Tag Archives: cardiff coronavirus

We Are Immersed: How USW students created an online music festival under the shadow of COVID-19

Today’s article comes from Emma Mae Greaves, and includes an invitation for you to join the Immersed! festival this weekend!

How USW students created an online music festival under the shadow of COVID-19

The music industry has found itself in dire straits for the past few months. With live music gone, collaboration at a minimum, and our precious venues closing left, right and centre, morale amongst creatives has been at an all-time low. However, behind the scenes of 2021’s all-new Immersed! Festival we’ve been experiencing something amazing in all of this madness; hope; and this is something we endeavour to share with our viewers this weekend when they finally get to see Immersed! Festival 2021 in all of its virtual glory. Immersed! takes place this weekend (30/31 January) for free! And you can find out everything you need from our Immersed! linktree.

Cherry Boys behind the scenes (photo by Stu Rowles)

 

Streaming (for free, by the way – links at the bottom of this article) from the Immersed! YouTube and Twitch accounts as per the new normal, viewers will get to experience a truly immersive music festival from the comfort of their own homes, all in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust and the #saveourvenues movement. To support this, each performance was specially filmed in venues across Cardiff, and in artists’ bedrooms all across the globe. The students at the University of South Wales that are behind this event have definitely triumphed over adversity, and to do so in the midst of such a critical situation for live music throughout Wales, as well as for the worthy causes we’re supporting, is a fantastic achievement that each and every one of us should be proud of.

From adapting to solely online communication, maintaining a Covid-safe environment, and strictly abiding by lockdown rules, the hurdles in the race the Immersed team have had to jump this year have been higher than ever before, and we’ve been running with weights on our ankles the entire time.

However, though we’re tired, and some of us stressed, hope for a musical future is in the air – with a line-up of nearly 50 incredible acts, six virtual stages, and a massive 200 USW students involved in the creation and delivery of this award-worthy festival. That’s pretty incredible.

In September, when Immersed! 2021 began as a concept in the empty halls of the University of South Wales, it presented itself as more of a huge floating question mark than a festival. But by the start of October, this giant bundle of confusion had actually become something tangible. We had all these ideas, all of this research, and most importantly; we had a plan. This was a plan driven by the music we’re now bringing you, from up-and-coming artists such as Adwaith, Otto, Mace the Great, Yasmine & The Euphoria, Chroma, Telgate, as well as a vast selection of the Libertino Records roster including Bandicoot, KEYS and Papur Wal, among many more.

Ben from The Kelly Line (photo by Natalie Ball)

 

It was a plan driven by the inspiration we took from Tumi Williams (aka. Skunkadelic), Sam Dabb (Le Pub and #saveourvenues) and Sarah Cole (#wemakeevents co-ordinator for Wales) in our talks with them throughout this process. It was a plan driven by a simple message that is now the backbone of the Immersed concept: we are Cardiff, and we are vital. Though this plan changed drastically over the course of putting Immersed! together, it’s still, in my opinion, the most impressive product of teamwork I’ve ever seen, and for third year university students – music students no less – this is a HUGE feat.

 

This sense of teamwork reigned massively over the production of this festival. We all had our roles, and we all (well, most of us) carried them out with perfectly professional practice. The festival scene is something we’re all accustomed to in one form or another but experiencing one from this side of the music has been like stepping into an entirely new world – one which the pandemic has rendered unrecognisable anyway. Nonetheless we embraced it, as we imagined, produced, filmed, programmed, promoted and looked forward to a whole weekend full of true talent, a genuine celebration of Cardiff’s diversity, and a whole lot more online wonder that has exponentially broadened our hopes for the future. We’re genuinely excited to share Immersed! 2021 with the world. 

