Category Archives: The People

Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Stephen Lingwood

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

We’re in this strange situation where a lot of us have got nothing to do, and really want to be helpful, but there really is nothing we can do, and we all feel a bit useless.

I’ve worked as a pioneer minister in Cardiff since 2018. What that means is that I’m freed from a lot of the usual duties of “vicaring” to explore what faith and spirituality might look like outside of traditional church. For me that has involved exploring the intersection of spirituality, community, and social justice activism, particularly in Canton and Riverside.

My usual working week involved working with Riverside-based arts organisation Gentle/Radical at their co-working space in the Wyndham Street Centre, as well as working with other community and activist groups. Before the lockdown started I was part of a group organising an interfaith prayer vigil for climate justice outside the Senedd every Friday afternoon.

Now of course all that has stopped. My usual weekly rhythms (a coffee while working on my laptop in Chapter Arts Centre on a Monday, a drink in the Crafty Devil on Tuesday, etc) – all that has gone. Sure, some things are happening online, but I do find myself with a lot less to do. Like most of us I’m just stuck at home.

I’m lucky that my employment is secure, for now. But I’m left with a sense of frustration, guilt, and (of course) loneliness because I can’t go out and do more. I joined the Canton Mutual Aid group and gave my phone number to two of my local streets, but in all the weeks that have gone by I’ve only been asked to collect someone’s prescription once. I’d like to do a lot more! I’d be happy to do it every day.

My sense is that there’s actually more people who want to help than there are people who need help! I know one person who has signed up to help at a food bank but they’ve not yet been called upon to help because the food bank has got a lot more volunteers than they need.

We’re in this strange situation where a lot of us have got nothing to do, and really want to be helpful, but there really is nothing we can do, and we all feel a bit useless.

In our capitalist society we’re used to thinking of ourselves as valuable only if we’re being productive – if we’re a useful cog in a machine, if we’re “economically active”, if we’re useful. In some ways of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be useful, with wanting to be helpful to the world, but the problem is when we get our sense of identity and value from that. The spiritual lesson is to know that your value as a human being is inherent – it doesn’t depend on your work.

I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe the challenge right now is to embrace that truth: that I’m useless, that many of us are useless, but maybe, actually, that is OK.

The Chinese religion of Taoism has a concept called “wu wei” which means “actionless action”. This is the idea that actually it’s not always busyness and frantic activity that gets things done, sometimes it is actually stillness, quietness, and “doing nothing” that achieves the most. The Tao Te Ching states, “The Way does nothing, and yet nothing remains unaccomplished.” That has never been more true than now. For those of us who are not key workers the most important thing we can do for our society is stay at home and do nothing other than look after ourselves and our families.

I think prayer is a kind of a “doing nothing”. It’s the “nothing” we do when we’ve run out of all the “somethings”. Apparently a lot of people are searching online for “how to pray”. I suppose because a lot of people are worried. I know I am. I’m worried about my health every time I go out, I’m worried about my job, I’m worried about my family. We never know when it might be our turn to get this virus, or the turn of someone we love. Where do you put all those feelings?

I take them to prayer. I don’t believe that prayer is magic. I don’t believe it means begging God to do something for us. I don’t think it works that way. I don’t think it changes God, I think it changes us.

I don’t want to push religion down anyone’s throat. I honestly don’t mind if you do Buddhist meditation or chanting or yoga or even just exercise. I’m what you call a universalist and so I believe the holy is in all religions, and all people.

But I do think that doing something spiritual, every day as a commitment, does bring deeper peace and contentment. Somehow, in a very mysterious way, “doing nothing” becomes the most important thing to do. Somehow “doing nothing” is actually what changes things. It changes me. I speak my worries into the silence and then I listen to the silence. And in a mysterious way I find a deeper and more lasting peace.

I’ve been trying to follow the example of Julian of Norwich (1343-1416). Julian lived through the Black Death, probably lost families members, and then spent the rest of her life in self-isolation in a “cell” by the side of a church, and yet she wrote “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Now, I’m not exactly in a “cell” in a two bed house in Canton, and I’m not exactly living like a monk (I do have Netflix) but I’m trying to be inspired by Julian in my life right now. I’m trying to live simply, quietly, to be still enough to pay attention to my soul. And so I chant, I meditate, I pray. I have a small altar table in my room with candles and a picture of a kingfisher painted by a friend of mine (the kingfisher has always been a symbol of the divine for me). Every Wednesday I share Celtic morning and night prayer on my page, Riverside Ministry Project Facebook page.

I’m also gentle on myself. Spirituality shouldn’t be another thing to be guilty about doing or not doing. Some days I eat biscuits and watch telly.

We’re in a global crisis, we need to be very gentle with ourselves however we’re coping. But prayer or meditation can really help in these times too. It helps me to live through these strange times.

Follow Stephen on Twitter @SJLingwood, or visit the Riverside Ministry Project.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Emina Redzepovic

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

Lockdown, what a time to be alive. As I write this I’m on the upward trajectory from a very down couple of weeks but given the situation I think that’s very normal.

I am lucky enough to be in lockdown with my tall husband, nice cat and a lovely garden that looks mental thanks to #NoMowMay.

