and slower. He has slotted in very nicely into our family and stolen our hearts.

Why not go and give the Dead Canary and La Pantera some online love for now – and make sure to go visit them in the future when the lockdown is lifted:

Dead Canary website | Dead Canary Facebook | Dead Canary Twitter

La Pantera website | La Pantera Facebook | La Pantera Instagram

The Dead Canary cocktail bar


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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Melissa Boothman

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Melissa Boothman, owner of Penylan Pantry and the Secret Garden Cafe in Bute Park. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Here is my version of lockdown life, from someone who runs a small independent business in the hospitality industry, and employs 17 people.

Wow, where do I start? So far, this whole experience has been a big washing machine of emotions, mainly on spin, then occasionally clicking on to drain, and sometimes pause, pausing in a big puddle of water, still, very still.

Like many I also felt like we are all living in a fictional novel, a dystopian future.

Week 1 (I think). “It’s okay, we’ve got this, together we will be okay”. In this first week, none of us really knew what we were about to fall into. Seeing the news, and how Italy was being struck down with fatality after fatality, we knew it was going to be serious. However, there is this sense of, ‘it’s not happening to us, we won’t get it that bad’ or will we? The unknown set in…….

Within the two businesses, we adapted and put lots of little changes in place. I held a meeting, to put my team’s minds at rest: ‘Your jobs are safe, I will make sure of it’.

I knew we were about to embark on something that none of us had experienced, but I told myself ‘Mel, you’ve got this, you are good with the big stuff, you are good at change and thinking on your feet, it will be okay’.

The team were amazing and took on all these new changes, turning up every day with a smile on their faces, which really helped.

Our local community, our regulars, our customers, came out and showed their support. It was super humbling, grounding and gave me reassurance.

Change was in the air.

Week 2/3 (it’s all becoming blurry). Shit, what is happening?…..okay, stay calm, react, be proactive, adapt, SURVIVE.

I didn’t really stop to think much in this, the second week, my priorities and concerns were of my staff. ‘OK, I need to keep 17 people in a job, and the two businesses alive.’ In the back of my mind, I’m asking myself ‘what’s going to happen to my little businesses?’ Fears of lockdown are looming, thick in the air, a day feels like a week. We are all in fight or flight mode.

I spent the week hastily listening to the news, to a government that were giving vague advice, that were reacting, not being proactive, and with all this vagueness, the week was a flurry of confusion, for us all. I could see it in our customers, in the ambience, the mood, no one knew what to do, how to properly behave, or what was the right and correct thing to do.

This was the week that no support, or clear guidance came from our leaders, which left many of us scared. This was my week of firefighting.

Amongst these emotions, the anxiety, the adapting, the mind whirling with ideas of survival, kindness prevails.

People were opening up, showing vulnerability, coming together, supporting each other, being KIND.

Within both the Pantry and the Secret Garden Cafe we really noticed how everyone had slowed down, how people were calmer, and more patient, the support for independents was amazing to see.

Friday 20th March, our Government finally announces support for workers, promising to keep everyone in a job, and covering wages. This was such a relief, and half the weight of worry off my shoulders (the other half, the future of my businesses still present). However, the government didn’t release any terms of this payout until the following Tuesday. I was checking the government website multiple times a day, waiting for the terms, checking that myself and my team were eligible.

Week 3/4 (Probably, I’ve stopped counting the weeks, it’s purely day by day).

This is the week that I closed both my businesses. I knew it was the right decision, and I knew it was the best thing for me, my team and the safety of our community, but damn it was hard, harder than I’d anticipated, for I did not at any point, in the years I’ve been running my businesses, expect to be closing them through no choice of my own.

They don’t tell you to plan for the world wide spread of a deadly virus when writing your business plan.

I went into the Pantry, and placed a sign in the window, I sat, had a little cry (it was very emotional, which took me by surprise), and locked the door.

That same day, Boris announced lockdown, something we’d all been expecting, and tentatively waiting for.