Wen behind the scenes (photo by Liv Davies)

It’s been a long few months of unanswered emails, uncomfortable ‘please-promote-us’ phone calls, and fourteen hour days filming sets in amazing venues across Cardiff such as Tramshed, Cultvr Lab, and Frontal Lobe Warehouse. But now, we’ve got a whole bank of industry email contacts ready for us to utilise, we can actually pick up the phone and order a takeaway without panicking about what to say, and we saw more bands play in our days spent filming than we have in the last three years. It’s been one hell of a ride, and an insanely rewarding one at that. So, here we are. We’ve made it to the home stretch, and as one final push from me to you I say this: please watch what we’ve been working so hard for.

Enter the festival via the Immersed 2021 Linktree (in our Instagram bio, and on our website). Immersed! begins on Friday at 8pm with a long-awaited workshop from Grammy-award-winning producer High Contrast. We hope to see you there.

IMPORTANT LINKS:

By Emma Mae Greaves

 

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Mary Ocana – LA to Cardiff

Today’s piece is a lovely reflection on living in Cardiff, written by Mary Ocana, who originally hails from South East LA. Also just like to say it wasn’t a deliberate move to publish this on the day the President Biden was inaugurated but what a nice piece of synchronicity, eh?

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Croeso i Gymru” – “Welcome to Cardiff” is a sign I read as soon as I exited the M4 towards Cardiff. A warm and honest welcome.

Cardiff Bay

I have lived in Cardiff for the last three years and every second has been nothing short of a wonderful time. Wales is a country that I have come to see as widely diverse and exciting, and Cardiff now holds a special place in my heart. While it may not be the place where I was born, or where most my family and friends are, it has grown to feel like home in many aspects.

My love for Wales started in 2016 when I first stepped off a train in Ebbw Vale. At that moment, everything felt both foreign and welcoming to me. I remember the surrounding trees and splashing of water from the river stream nearby, and the giant valleys leaning over as if to say “welcome”. Driving around the winding roads, I could hardly grasp what I was looking at. It was beautiful – the only thing that I could compare it to would be scenes in films I had seen in the past, like the green Irish countryside in P.S I Love You. I could see hundreds of sheep sprinkled like sugar atop the valleys, quietly whispering to myself “I’m home”. The cold-yet-inviting air that filled my lungs that day is something I’ll never forget; sometimes it still happens when I get off the train in Ebbw Vale or Rhymney.

Bryn Bach

See, I grew up in South East Los Angeles, in Maywood, California – home to a large Latino population. My parents uprooted their life in Mexico and settled here in their early 20s. It has now become their home and is far more familiar to them than anywhere else. Maywood is only 1.8 miles in diameter, but it is filled with a lot of character and is still a place which harbours memories that will stay with me always. As an only child and the daughter of two low-income immigrant parents, it was difficult to think of the future. I felt like a failure after graduating High School because I did not get into the colleges I applied to and I ended up attending community college.

At the time, it felt like I would never get to have a study abroad experience – which is something I had always wanted to do. I appreciated LA and the OC, but I just simply wanted to see what else there was outside of my comfort zone. Even if it was just upstate, somewhere like UC Davis or somewhere in Rhode Island, far away. I wanted to experience growth in this way.

A few months away from my Cypress College graduation, I found myself staring at an opportunity I had only dreamed of all these years. It was difficult to imagine that I, a 21-year-old from Maywood would ever get the chance to study abroad, but yet here it was – a study abroad experience in Wales. It was a frightening thought, as it meant moving 3,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean and creating a life far away from everything I had ever known. It is a decision I am truly grateful I had the opportunity to make. I am glad I went for it.

Tredegar

Two months after arriving in Wales I found an apartment in Canton. It was a small one-bedroom apartment nestled by Thompson’s Park, and only a 30-minute walk from Cardiff Metropolitan University. It wasn’t long before I eased into my new life in Cardiff. This was something completely new and exciting because I had never lived on my own. I started to develop my own routines and found solace in walking to places like the Canton Fruit Market – partly because of the 50p banana bowls, but mainly because everyone I ran into was so pleasant. Breakfast at Crumbs, coffee from Lufkin and sandwiches from Bee & Honey quickly became my new favourite treats.