The shining light in this lockdown is the lack of cars on the road – less traffic, less pollution, more wildlife, walking/cycling/running on roads and general happiness. I really hope this can continue in some form after lockdown.

My only advice to you is just roll with your feelings – want to eat that whole Sara Lee chocolate gateaux? Do it. Want to have a little scream? Do it? Want to cut your fringe in the bathroom mirror with kitchen scissors? DO IT.

The Good

People – or should I say, some people. Kindness and compassion are often things that humans can easily forget but I have seen it in droves in my community and around the world. Key workers are finally being put on the pedestal they deserve. We all have the ability to love and be kind, more please.

Creativity – God bless the internet and all who sail on her, thank you to the memes, tik tik videos, insta stories, theatre, podcasts, arts, events, comedy, book reading, music and so much more that has kept me just about sane. Special thanks to Kiri Pritchard-McClean, Daisy May Cooper and the Baked Potato song for providing me with particular joy

The animals – my gorgeous cat George is a constant source of joy, she’s been loyal, funny, cute and bitey throughout and made life a lot easier. The animals we love have been working overtime to keep us sane and even if you don’t own an animal the videos have been life changing – elephants having a bath, penguins meeting killer whales in the Aquarium, dogs jumping over loo rolls.

Chanel Chanellington the escapee Scouse parrot – this is the news story of lockdown for me, a woman’s viral video of her shouting at people to find her lost parrot that had gone to the canal is a thing of undeniable beauty. There is a happy outcome and “Channnnnneeeeel” in a Scouse accent will forever have my heart.

Normal People on BBC iPlayer – I have the capacity to love fictional characters too much and that’s what I have done with this book and the series adapted from it. It stole my heart, soul and knickers. Marianne and Connell 4eva ❤

Crafts – I’ve done some truly awful drawings, made a card and used super glue to add glitter and inevitably glued my fingers together. I assembled a beautiful perspex rainbow made by my mate Fizz Goes Pop and used a pliers for the first time in my life. I’ve loved it!

The Bad

Mental health – I defy anyone to say that they’ve had a fantastic time throughout this period, you’d have to be a cyborg to have not felt down at least once. Our brains do not like this level of change coupled with a virus that is affecting everyone on the planet. It’s been hard to overcome my negative thoughts at times, clinging to them like they’re the only truth I have and letting them envelope me. Luckily I have good friends, crisps and books to see me through.

Productivity memes – I’ve seen so many BS memes telling me to ‘take care of myself’ and ‘learn a new skill’, ‘get up early’, ‘eat fruit’ and whatnot. Give it a rest mun, seriously, we’re in a global pandemic and if I want to get up late, learn nothing, eat a biscuit and just carry on with my day that’s good enough.

Lockdown norms – homemade bread, sourdough starter, wild garlic, pic of your legs in outside space looking like hot dogs, 5ks and maps, bookshelves, screenshot of zoom call, tik tok dances etc. Yes I’ve partaken in a fair few of these but honestly a lot of this stuff has made me feel like sh!t. Compare and despair has been real, what we curate vs reality is something to always keep in the back of your mind.

The Ugly

Death to Zoom – I cannot wait to see the back of this hideous platform, it sucks your life and soul from you without you immediately noticing. It can leave you feeling like you’ve had an uninvited lobotomy, be good to yourself before and after.

People – of course I have to put this in this column too, there are some absolute nasty pasties (as my Mam would say) making things a lot harder than they should be. Turds in government, floating about and pretending to be socialist, toilet paper and hand sanitiser guzzlers, pavement hoggers, social distance deniers, internet bullies, trolls and those who like Cats the Musical.

Human Poo – I saw a human poo in a doorway in the city centre which was really disconcerting, it was massive and a bit passive aggressive. It also made me realise that I have it very good in comparison to a lot of people. This virus has deeply affected those who are on the margins of society. Support, care and more will be harder to find so please think about making a donation to a refuge, homeless charity, refugee centre etc.

Emina Redzepovic is a freelance PR and communications specialist. Follow her – Emina Redzepovic website | Emina Redzepovic Twitter | Emina Redzepovic Instagram.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Anonymous #4

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

Bute Park. Photo by We Are Cardiff

Lockdown Diaries

How is it when the world slows and stops, my world speeds up? As the nation was edging into lockdown my mind raced. The anxiety in my body peaked with racing thoughts; tense jaw and finger picking taken to extremes. Planning, watching, waiting, thoughts spinning. Sleepless nights from the worry of what will happen, who will die, what will life look like. The waiting, like a big inhale was dizzying. It felt like waiting for a car to crash or a wave to wash over me.

Then lockdown hit. And the calmness came. We were in. I rolled up my sleeves and expected long days.

As a keyworker, my work sped up like nothing else. Hours upon hours of planning, changing our systems and expecting a significant reduction in staff whilst maintaining a critical service. I could just about see a way forward, pulling together like a war time spirit.

The fear waiting for my loved ones and colleagues to get ill. Some of us did, like me, but we recovered. Was it Covid? Who knows? I’m still here. Life has carried on. For me anyway.