The next day, we closed down both sites; turning off fridges, cleaning, sorting out perishable stock and talking about the current situation. I had to call all our utility providers, some acted with empathy, and others business as normal – money/profit over people, even during an international pandemic. I sent emails to landlords notifying them of our closure, updates to customers and contacting our suppliers.

A huge outpouring of love came our way via messages, calls, emails, and comments on social media. Thank you, thank you, it really lifted me, I felt and still feel grateful for the community around me, for the people who love and support my businesses, for what the Pantry means to some people.

The weeks that followed… I felt like the rug had been pulled from under my feet, lost, not knowing what to do, and confused. Stay at home they said, but really, there’s a pandemic outside my doors, with people suffering, and I’m supposed to sit at home (this was my internal battle). I felt helpless. I knew I had to stay at home, but my instinct was telling me to get out and help.

I couldn’t stop thinking of all the suffering some people would endure during lockdown, of how COVID-19 had highlighted the huge inequalities in our country, and how the most vulnerable would be hit hardest. With all of this on my mind, I hadn’t properly stopped to think about the virus, and how dangerous it was. I started reading the news again, and realised that this virus has no rules, it can kill young people, and in some cases people with no previous health problems; oh shit.

With this urge to help, the need to be busy, concerns about the virus, business ideas and the need for rest …..

What to actually do whilst in lockdown was very confusing, and felt very unsettling. I certainly had no head space for a new early morning yoga routine, learning a new language or crocheting a blanket for my mum.

I was pulling myself back and forth in many directions. Eventually, I decided, that the Pantry needed to be on pause (in my head), I needed some rest (after six years of very few days off), I wanted to volunteer and help where I could, and restore some balance.

I’ve been keeping in touch with the team, via silly photos, little messages and the occasional Zoom meetings (I find video chat awkward). The next chapter of this situation meant I was even able to see some of the team in the kitchens.

This came about because … my two friends, Kas, founder of Waterloo Teahouses, and Kev from Holy Yolks, started separate initiatives to support our local hospitals, by providing delicious homemade food to NHS staff and key workers (Kev from Holy Yolks is running the Help the Heroes campaign and Kas set up  Feed the Heath). They couldn’t do it alone, and needed some support.

A few of the hospital canteens had closed, making it difficult for staff to access good food whilst on shift, so we (myself and my team) felt we could help out by reopening our kitchens a few days a week, cooking them some good meals, and at the same time show our gratitude.

We also do weekly deliveries of much needed supplies to Cardiff Food Bank, made possible by cash donations from some beautiful people.

I’d found a purpose and a way to help amidst this chaotic time. Even though I was keeping busy, it really helped me to relax and feel more settled about the whole thing. I started to ease into activities that weren’t work, that didn’t revolve around only the businesses. Spending time with my other half, taking walks, foraging, identifying wild plants, listening to the birds, and enjoying a calmer pace.

The calmer pace has given me a little clarity to start thinking about the next phase. Financially we have taken a huge hit, but we are safe and we will be one of the fortunate few that reopen. It will be hard, like starting over a brand new business again with zero cash flow, but lots of business won’t be reopening.

On the day we closed, I stood, alone looking out of the Pantry’s windows, when I realised, let’s fill these windows with hope and sunshine, inspired by the rainbows popping up in everyone’s windows.

The only problem with this idea, is… I can’t draw. But I know just the woman, she’s amazing, kind and very talented; Suzanne Carpenter, one half of @patternistas. I randomly, with no notice, dropped the Pantry keys through her letterbox, gave her the alarm code and planted the seed.

Suzanne asked me if I’d like a message in the window, yes, yes I would, what a great idea, can it be this – What Kind of World would you like to emerge after this crisis is over?

Suzanne did the most amazing job, it’s beautiful.

This is a question that’s been on my mind since it all started.

Positives (there’s no guilt in saying there are some), for me are: I love how little traffic there has been on the roads, resulting in a calmer less rushed atmosphere, better air quality, and less noise pollution. I’ve loved how it’s introduced a simpler way of life, how it’s slowed me down, and how I’ve enjoyed walks, listening to the birds, my garden, cooking at home, regular exercise, regular meals, better sleep, how I’ve reconnected with plants, and my local surroundings. The joy of simple pleasures. I love how Mother Nature has been able to take a big deep breath of clean air, and how we have all had to STOP.