On the days that I had to go into university, I walked through Llandaff Fields, I used to cut through the field because I liked the way wet grass felt on my boots. Walking to school was a huge breath of fresh air – back in LA I was used to driving in one-hour traffic just to get to my 8AM lecture, but here I was, walking, witnessing dogs off their leads and the trees welcoming the autumn season. I could not be happier.

Taffs Well

I discovered that, for the most part, Wales is a rainy and cloudy place. This wasn’t a bad thing, however. Coming from a place where it hardly rains, experiencing the rain, whether it was manic or calm, was a lovely contrast.

The first few months I lived in Cardiff, I visited all the “tourist-y” bits. I took a train to Penarth, walked through Alexandria Park (a favourite of mine) and Penarth Pier. Beaches were not foreign to me, but this was the first time that I had ever seen a pebble beach – pebbles as far as I could see and seagulls waiting for the opportunity to swoop in and steal my chips. I took a train to Cardiff Bay, to see the Wales Millennium Centre and the Pierhead Building, it was interesting to read about the history and see what Cardiff Bay used to look like. Barry is one of my favourite places, too, and I feel as though the beaches around Cardiff are hugely underrated.

Ogmore

But, by far, my favourite place I visited and still escape to often is St. Fagans. Turog – the bakery there – is the perfect place to grab a snack to hold on to whilst walking around. When you are at St. Fagans it truly does feel like you are experiencing a piece of history, it is a wonderful feeling. The best thing about visiting all of these places is that they are not far. They are only a short train or bus stop away.

In LA, driving is an absolute necessity. Public transport is decent, but I have to admit it is not the safest or most reliable. In Cardiff, however, I have the pleasure of walking everywhere. If I needed to go into town I could just hop on the 61 bus and be there in ten minutes. On my first day of school, I remember walking down the River Taff trail through Pontcanna Fields and through Bute Park, and it was the first time I witnessed Cardiff Castle – I had never seen a castle in my entire life! I’ll admit I was a bit giddy. Sometimes I still feel that way as I walk past and the clock chimes its tune.

Mary at Lidl in Tredegar

I find myself in the city centre quite a bit, whether it is looking for beetroot wraps in M&S or just wandering around to take in all the Victorian and Edwardian architecture beauty. I enjoy walking through the arcades; the feeling that I get when having a stroll through them is something I can’t quite put into words!

In close proximity to the arcades is the Cardiff Market which, believe it or not, used to be a prison, and now it is home to a wide variety of food stalls and vendors. Cardiff Bakestones is a favourite of mine here because of their vegan Welsh cakes, which are always baked to perfection. I spent a lot of time there, whether it was to drink a flat white from Hard Lines or pizza from Ffwrnes. It is a lovely place to spend an afternoon.

It was also at this time that I experienced snow for the first time! It snowed in January of 2017 and it was super exciting for me. I witnessed a snowy Bryn Bach and Thompson’s Park; they were completely different when they were covered in snow, it was magical, albeit cold but still a wholesome new experience.

I thought I knew what celebrating Christmas was all about in California, but Christmas is truly something special in Wales. It is in the air. During the Christmas season, the city centre becomes a luscious Christmas paradise. There are vendors and stalls and the excitement of Christmas right around the corner. It was the place where I tried mulled wine for the first time and it is the place which I keep coming back to each year for churros, from the lovely Emilio of Churros and Chocolate. Winter Wonderland feels genuinely festive, and we don’t have anything quite like it in California, mostly because of the weather. Celebrating Christmas in the UK has made me appreciate the season more.

Bryn Bach

I lived in Canton for two years and in those two years, I remember how thankful I was that I only had to walk 15 minutes to get to work. I worked in Bloc, at the edge of Victoria Park, and if I got there early, I could hang around the park, watch all the dogs and have a coffee. Getting to work in a coffee shop, and getting to know the regulars and people that lived in Canton was such a lovely experience – everyone was always very friendly and forgiving. Working there was refreshing and it did not compare to any places I had worked in before – I will always be grateful to Bloc.