I struggle with anxiety. Most days. Every day actually. Its like I’m carrying a backpack of worries around that feel and look a lot like rocks. Sometimes I realise I have forgotten something, a rare moment of calm which makes me worry, then I pick up the bag. It’s my status quo, a soothing place to be. Calculating what dreadful things could happen and cringing of some of the things I’ve said or done. Worrying about the plans and decisions I made. Making myself promises I rarely keep. Tying myself into knots.

Six weeks into lockdown. I feel lighter, freer and I’m being so much kinder to myself. I’m working as much as ever. But the bag of rocks has been left at the door. Why do I waste so much time worrying? When sh*t gets real, I cope. I always do. Why don’t I believe in myself?

I’m calm and my thinking is sharper. I’m finding what I love, taking time for me. Gardening, red wine and reading books.  I’m spending a lot of time reflecting on who and what I am. And what I can be. How I can throw the rocks away and be kind to myself.

One big difference is my energy levels and motivation. Both are low. I find it hard working from home. Its so much more intense. I’m still skipping lunch breaks and don’t have enough hours in the day. I miss the routine of driving to work, blasting some tunes, grabbing a coffee. These routines transport me to work and home again.

Home was my sanctuary, my private space rarely interrupted. A place free from work. I always valued this separation. This has transformed.

My commute now is closing down the laptop and walking down the stairs.

I miss that golden moment when you have time off. The excitement from the sense of freedom, thinking of all the things you can. I value the time to recharge and just be me. But my work life balance is massively skewed now. At least I have a job, I recognise this.

I have realise I live a simple life and love simple pleasures. I miss my freedom to potter and ponder, seeing new places and going away. I am a free spirit and whilst I need routine, I find the lack of difference draining.

I miss my family and friends, but I know pragmatically they are safe and it’s for the best.

Some people close to me are ill, but what can I do? I have to stay strong. I cannot change a thing. I think I have found some inner peace whilst the world is in turmoil.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Alison Pritchard

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

Having lived in this part of the city for almost eight years, it turns out I have been drastically under-using my local area.

I’ve been at home, alone, since 16th March – a week before lockdown officially started. I was due to fly to Sri Lanka, a trip I had been planning for over a year, from Heathrow airport on Sunday 15th. Thankfully, I had spent a wonderful night in Birmingham the night before with my parents and brother to celebrate his 30th. I can often go weeks without seeing my family (spread as we are across Birmingham, Cardiff and Swansea), and I’m so glad we happened to spend that particular weekend together.

It had been a stressful weekend, trying to decide whether or not to even try and get to Sri Lanka; anxiously refreshing the websites of the travel agents, tour company and airline to see what the latest announcements were. Facing a loss of thousands of pounds if I chose not to go before it was cancelled, I tearfully waved goodbye to my parents and headed south to Heathrow. I was just passing Oxford when my brother rang me, and pulled into Oxford Services to confirm that Sri Lanka had indeed closed its borders, and the decision was taken out of my hands.

That was 58 days ago. I came back to Cardiff that night, but took a couple of days off work to recover from the stress, and actually have some of the 13 days holiday I was supposed to be enjoying. During those three days off I went to the beach at Ogmore and climbed Pen-y-Fan with a friend; making the most of being outside as much as possible. My plan had been to go back to the office on Thursday to see colleagues before a full lockdown was implemented, but the office closed on Wednesday. I already had what I needed to work from home as I was due to do so for a couple of days after my trip anyway. Thankfully, we have been moving towards being an online organisation, and switching to homeworking has been quite straightforward systems-wise.

I work as the Sustainable Funding Manager at WCVA: the membership body for charities in Wales.

Whilst I am beyond grateful to still be working, both for the financial stability and structure it gives to my week, work has been intense. The charity sector in the Wales is set to lose approximately £200m-£240m in income for the first three months of lockdown.

All physical fundraising activities and trading income stopped overnight when lockdown was implemented, at the same time that a majority of charities are seeing massive demands in their services, or set out to help the many members of our communities facing difficulties because of the virus. Like many parts of society, we know the charity sector will not look the same post-COVID-19 as it did before and we are working hard as an organisation to see the sector through this unprecedented (sorry) challenge.

Balancing this new way of working and the frantic pace at which things need to be done with looking after my own mental health has been key.

Two mantras have kept me going. The first has been doing the rounds on social media for these past few months: “it’s not just working from home, it’s working from home in a pandemic”. This is not usual, and it’s completely fine for us to not manage our usual levels of productivity every day, nevermind the levels being demanded from us by this … situation (I almost said the U word again).

The second needs to come with an acknowledgement that the NHS is a wondrous thing, and that we can never be grateful enough for the people on the frontlines of this awful virus. That said, for those of us without jobs in health and social care, the emergency services (or I guess the military), this is the best advice I was ever given to help stop work from taking over your life: “No one will die if you don’t do X”.

Keeping in mind that the world won’t stop turning if I don’t write that blog post, or send that email, or finish that report by 5pm has done me the world of good.

I think now, 58 days in, I’ve only had three or four properly low little stretches of time and I’m taking that as a win.