I really hope we can carry some of these new routines into the future. I hope kindness wins, and governments start putting people before money.

I hope we start to live a compatible life side-by-side with nature, and I look forward to reopening the doors to my business with my own lessons learnt.

Love and Peace.

Melissa Boothman is owner of Penylan Pantry & The Secret Garden Cafe. Visit the Penylan Pantry website / Twitter @PenylanPantry / Twitter @secretgardencf.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Bernard James

This instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Bernard James, who runs the Atlantic Wharf Residents Association with his daughter, and is soon to turn 81 years old! We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown.

Docks Feeder canal – photo by Bernard James

As a widowed man of just two months short of 81, some people could assume that the lockdown would have little change on my life other than getting provisions.

I can honestly say – anyone that thinks this would be very wrong. As an active oldie the lockdown has had great affect. If you have spare time, and a lot of people have in the present situation, I will relate to you how it has changed my lifestyle.

Our libraries are closed and I am now denied my three or four books that I read every three weeks. I really miss my afternoon reading hour and again before going to sleep at night.

Just 12 months ago I was recovering from a heart bypass operation, part of the ongoing recovery programme has been regular exercise to raise my heart rate. Health Wales has an arrangement with “Better Gyms” that allows gym membership for a substantially reduced rate, I took advantage of that and attend Splott Hub where a Health Wales trainer runs a class. I enjoy that as one can exercise in a group, making it quite companionable.

The gym has now closed due to the situation, and that has made quite the impact on my lifestyle.

Photo by Bernard James

I feel quite guilty that my daughter is taking all the risks by doing the shopping. It is useless trying to get a slot on the supermarket home delivery service, one has to wait four weeks for a slot.

I feel lucky that my daughter has lived with me since my wife passed away, so I have her companionship. I have always liked to do the supermarket shopping, but my daughter has taken on the shopping role as she feels that it is too risky to have me mixing with so many people, some who take little or no notice of social distancing.

The council closure of the cemeteries has hit me hard as I am unable to visit my wife’s grave at Pant Maur. This was especially so when my daughter and I were unable to go on the anniversary of my wife’s passing.

The council decision to keep the allotments open has been good for me, even though they have restrictions on how long one can be there. The allotment means a lot to me for physical exercise, mental also, thinking of what and when to grow gets quite complicated sometimes.

My allotment in happier times! Photo by Bernard James

I have to travel three miles to the allotment as there are none in the Butetown, Cardiff Bay area.

The council actually took a proposed allotment site for the south side of Cardiff out of the Local Development Plan. When I complained to the previous Butetown Councillor about that he said that he had only had two people who wanted a plot, and one was me.

Can you believe that other than two of us, nobody else in the Butetown ward wanted an allotment plot. There are two year waiting lists in some other areas of Cardiff.

Part of my daily walk. Photo by Bernard James

As I have a dog and no back garden I take the dog out for three short walks each day. We don’t stay out long and ensure we keep our distance from other people.

The closure of restaurants and public houses affect me in lesser ways, even though I always enjoy a visit to them. I am worried about the long term affect of this lockdown on jobs, and on the city centre.

Many shops and entertainment venues may never open again, the city centre that was so vibrant could become a ghost town. I dread the thought of that.

It frightens me that people seem to like the thought of more people working from home and not commuting to the city centre. After all it is these commuters that give the city its life.

I think I have written enough now. Keep safe and look after yourselves.

A ghostly Lloyd George Avenue. Photo by Bernard James

Bernard James was originally born in Caerphilly. He worked and lived in the south of England until 2001 when he moved to Atlantic Wharf.  He worked as a guide on the Open Top bus, and now he and his daughter run the Atlantic Wharf Residents Association.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Lee Eynon

This instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series is from Lee Eynon. Lee runs Fuud blog – an “occasionally entertaining blog about stuffing your face in Cardiff. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!