After living in Canton, I moved to Roath. Roath differs from Canton significantly but it has still been a wonderful place to live in. Because my 50p banana bowls were long far I had to find something else, and rightfully found Sammy from Fruit and Veg Barrow and slowly the routines were settling in. Now I only live twenty minutes away from Roath Lake and the Roath Rose Garden and these places have comforted me throughout these difficult times. Walking around these places and checking out nice spots like Roath Mill Gardens helped me throughout lockdown, and reminded me of how many lil’ gems Cardiff has.

Roath

As a Mexican-American, it has been an absolute joy being surrounded by Welsh people and immersing myself in their culture. Maybe it’s because Welsh people remind me of who I am as a Mexican-American, as there are parallels between each culture and their hard-working attitude.

There is just something genuinely honest and special about Welsh people: they are kind, hardworking, and always up for a good time. Getting to know my partner’s Welsh family was a joy – they were all welcoming, and I quickly began to see them as my own. I didn’t grow up with a lot of family, but Wales and my partner’s family – from their caring attitude to treating me to Sunday dinner – made me feel like I was in one straight away. My eyes begin to water when I think about how proud people are to be Welsh and I am overwhelmed with happiness that I get to experience it.

Wales has taught me more than I could have ever imagined, not only about how fantastic other places in the world can be, but how to love myself. I feel a lot more independent, and I feel like if I can move across the country on my own then I can do absolutely anything. Cardiff and the Welsh Valleys will forever be with me. I cannot thank both my parents and friends enough for believing in me and always encouraging me to follow my heart.

Mary in Penarth

Mary is an Interior Design graduate from Cardiff Met. Thanks Mary for this wonderful account of your past few years living in and around Cardiff!

If you’re interested in writing for We Are Cardiff, please contact us.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Rhian Pitt

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Rhian Pitt, of Cardiff Indie Collective. Although lockdown is lifting, we’re still open for stories, so if it’s taken you a while to put it together, it’s all good with us – please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown. 

I’ve had three babies to tend to in lockdown.

One is your classic human shaped one with squishy thighs and a dribbly mouth. She was two months old when we entered lockdown. I had only just mastered leaving the house before the announcement was made and we were instructed not to do so. All of a sudden, the four walls of our house was the only world she knew. Sometimes I wonder the impact of it. She recently finished meeting the grandparents. They cried when they held her. So did she. The only other people to hold her since March were PPE clad nurses jabbing a needle into her leg. Lockdown lifting must be blowing her mind – all these people, places.

I won’t use this space to vent my woes of lost maternity leave – other people have been through much worse – and in many ways it was a positive experience, forcing me to slow down and connect with her in a way that ‘normal life’ wouldn’t have allowed, but it was solitary.

Me, my baby and the dog became a unit. We ate together, napped together, exercised together. As my partner left for work every morning we would stay at home. Together. Every day.

That’s my second baby, the dog. A hyperactive collie who is a lover of the great outdoors and a park snob. She was quite possibly the most affected in our household. Just two months earlier she had been pushed into second rank by the arrival of the baby – then all of a sudden we were at home all day, cramping her style, sitting in the armchair that she usually commandeered. It was very hard for her to come to terms with the five mile rule. No more mountains, beaches, open spaces, lakes (she treats Roath Lake like it’s a dirty puddle). The genuine disappointment on her face as we rocked up at Splott Park was palpable. She cottoned on and started digging her heels in like an overtired toddler, refusing to walk as I grappled to get her and baby out the house. She would wriggle out of her harness and hide under the coffee table, her legs quivering at the thought of having to walk past groups of teenagers who were struggling to grasp the concept of social distancing, sprawled over the pathways and smoking fragrant cigarettes. She found the clapping for carers a bit overwhelming.

We must’ve looked like a household lacking in enthusiasm for the carers – quite the opposite, it was incredibly emotional and a clap didn’t quite express the gratitude – but my partner and I had to take it in turns representing on our doorstep while the other had to play the radio really loudly and prance around distracting the dog. It was worse than bonfire night.