My overwhelming feeling of lockdown (those little low phases aside) has been gratitude. I am so grateful for my work, for the NHS, for the way swathes of our society have come together to help each other in their communities, for the people making tik-toks and performing home concerts and providing much needed entertainment, for the people on Instagram sharing their own struggles to help us all feel a bit less alone, for the Normal People boxset on iPlayer, for the colleague running Taskmaster for some of our team and for the friends checking up on me, participating in zoom socials and quizzes and making sure I’m not too lonely. I’m grateful that my need to be productive over the last decade has left me with a range of activities to keep me occupied at home, and in the case of baking and cooking, well fed. That said, it would be disingenuous not to admit to not getting round to sorting the two piles of filing that have been sat on my bedroom floor since January…

Lastly, but definitely not least, I am grateful for this city that we live in. The independent food scene in Cardiff is spectacular, and its been a great and selfish pleasure to support local businesses by making use of the delivery and collection services popping up from our favourites.

So far, I’ve ordered from Mr Croquewich, Heaney’s, and Dusty Knuckle, with Pettigrew Bakery next on my hitlist. Living in Whitchurch, I have easy access to the Taff Trail, Forest Farm Country Park (to use the full title I have recently discovered) and the Glamorganshire Canal Nature Reserve. Having lived in this part of the city for almost eight years, it turns out I have been drastically under-using my local area. Early lockdown walks and runs led me to discovering probably 70 per cent of the paths winding their way through forest land within the borders of Longwood Drive, Park Road, Velindre Road and the river (including the Northern Meadows, which I can’t believe anyone wants to build on). I’m choosing not to see those eight years as time lost, but to be thankful for how special it has been to discover such magical places during this unnerving and unexpected time.

Follow Alison on Twitter @alippritchard | Alison’s blog

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Jen and Geraint

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

For all of the freelance artists, newly self employed and otherwise out there, I feel it’s important to highlight those of us who are falling through the cracks.

Lockdown front room studio

As I type, Geraint is downstairs drawing in the front room of our tiny Grangetown terrace. He’s in a makeshift lockdown studio that we thought would have a much faster expiry than the ten weeks it’s been in use.

In February, I gave up a truly rewarding full time (and the rest) job to ‘follow the dream’ as part time charity fundraiser and part time self employed photographer. I was fortunate enough to have booked several shoots for March, with a shoot for a ballet dancer planned for April that I was incredibly excited about. Then Coronavirus hit.

In February my partner Geraint, who is a freelance artist, lugged tubes of rolled drawings, frames and portfolios of his work on the bus from Cardiff to London (and even trickier across London) for an interview for his dream residency.

After a nerve wracking weekend awaiting news, Geraint was chosen for the SSE Power ‘Renewable Power for a Sustainable Future’ residency, giving him the opportunity to spend four weeks drawing and painting hydro and renewable energy production and the people making it happen in Scotland. His most recent body of work has celebrated volunteer groups in Wales that work hard to instil hope during times of political and climate disaster. His recent subjects include the Cardiff River Group, an amazingly hardy bunch that use scaffolds, nets and steely determination to scoop out all manner of disgustingness that ends up in the Taff and elsewhere (thanks you lot). He took great joy in drawing volunteers of the Woodland Trust planting trees in Brynau Wood in early March. Celebrating the efforts by large industries working towards a better future for us all was the perfect next step. He was over the moon about it. He would have been leaving to start his residency next week.

In April, Geraint should have launched an exhibition in Manchester University with Sue Williams and Terry Setch, and exhibited with painter Tim Patrick in London. All of his teaching sessions at the Royal Drawing School, Llanover Hall and other institutions have been cancelled. To say that we’ve had the rug pulled from under us in what would have been our most productive year yet is an understatement.

For all of the freelance artists, newly self employed and otherwise out there, I feel it’s important to highlight those of us who are falling through the cracks. Geraint has been freelance for two years now, with this set to be his first year pushing past the break even point and into profit. Because of this, Rishi’s offers of financial support, although great for some, won’t help us at all. We’re continually cut off when calling to talk to someone about Universal Credit, and when trying to contact Cardiff Council to get business rate relief on Geraint’s Canton studio that we’re still paying for in full, we’re given dead numbers. I have so much respect for all of our Council workers learning new skills, working in new roles and giving generous support during Coronavirus but we have got to get better at providing actual humans for people to raise queries with. Webpages are great, but they aren’t a substitute.

In juxtaposition, a truly amazing movement to come from the pandemic is the Artist Support Pledge started by Matthew Burrows. The pledge aims to be a self sustaining lifeline to artists across the world who have lost their livelihoods as a result of Coronavirus. The concept is simple; artists post works for sale for £200 and under using the hashtag #artistsupportpledge. When they reach £1000 in sales, they buy another artist’s work for £200. It means that well known artists can use their success to support hidden gems. As of 05/05/2020, over £20 million has been generated for artists across the globe via the pledge. This has been Geraint’s lifeline, and we’ve been overjoyed to see happy customers sending us photos of pieces they’ve bought arriving safely to their new homes. If you’re still being paid and have been waiting for the right time to start an art collection, let me tell you, this is it. The work that people are offering via the pledge is amazing value and collectors are right to snap them up.