A few weeks ago, when all this started, I had the same conversation with several people. It was never said out loud, always confined to the shadows of the DMs and WhatsApp groups of my most trusted friends.

“I know this is terrible” it would begin, “but I’m, sort of… quite enjoying lockdown.”

There’d be a bone-chilling guilty silence as the other party began typing, then the response would come: “Er, yeah me too, actually.”

Before the pitchforks and flaming torches come out, let me back up a little bit. I fully acknowledge that I went into lockdown in a ridiculously privileged position compared to many people. My job can be done fairly easily from home (frankly the fact that I have a job and a home right now is privilege enough), I don’t have kids to educate or keep entertained, and big ‘Rona is yet to pay me or my family a visit.

But I can’t deny that in many respects, the restriction on movement has been good for me.

I’m exercising more, I’m sleeping better, and I get to hang out with my wonderful other half and our idiot cat every day.

I’ve started to actively enjoy the structure that work brings, and I feel like I’m doing better at my job than I have in months. I’m even ringing my parents more often.

And then there’s the cooking.

All this time to practice plus the challenge of coming up with a weekly meal plan based on whatever we can get our hands on has forced me to experiment and learn so much more.

It doesn’t always work out well; last week’s leek and potato gratin ended up as more of a soup with a roof, and it turns out you don’t see parsnip mash very often because the texture is a bit like custard with bits of string floating in it.

But for every misstep, there’s been a little victory; my Korean Fried Tofu game has come on leaps and bounds, as have my fish tacos. My huevos rancheros are up there with the best I’ve had, and I don’t want to get into a banana bread measuring contest here, but mine is absolutely on point right now.

This is not to say I’ve not had bad days. There have been more than a few sleepless nights worrying about my parents. Mornings stressing about having to go shopping, and whether I’ll be able to pick up what we need without being coughed on.

Overall though, I have to admit, with no small measure of guilt, that I’ve been kind of ok with lockdown. Or at least that’s what I thought until yesterday.

Our friends Phil and Andy were passing, so they decided to drop off a pot plant they’d been meaning to give us for ages. I wasn’t prepared for how I’d feel when I opened the door and saw them standing there, two-socially-distant-metres away in the middle of the street.

Like most people I’ve been keeping in touch with friends on Zoom – chatting a few times a week, doing pub quizzes etc – but actually seeing a mate at the door in person blew my mind.

We spoke for less than five minutes, but the physical rush of seeing familiar faces – other humans that didn’t have to be considered an obstacle, or a threat in some way – was just incredible.

After they’d left I was grinning so hard my cheeks hurt. I really, really want to feel that again. I hope we all can soon.

Follow Lee on the FuudBlog website, Twitter @FuudBlog, and on Instagram @fuudblog.

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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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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Neil Cocker

There’s a beautiful synchronicity at work in the universe sometimes, as evidenced by this – our first ever instalment of the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series, written by the wonderful Neil Cocker who also wrote the first ever story that we EVER published here on We Are Cardiff, nearly ten years ago. Neil has spent a lot of the time since then travelling around and living in other countries, but has ended up back here in the lockdown. All roads lead back to Cardiff! Big love to Neil and thanks for this – the first post in our new series, examining how you’re all managing through the lockdown. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Castle Street Cardiff, 6pm, 25 March 2020 – photo by Neil Cocker

At the beginning of 2016 I left Cardiff, “temporarily” moving to London to work on a three month project. I didn’t know then that I wouldn’t return properly to my adopted home for nearly three years, and would live at the very far side of Europe for two of those. 

Just over a year on from my return, I find myself living right in the city centre. Not my first choice of location in a city that offers so many options to those looking for a suburb that feels like home. But a result of circumstance, luck, and others’ generosity for a wanderer who hasn’t quite settled again yet.

On returning, my relationship with the city changed, and continues to change, as I’m now able to compare it fairly with other European capitals. But also I’m now able to see the city centre “as it is”, without shoppers, tourists, coffee shop flâneurs. The lockdown has dissolved the flesh, tendons, arteries and organs. All that’s left are the bones; the empty streets, closed shops, and those that call the centre “home”. And among those bones two things have become very apparent to me.