My third baby has been a project – a business, a social media campaign, a crowdfunder. It’s called Cardiff Indie Collective and is, if you hadn’t guessed, a collective of Cardiff’s independent businesses. The idea is to showcase them all in one space – many of us follow a select few on social media – but how good would it be to have one space where you can see them all together?

Lockdown has helped to highlight the fact that lots of us would like to shop more locally (Instagram even introduced a shop local tag), but it’s hard if you don’t know where to start.

From the businesses’ perspective, it’s about widening their audience, creating a support network for them to tap into, being a collective voice for when their own needs to be louder.

The plan for this started a couple of years ago when I instigated the ‘Cardiff Gift Exchange’. With the help and support of Business Wales the plan evolved and things got moving while I was pregnant – a slow thought out process – and then BOOM, covid struck and suddenly local businesses were screaming out for help – so it got propelled forward at 100mph – the Crowdfunder was a success with nearly 40 local businesses getting involved. We’ve raised enough money to get a website built, get some super eco-friendly loyalty cards produced, and do some marketing.

Shopping has changed, eating out has changed – but let’s take this opportunity to pull together and turn it into a positive change by helping our independents. You can sign up to our mailing list to hear about the launch at the Cardiff Indie Collective website.

Things I’ve learned from lockdown:

  • My dog is a great listener. She has been by my side daily and made it less lonely.
  • Starting a business with a newborn baby is hard – but when you can’t hang out at awkward baby groups, spend your days in cafes or hanging with the grandparents, then it is a welcome distraction from nappies and dribble.
  • My parents feel really far away. Four months of Whatsapp videos of the baby sleeping/eating/crying/pooing just isn’t the same as a hug.
  • Talking to adults during the day is very important. My vocabulary has reduced by approximately two percent, and forming sentences has become more challenging. When the postman strikes up a conversation I feel like I am in GCSE French oral exam.
  • Being at home all day on your own with a baby doesn’t feel natural. My partner used to come home from work to find the dog sitting in the window waiting. Now he finds me next to her doing the same thing. We are sociable creatures built on communities -we haven’t evolved to be alone at home every day.

  • I am so grateful to live with someone. To have a partner. To have a baby. The importance of human touch on mental wellbeing is profound.

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Thanks Rhian, and good luck with your three babies! Follow Cardiff Indie Collective in the following places:

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We Are Cardiff update on Letters from lockdown! It ain’t over till it’s over…

HELLO FRIENDS.

Shwmae. SO. How are you?

It’s been four months (ish) since we went into lockdown.

Three months to the day since we published our first Letter from Lockdown. (Thanks to Neil Cocker for writing our first Letter from Lockdown  – Neil also wrote the very first thing we ever published on We Are Cardiff, so we’re very grateful to him for satisfying our strange desires for cyclical content journeys).

Since then, we’ve published over 80 pieces from you lovely people. You’ve given us your lockdown highs, and lows, details of your running routes, the things you’ve been cooking, all the Zoom calls you’ve been on. We had a letter from our youngest ever contributor. We even had our first marriage proposal. (Side note: he said yes!!!).

As lockdown is lifting (this version of lockdown, anyway), you’ll have noticed the stream of letters has dried up a bit.

We know it’s taken time for some folks to really get to grips with they felt about lockdown, so we’re not closing down the series.

Instead, we welcome you to write pieces about how your lockdown went, now you’ve had some time to reflect. Or you might still be shielding.  Whatever. We’re still welcoming your stories, so please feel free to contact us with your Letter from Cardiff in lockdown. 

SCAN OUR ARCHIVES FOR ALL THE LETTERS FROM CARDIFF IN LOCKDOWN.

Take care of yourselves, Cardiff.

Peas

WAC
x

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Fardoe’s Paper People

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Cynthia Fardoe Thomas, who is bringing us her story via her paper people. We’re still open for stories, so if it’s taken you a while to put it together, it’s all good with us – please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown. 

Fardoe’s Paper People

I make people out of paper! This is my lockdown story in paper form.

My name is Cynthia Fardoe Thomas, I’m a paper engineer and illustrator, but also a support worker for three adults with learning difficulties.