We’re not having the Spring/Summer of work that we intended, but being restricted has forced us to experiment. Geraint’s lofty studio in Canton allows him to make large scale drawings and installation, so watching domestic space restrictions coerce him into making smaller scale work in different mediums has been fascinating. Unable to continue with his work documenting volunteer groups, the content of his work has changed. He’s using his domestic experiences and public health advice as inspiration. His 8 Durer inspired drawings of the NHS hand washing guidelines that he’s made this month are a particularly striking document of this period in our lives.

Public health advice given a fine art makeover

I’m having a prolific time documenting Grangetown, Cardiff Bay and our domestic experiences using digital, 35mm and medium format cameras. Being stationery in Cardiff long enough to watch wildflowers grow, pick wild garlic, watch local systems develop to deal with the virus and eat regularly with my partner who is usually at the studio, or commuting to London or elsewhere for work, has been a replenishing luxury. The smell of Cardiff without cars and pollution has transported me to my childhood.

Lockdown birthday party

We’ve celebrated our 15 year anniversary in our living room and had both our birthdays during lockdown, sharing cake and songs with family via screens.

For my birthday, much to Geraint’s dismay, I wafted a tea under his nose at 4am and we used our hour of daily exercise to shoot a Pre-Raphaelite meets Midsummer’s Night Dream inspired dreamscape. Sneaking into Insole Court at 5am half asleep in our formal wear with bluebells, foxgloves and rhododendrons for company as dawn broke was truly magical. On a good day, being held down by the ankles by restriction will make you jump higher. I will treasure those images forever.

Jen’s birthday photo shoot

Having my feet firmly planted in my own locality has given a beautiful opportunity to foster community.

I’ve met two locals via a plant swap organised by the capitalism defying Liz and Michelle of Growing Street Talk – join their Facebook page to meet neighbours and green fingered skills. I’m about to put a load of vegetable plants outside my front door for people to take or swap. For the first time ever we have flowers planted in our garden. This is due to the generosity of Be More Squirrel and Cardiff Council who have given their stock to communities whilst they’ve been unable to sell it. Watching the bees enjoy the Senetti has been an incredible mental boost on difficult days. I despair for those without gardens during lockdown every day.

It has been an absolute joy to watch the surge in volunteering in Cardiff, Wales and beyond. As someone who has been working for charities that rely on people’s better natures for eight years, I see this as one of the single most hopeful outcomes for the future.

Watching friends and strangers who aren’t shielding grow and participate in ‘Feed the NHS’, PPE sewing and other local initiatives has been awe inspiring.

With a parent over 70, Grandparents in a residential home and friends and family who are immunocompromised, we have the same worries as everyone else. Bumping into my brother who also lives in Grangetown without being able to give him a hug is confusing at best, heartbreaking at worst. I’m grateful for Geraint, and by luck, we haven’t had any morale dips at the same time, one always managing to restore the other. We try to find things to celebrate everyday, even if it’s only a new specie of bird visiting the feeder. Spending time in, and observing nature has been the most beneficial activity during lockdown and an RSPB bird spotting book and binoculars has proven to be essential kit. We’re lucky to have Cardiff Bay Barrage, Leckwith Woods, Cathays, Victoria and Bute Park within walking distance.

Daily exercise – Cardiff Bay barrage

Cardiff’s ecosystems have given resplendent displays without pollutants and micromanagement: perfectly manicured parks have turned to wildflower meadows and colourful floral displays have burst into show, to the complete surprise of long term homeowners taking a break from mowing front lawns. When the world is half asleep is when nature’s magic happens. I cross my fingers that we as individuals and Cardiff as a Council will use nature’s blue print to radically re-green our city. I hope people remember to be as fiercely protective of their independents as they’ve proven to be during lockdown, even with the temptation of re-opened big business conveniences. I hope that we’ll see kindness, generosity and community spirit continue to flourish once we’re as we move into different stages of the pandemic. On a personal note I hope myself and Geraint can continue to stay afloat, stay safe and find inspiration within restriction.

Written 19/05/2020. Follow Jen Abell on Twitter / Jen Abell Instagram. Follow Geraint Ross Evans at his website / Geraint Ross Evans on InstagramGeraint Ross Evans on Facebook.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Catrin Mari

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

The natural world can be a source of solace during times of crisis, Sir David Attenborough has said.

A source of solace.

Source, Soar, Saw.

During the pandemic, photographing nature has been a gentle comfort to me. I don’t even have a camera, but I’ve learnt to make the most of the camera on my phone; like I’ve made the most of what I have in the house, digging in the freezer for dinner: using what I have.

Until April, I was still working full time, playing a small role in helping to keep children safe during this strange time. After two weeks of sick leave in March, I returned to the office.  (I had  probably been ill with the virus- at one point I found it difficult to breathe. In retrospect I didn’t take things seriously enough, just assumed I’d be fine because I’m young- we now know how naive and reckless that was…)

My first day back at work  was frightening- the city centre was a wasteland, my colleagues were understandably anxious – I felt overwhelmed and afraid. How do we carry on as normal in our new reality?