Firstly, one of the things that struck me hardest when I returned in late 2018 was the extent to which homelessness was now an un-ignorable facet of the city centre. Now, with the streets so quiet, I can see the homeless community much more clearly. But I can also hear them.

When I first left Cardiff I felt that the situation, while bad, was one that was easy to pretend didn’t exist. You could see a huddled figure in a doorway, and hope your headphones were prominent enough that you could pretend not to hear any requests for money. Now, after what appears to be a sharp rise in homelessness, I’m not just ashamed of my own ignorance. I’m also ashamed at just how much, as a society, we were failing the people that needed our help the most. 

Living in the very heart of Wales’ capital is an odd experience during lockdown. It’s quiet for the first time in the 12 months I’ve been in this apartment. I don’t just mean that there are very few people in the streets during the daytime, but that I don’t get woken at 3am by drunkards shouting, as people stagger up The Hayes to their homes and hotels. I also don’t have to keep my windows closed on sunny days just to take the edge off the volume of a busker playing the same six songs on repeat. Now it’s very, very quiet – just me, my open windows and the sound of seagulls occasionally fighting over the dwindling scraps of food, or having noisy, hasty, bird sex.

Pretty much the only human voices I hear now are those of the homeless. Their voices are no longer drowned out by the hubbub of a thousand shoppers, so they’re louder and more evident. No longer the inconvenient, marginalised 0.1%, they make up a much bigger proportion of the people who are on the streets of the centre. They can’t be ignored, as they may be literally the only person on the street at the same time as you. Whether we will step up to help them in the long term after this pandemic ends remains to be seen.

The other noticeable thing about the city centre is that, despite the increasing number of  large blocks of flats, there appears to be little in the way of “community”. Or, not that I’m aware of, at least. In my apartment complex alone there are over 300 flats, although I suspect that occupancy is nowhere near 100%. Yet, I’ve never heard of one single communal activity. Apart from a few familiar faces with whom I’m on nodding terms, I have almost zero interactions in this building. And this saddens me.

Maybe it’s the lack of “need” around which a community can coalesce, because we all live in the very heart of the action. I remember back in my dim and distant past, that those who lived in the student halls at Senghennydd Court complained of a lack of community there. They lived a short stumble from both the city centre, and the Students Union, so they didn’t “need” to create a community. Those of us consigned to Llys Tal-y-bont (a much smaller development back in the mid nineties) had to make our own entertainment, as we’ve all heard our grandparents say. We had to form friendships and bonds late at night in others’ apartments, because we couldn’t just go to the Pen & Wig to meet friends. We were, we felt, many miles from the action. And that was what created a need.

As we’ve seen during this pandemic, many communities have stepped up to fill the gap of their regular interactions at their local Coffee No.1 by creating a Whatsapp group for their street, or putting flyers through doors offering food shopping for those in quarantine. Humans seem to create community when there isn’t one. But not here, it feels. Maybe because there’s no central point, value, or identity around which to gather. Especially when everything is closed, and all the suburb dwellers aren’t here, too. Regardless, if city centre living is to continue growing at the same pace, we need to find ways to provide people who live together to get to know each other in an easy, unforced way. How will we facilitate interactions outside of awkwardly acknowledging each other while waiting for the lifts? Architects and city planners call these “third spaces” or “bump spaces”. Spots where you can meet people outside of home or work and, hopefully perhaps, get to know people that you wouldn’t normally meet.

Where are the spaces in a city centre where we can dwell, outside of the cafes that we use to have preplanned meetings? More importantly, why aren’t the buildings in which us city centre dwellers better at making it easier for us to meet, and learn about, our neighbours? There’s no doubt that the lockdown has made us all consider our lives in different ways and examine the things that are important. I just hope that the cities that we build in the future reflect and embody these changing priorities. For those that sleep next door, and for those that sleep in doorways – community is everything.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilCocker. He’s recently set up his own newsletter about community, the science of happiness and wellbeing, a (secular) retreat he’s going to be running, and how we build a happier, better world. Sign up to Neil’s newsletter.

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