I’m also a single mum of two beautiful cherubs.

I’ve worked through the pandemic, It’s been a bumpy yet creative ride.

Follow Cynthia on Instagram @FardoesPaperPeople

Want to write for Letters from Cardiff in lockdown? Find out how here…

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Olga Kaleta

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Olga Kaleta, circus and theatre maker, and Head of Youth at NoFit State Circus. We’re still open for stories, so if it’s taken you a while to put it together, it’s all good with us – please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown.

Part One: about time 

Now is the time.
What for?
NOW is the time.
To do what?
NOW is the TIME.

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Here I am. In this hour of the morning in which the world is just about awake.

Here I am. With the singing of the birds. With the humming of the insects. With the gentle gasps of wind.

Here I am.

The world came to a halt. And listen, it’s like nothing really happened. Nature is thriving in the most unpretentious way. There is so much we can learn from her quiet confidence.

Now is the time to do nothing.

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The lockdown has now been officially imposed. I was down with the idea all along but now that the psychotic overgrown cabbage patch kid said we have to, I must admit, I’m finding it so much harder to comply.

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Stop. Breathe.

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Here WE are…reduced to our personal bubbles…self-isolated in our little worlds. Animals are clearly delighted to finally see humans trapped in the cages of their own making. Taking themselves out for a walk once a day. Finally, they can understand what it is like not to be able to enjoy the world the way it’s been intended.

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Woke up to find a missed call from my mum. She never rings outside of the Sunday afternoon window. I dreaded the news she was trying to deliver. My dad would be classed as vulnerable although he’s been self-isolating ever since I know him. I ring her back, terrified of the news that awaits me. She picks up laughing and says I shouldn’t let the impending collapse of the creative industries get to me. She heard there are plenty of jobs at Lidl going. Afterwards, she sent me a video of a toucan singing “Don’t worry be happy” as a final consolation.

***

Time is linear.
Time is circular.
Time is multiactive.
Time is an undeniable delusion.

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It’s Chris’ funeral today. Few weeks ago, the chapel would be packed with people wishing to say farewell. But now there’s only a handful of people scattered around, unable to comfort each other. Chris loved sci-fi and fantasy. Little did he know dying in an old world that he would be buried in a new one.

I almost said, “good old world”. But it wasn’t. This one isn’t great either. Right now, it’s proper weird…but many of us can spot beacons of hope falling through the cracks. Sometimes you need to get worse to get better… But sometimes you don’t get better…sometimes you die.

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The experience of time is universal. The attempts to make sense of it, are all man-made choices, inherent to the cultures that breed us.

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The world is changing. We’ve been accelerated towards the future. Everyone is confined to their own custom-made digital reality. Human touch is a commodity.

I am afraid to cry. I’m afraid to admit that I’m scared. I’m scared to fall apart. What if I’m not able to comfort myself?

It’s okay to do nothing.

***

I was born and bred in a culture that regards time as leaner. The only way is forward. There is no looking back. Time is unstoppable. Time is precious. Time is a resource. Wasting it is unforgivable.

So much time has passed. What have you got to show for it? Nothing but those Gray Gardens…

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The dusk just settled and the whole of Bristol feels like a holiday village. Streets are quiet and empty. Everyone is chilling indoors after a busy day of doing absolutely nothing. So peaceful.

***

Homeless and prisoners are forced to self-isolate in masses for a single trembling croak. What does it matter? Were their lives ever worth living?

Police issuing fines to homeless for being outside. Are you fucking kidding me?

I am a lucky one. I am worth saving. Just! For now!?

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On Tuesday the 31st of March a girl, aged 12 died in Belgium. The youngest victim of the virus to date.

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Stop. Breath.

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On Tuesday the 31st of March police in Kenya shot a 13 year old boy who stood on his balcony past the curfew.

His name was Yasin.

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Stop. Breath.

***

I’m not afraid of dying. What I am afraid of is not to be able to feel the skin of my loved ones before I perish. We are born alone, and we die alone. But this is too literal.