I trudged each day to work and back, secretly glad that this gifted me with more time in the fresh air. Space held for spring and its light- usually heavy with sleepy commuters.

An ebb and flow formed each day,  as I retraced routes/roots of blossom trees- their flowers cheering me where I might not have noticed them before.  I began to take note of small details of my commute – the signs of spring contrasted with the undercurrent of fear that I couldn’t quite shake off. The routine of walking to work and back gave this period of time a rhythm, for which I felt tentatively grateful. I wasn’t quite sure if I’d rather be carrying on as usual…

At lunchtime, I walked to the water. Cormorants congregated there- sunning themselves and posing in the light. I took time to adjust them into the frame- hoping that they didn’t move. There was a  small joy in capturing their daily dances- wings outstretched, feet flitting, across the face of stirred water. I felt so grateful that I worked in Cardiff Bay and that nature was never that far away- it was a balm during an uncertain time.

In the evening I  discovered new routes / roots of lily pads swaying; and nature insisting its way through the city. Boys sat and cooed with joy at these tiny creatures: a cluster of ducklings, obediently following their mother. I saw how our reduced circumstances gently pressed our gazes towards tiny slivers of delight / rivers, where once we would have darted past them: between office blocks. To break the routine, I found new routes home, uncovering fresh delights in a city I thought I knew.

What I saw gave structure in solitude- a sense of rhythm- clicking, clacking- a flow of footsteps- pauses, as I took stock and watched : willing images to life. Photography had become my solace.

Unfortunately, I lost my job in April due to circumstances beyond my control or that of my employer. I spent a birthday alone – the first ever without my twin sister. Video calls with friends made me feel connected – I thought about how we may be isolated in houses, but the geography of our city still holds us together – there’s a road between my flat and my friend’s house two streets away. Small parcels arrived in the post- precious presents, linking me to loved ones.

Searching for new routes for my daily walk, I’ve uncovered new areas of my local community in Roath. I’ve captured on camera small details I usually would have overlooked- the blaring red of an ornate post box, coots tending their nest. I’ve been lucky to be able to  support local businesses- gifting the money I’m not spending on catching up with friends in cafes- cooling teas forgotten as we absorb ourselves in conversation.

In October, I will start a postgraduate course at Cardiff University. These months feel like a pause- an intake of breath before the bustle of my life in the next few years. Although the comforting paper-smell of a physical library seems so far away at the moment, having something to look forward to has helped me to remain calm.

I hope that taking photos and taking note of the small details of nature are both things that I can take with me into postgraduate life- I hope that they continue to console me, and help to remember the important things.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Heledd Francis

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

Before the lockdown we saw family every week and missing them has certainly been the hardest part.

We are now in week eight of lockdown, and I feel that to some extent that it’s taken us as a family this long to get into the swing of things. In the weeks beforehand, I was fiercely optimistic about how we would handle it, created a timetable of daily activities for myself and the children, imagined the books I would read and the new dishes I would cook, and resolved to make this a positive time for family.

A few days in, and I realised the reality would be different. With my husband at work as usual from Monday to Friday, working at the Heath, it felt like a rainy day during a school holiday, but with the added pressures of completing my own work and some work for the children.

I swung from feeling extreme pride that we were a household of two key workers, to guilt for sending our children to an unfamiliar school on the few occasions per week where I myself went to work in an unfamiliar school. I resented my husband somewhat for having to make very little change to his daily life, but then worried about him as more and more staff at UHW began to become infected. I kept trying to remind myself that we were lucky to have some semblance of a routine along with job stability but also fretted about the risk associated with our work.

But then a few weeks in, my daughter’s fifth birthday arrived. With it, came a change in pace, and a time to reflect on how different didn’t necessarily mean difficult. With no party to plan or family to accommodate, we asked her what she wanted for her special day. It was simple, she wanted pictures of family put up around the house, toasted marshmallows, and a piñata. We added in a few extras – a kitchen disco with face paints and a sing-a-long family zoom. Despite missing family and friends, it was a brilliant day.

From that day on, we relieved the pressure.

I began to follow the advice I was giving my own students, to attempt little and often with regards to school work, focussing on the essential skills.

We got into the swing of cooking together on the days that I was at home, and sending weekly post to grandparents and cousins that we missed terribly. We used the weekends for family bike rides and films, and appreciated the simple things – a garden, sunshine, birds stealing grass seeds from our undernourished lawn, packages in the post from friends.

The week before lockdown, our son was due to go into hospital for an operation to insert grommets. We expected the operation to be cancelled, and completely understood when we received confirmation that it was. I worried somewhat that it could now be another year before he was able to have the operation, and that his hearing and speech would continue to be an issue for him. It may be that this would have happened anyway, but we have really noticed that his speech has improved significantly over the past few weeks, a result perhaps of being at home and constantly listening to and speaking to his sister and I. This has been an unexpected lockdown positive!

Another lockdown positive has been the Zoom calls with friends far and wide. It’s taken a pandemic for my university crew to arrange a transatlantic virtual drink and we can’t understand why we didn’t do it sooner. The children have engaged in similar conversations with their friends, which they find difficult, but they enjoy seeing each other’s faces at least.

Before the lockdown we saw family every week and missing them has certainly been the hardest part. We send daily videos and have all planted seeds with the idea that as the flowers grow, the time we are back together will get closer (I can’t take the credit for this idea).

Although I work in a Hub school once or twice a week, this is based on a rota system. I miss my wonderful colleagues, but a weekly staff quiz over zoom helps with the lack of contact.

Despite my profession, I find homeschooling as frustrating as the rest of the population. My daughter in particular regularly wants to cycle past her school to remind her of her happy times there and to look forward to going back. All the staff at the children’s school have worked incredibly hard over the past few months to ensure that there are plenty of resources available for the children, they’ve provided regular feedback and reward points and spoken to them over the phone. They’ve even posted videos of themselves introducing activities to encourage the pupils. One two minute video of their wonderful teachers has inspired them far more over the past few weeks than their mother’s homeschooling has!

Grangetown in particular has shown an incredible sense of community during these difficult times. Everyone seems to be supporting their neighbours more than ever, but the visits from ‘Spiderman’ to make the children smile, a ‘plant swap’ for residents, free Candyfloss Fridays for children, Ramadan Relief food packages and the set up of the Grangetown Covid Mutual Aid to help those self-isolating receive food and medicines are a few of the wonderful things happening in our local community.

I often find myself using the phrase ‘when all this is over’ these days. When all this is over, I’m sure we will remember and continue the sense of community that this pandemic has encouraged. The world around us looks particularly beautiful at this moment in time, and I hope that we can continue to work together to keep it that way.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Owen

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

Side plank tip: keep your hips high enough for a mid sized dog to rest her chin on your hips…

At 5:30pm on the evening of March 20 – a day before my birthday – I heard that our business was being shut down.

I moved back to Cardiff about five years ago to open The Studio. Previously, I ran my own personal training business in London, but slowly became increasingly disillusioned with the traditional gym model. The fitness industry is guilty of peddling dangerous fads and useless quick fixes. At The Studio we strive to offer the highest standard of training in a welcoming, boutique environment for all ages, genders and abilities. We opened in November 2016 and our community has grown ever since. We’re more than a gym, we’re working on linking the medical and fitness communities, working alongside GPs, Women’s Health Physios and Musculoskeletal Physios.
Especially under the current circumstances, we believe gyms need to offer more than the typical ’12 Week Transformation’. (100 burpies and that nauseous feeling after a workout isn’t ‘health and fitness’, that’s a PT trying to warrant their hourly rate by making you sweat, subsequently making you feel like you’ve worked hard.) This is so far removed from what we should be offering. We have a responsibility to help clients achieve their goals in a sustainable, intelligent way, helping them develop lifelong habits of healthy eating and regular exercise.

We’ve only ever had one goal at The Studio: to provide the highest quality training and customer service with honesty and integrity. And this is the first time that we find ourselves without any certain future.

I did the only thing I could at the time and distributed my equipment as fairly as possible between clients. The response was as overwhelming as it was unexpected. It struck me that many clients chose to take a barbell, when only a few months ago, they’d never even used one.

I’ve come to realise the connection my members have with a barbell. Those who have been training for any length of time appreciate its importance.

Many clients have achieved things they never thought they were capable of under a barbell. They’ve grown stronger, happier, healthier and more able. The barbell is a tool to maintain and improve health, and clients knew this would be threatened if they were forced to stop training.

My members’ unwavering support has been incredible, the generosity of continued monthly payments for the month of April, the purchase of credit packages, the offer of marketing help and even the offer of video editing. Looking around at my empty gym, after all my equipment had disappeared to grateful members, I realised that our clients’ connection with The Studio was stronger than I’d ever imagined. The response to online training and our latest program has been overwhelming. As a coach, you dedicate yourself to helping people achieve things they’ve never thought physically possible, and knowing that our clients have discovered something that they love, I am reassured that our small community of lifters will be there when this is all over.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: David, Pettigrew Bakeries

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from David Le Masurier of Pettigrew Bakeries. Please follow and support them as they keep you fed and in bread! We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

So we’ve been doing home deliveries for a while now.

We’ve had a lot of people ordering care packages, birthday gifts as well as essentials for themselves.

Last week, as we were finalising the daily orders for delivery, we spotted two identical addresses just the letter of the flat being different on each order. They were both for the same day and same building, but two different orders placed by two different people for two different addressees. To add to the coincidence they were both surprise birthday gifts, one for flat A and one for flat B.

When we got to the building to deliver there was only one buzzer, upon pressing it a voice answered and explained that both flat A and B share the same buzzer (weird) so who did we want for delivery? We explained, ‘well both of you!’

A few minutes later two strangers who live next door and share a door buzzer were both given birthday gift packages from Pettigrew Bakeries from their two friends, who also don’t know each other!

We all smiled, laughed a bit and they went back into their building wishing each other happy birthday and getting to know each other (at a safe distance).

A beautiful, random, brilliant little coincidence in this grim situation.