***

The pigeon just sat on the roof of the shed. He is a moderately regular visitor but only since lockdown that his cooing got unbearably loud. It’s clear he’s looking for a mating partner. The theories say that now there’s no traffic noise the birds can hear their contenders more distinctly, therefore need to put more effort into their own allurement. Oh, sweet horny pigeon, you and I are not that different. There’s not much more I want from this world then a little piece of earth where I can make love.

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Ecuador’s health system has collapsed. People are forced to store dead bodies of their loved ones on their living room floor…

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Stop. Breath. Change Direction.

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We live for pleasure. A meaningful pleasure. The kind of pleasure that isn’t replaced by shame as soon as the moment has passed. Pleasure that resonates beyond the moment in which it seems necessary.

We live for each other. For the touch, the smell and the smile. For the sharing of the joy and wonder.

Today I wrote a porno.

***

Stop. Breathe.

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Tiny yellow spider is stretching its web between two branches of the raspberry bushes. Oh sweet, tiny yellow spider, you and I are not that different. There’s not much more I want from this world than to build a home.

***

The time ticking at the core of my soul is circular and it is multiactive. There are cycles within cycles. Each one is different in scale and velocity. They exist concurrently in a perfect harmony. Respect them all, but only tune in to those that serve you in the moment.

***

A single magpie bobbing around the garden like it is the king of the castle. Let’s hope magpies are not too strict when it comes to self-isolation. We all know how the saying goes … Mr Magpie, next time, do indulge us, and bring a mate with you, will you?

Mister Magpie, you and I are not that different. There’s not much more I want from this world then to be free to choose between the right to solitude and the need for a company.

***

There are an infinite number of ways to exist in this world. Why are we so fixated on the idea of finding one that fits all?

***

It’s okay to do nothing.

***

I’ve been watching sad movies in order to make myself cry. Nothing! I wonder if it’s in any way connected to the unprecedented levels of sexual frustration. Perhaps this sort of release won’t be available to me until I have an orgasm that isn’t self-inflicted. I hope I won’t cry whilst… worse even…what if we both cry!?!

***

The only way is forward. There is no looking back. To return would be to admit to failure.

***

It’s okay to do nothing. The time spent looking after your mental health is time well spent.

***

The world came to a halt. Feels like an emergency stop. Yes, we all suffered a serious whiplash, many of our loved one have died…but we’re still here, panting, staring at the precipice. Let’s not start the engine, only to tumble off that edge. Surely, there’s more than one way to go from here…

***

Change of mind should be celebrated, not hold up to shame. Change of mind is not admittance of failure, but an exercise in resilience. Only this that can change can continue.

Stop. Breath. Change direction. Bring what feels useful.

***

A friend of mine told me, she’s finally getting into the rhythm of things. Two months have passed … We live on a fucking treadmill! The world was put on hold and it took us two months to reconnect with it. Being still is a long-lost skill. I hope we’ll continue to practice it once the cogs start turning again (a bit slower this time I hope).

Happiness is to be present and intentional.

***

Now is the time
What for?
NOW is the time.
To do what?
NOW is the TIME

Now is the time to undo everything.

***

Olga Kaleta is a circus and theatre maker, co-director at The Bad Eggs,  and Head of Youth at NoFit State Circus.

Want to write for Letters from Cardiff in lockdown? Find out how here…

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Anonymous #6 – “I blinked and it was over”

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

I blinked, and it was over.

Cardiff Castle, by We Are Cardiff

I can remember the blind panic, murmurs and rumours of the army heading to London, forced curfews, the fear creeping through the office, when no one knew what was going on. People knew people who worked in the government got bits of information to help their loved ones. We eagerly gobbled up whatever we heard, we speculated, we gambled. I spent over £700 on supplies. Not toilet paper – why would you need so much of that, I bought rice, I bought hand sanitiser, I bought soap, masks,  extra pairs of everything, washing powder, bleach, dried protein powder, UHT milk. I keep finding stashes of it all over the house, and I am probably lucky that I broke up with my girlfriend in January. If she didn’t think I was mad then, she definitely would have broken it off during lockdown.