David (Pettigrew Bakeries)

Pettigrew Bakeries is the sister to Pettigrew Tearooms. An independent artisan bakery, baking real bread (really, really tasty bread!). They also stock a number of products from other Cardiff independent producers. Please PLEASE visit their website, order tasty treats from them, go visit their store in Victoria Park. Support our amazing local independents!

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Pete Sueref

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

Nurses? Forget nurses. They should give me a medal for being locked up with three kids for the last eight weeks. I mean honestly. It’s fine for Mr and Mrs Sourdough Starter and their darling cat, but for us parents, especially us SINGLE PARENTS, lockdown is literally hell. (Yes, literally. Not figuratively. This is actually what hell would be like for me).

It’s not that I don’t love my kids. There’s an expression – love the people, hate the job, right? But have you actually met kids? They’re awful. Just the worst possible humans to be stuck with for an hour, let alone 24 hours, every day, without a let up. Needy, whining, bickering, gross. If you’re thinking of having kids, then DON’T. (Note to We Are Cardiff editors – could we link to a contraceptive provider here?)

(Note from the We Are Cardiff editors: normally we don’t insert ourselves into stories if we can help it, but actually this is a good link, bookmark it kids! Cardiff and Vale UHB Sexual Health info).

Today, this happened at breakfast: My three year old, who can most kindly be described as unhinged, was eating his Rice Crispies. His six-year-old sister decided, for reasons, that she had to have a poached egg for breakfast. Not a fried egg, not a scrambled egg. Poached.

For the childless, it’s worth mentioning that each interaction with your little angel has the potential to turn into a battle. Small decisions, like which colour dress to wear, whether or not to go to the toilet before getting in the car, or how to cook an egg, take on a level of seriousness and import usually more suited to high-level government meetings (I say usually. Not really the case with the current mob; their main decisions seem to be how to pick the policy which causes the most needless death and suffering and then figuring out how to lie about it.)

As with Boris’s daily briefings, every conversation with your child has the potential to end in confusion and tears.

At nine in the morning, after 50-plus monotonous breakfasts in a row, you have to decide if this is really the hill you want to die on. On the one hand: give-in, show weakness to the enemy and then suffer a conflict over every breakfast to come. On the other hand, play hardball, announce to the room that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” and serve up a hot dish of justice-flavoured scrambled eggs with a side-order of tantrum.

Dear reader, you know the punchline. After some tears and some stern words (from her to me), the poached eggs were served. The previously quietly chomping three-year-old took the opportunity to tell his big sister that he hated the smell of eggs. And by association hated her. Violence was in the air. Their eight-year-old brother, displaying admirable neutrality to that point, decided to play both sides like a cold war double-agent, announcing that he, too, hated the smell of eggs (thus lending credibility to the accusation), but also that despite this hatred he would tolerate it because he was older and “not a baby”. This final remark was the spark that ignited the powder keg, and moments later both the Rice Crispies and Poached Egg were no more. Spilt and splattered, like a metaphor for my family, indeed, for the nation! What joys will lunch bring? God only knows…

And this is just one small incident in five minutes of one day. Repeat this over and over and over again, every day, with no let up, no respite and limited alcohol. A medal, please. A big one. Made of gold.

Lest you all consider me a terrible parent and a terrible person (I won’t try to defend myself against either accusation), I should point out that I have been home-schooling diligently throughout, although we have deviated from the curriculum recently. My eldest is now learning about political revolutions in preparation for the post-COVID world that may emerge. His Machiavellian instincts, practised on his siblings, put in him in a good position to be the next Washington (or more likely Robespierre). My daughter has learnt to read which is a genuine delight, undermined only slightly by her absolute lack of desire to read anything not on an iPad.

My youngest has been building more and more elaborate shapes and patterns out Magna-Tiles. He may be trying to summon some kind of demon. I’ve decided to leave him to it.

It should go without saying that clearly we are in an immensely fortunate position – none of us are ill, none of our family or friends have been seriously affected and my wonderful employers have taken pity on me and allowed me to mostly forget about work and focus on taking care of my children. A word also for my wonderful mum who’s been living with us for the last five months, cannot possibly have expected to be locked up with small children again and has dealt with events like most Greek mothers in a crisis: cleaning and cooking constantly.

And there are some small pleasures to be had, particularly as a runner (I know – you already thought me insufferable, but a runner, too!).

Jogging the full length of Waterloo Road right in the middle of the street with no traffic is still weirdly fun. And crossing the normally log-jammed Newport Road whenever and however I like will be sorely missed once the world returns to normal.

And of course, loudly tutting all the people ignoring the one-way system around Roath Park almost makes the whole catastrophe worth it. Almost.

Anyway. After all that, I don’t actually want a medal. What I’d really prefer is for people to stop dying needlessly. I want doctors and nurses and carers and especially teachers to be paid a lot more. And for a kinder, better world to emerge at the other end.

But mostly, I just want this hell to end, all of us to be safe and happy and to have some time away from my fucking kids.

Before Pete became a full-time quaranteacher and part-time alcoholic, he worked in data science for Centrica. He hopes one day to return…

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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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