My manager offered us all the choice to start working from home at the start of March. I work for a multinational company, we have a medium sized office in Cardiff. We also have offices in China – not Wuhan, but still, China. Hong Kong. Dubai, and after seeing what happened in other countries the company was quick to pivot us from office to home. We were still allowed into the office but “strongly advised to work from home”, so we all did, they arranged for all our equipment to be moved out of the office, desks, chairs, desktops and other bits and pieces. I work in corporate finance, and I had to return into the office before official lockdown to pick up a work credit card, as I had to sign for it. I wore a mask on my walk through town, and got stared at by everyone, the building – an entire floor in one of the high rises in the city centre – was like a ghost town, there was warning electrical tape across the floor, marking out where all the desks and chairs had been before, the empty remains, rubbish and dust, the odd shoe and canvas bag remaining on the floor as proof of old life. The computer team were the only ones staying in there, as they needed access to the equipment to keep everyone else running from home. All their desks were spread out across one huge long wall of the office, 15 people in a room that used to hold over a hundred of us.

After that visit I felt very unnerved, I went straight out and stocked up, did that insane shopping trip that cost me over £700, started isolating. Most of my friends thought I was being really over cautious and actually they thought I was mad. I didn’t tell any of them how much I’d spent on supplies, I played it down, I made excuses not to see them at social events. Now it seems obvious in retrospect. Why didn’t we all do it?

As soon as the official lockdown started, my company announced a restructure. Everyone was keeping their jobs, but we were all going on a furlough rotation; I was off for three weeks, then worked a week. That pattern repeated three times overall throughout lockdown, until they announced last week that we were all required back fulltime.

I blinked, and it was over.

The first week of being on furlough was horrible. The weeks before – the unofficial lockdown, when I was just hidden away but the world was still outside – that seemed fine. Maybe because it didn’t seem so real. But then suddenly we all got told we had to stay home. Please stay inside. Please save the NHS. Please help us control the virus. That first week I don’t think I could have worked if I tried, I spent every second on the internet, reading about the virus, reading about how it had spread between diners in a restaurant in Wuhan, about SARS, and MERS, and swine flu, and bird flu, learning about droplets and respiratory diseases and ventilators, I barely slept, I drank a lot, I used to be a social smoker, I somehow ended up taking it back up, I think just for something to do.

I watched a lot of box sets. Things like Ab Fab, The Young Ones, Partridge, I’ve never been interested in cars but I found old episodes of Top Gear and somehow that made me feel better. I listened to a lot of the radio, I feel like I hadn’t really listened to the radio in years. There was something reassuring and soothing about human voices, there in the room with you. For the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t switch the radio off, I felt extremely isolated, extremely alone, the radio helped me feel like there was someone else there. I listened to a mixture of the BBC channels, they were my go-to choices. I actually ended up listening to Radio Four and Radio Two more than any other stations – I’m 27 so I don’t think if either are aimed at me but they felt reassuring like having kind aunties and uncles around look after you.

I deactivated my Twitter and Facebook accounts a few years ago, felt like I was wasting time scrolling a lot. The first week on furlough, I logged back into both. I wasted a lot of time again on Facebook, sucked back into stalking all these people I never really cared about from school, oh he’s moved to Australia now, who cares, before I remembered why I had deactivated it in the first place. It’s not real life, and it’s a distraction from my real life, my real here, and my real now. I lasted much longer on Twitter, and found a lot of really useful resources and links to things during the lockdown – which local independent food places were doing takeaway during the lockdown, where I could buy bread, where I could get coffee.

Back then, right at the start of the lockdown, I was so stressed. Worried about the world, worried about myself, I just felt like there was this general background level of worry that never went away. Sometimes I’d wake up and for a second I had forgotten, everything  felt normal, then I remembered and the pit of my stomach dropped I felt sick thinking about everything. I tried to fill my days, so I spent my daily walks heading for Pettigrew, or the Indoor Market, or Oriel Jones, to pick up food. I got my fruit and veg from Laura’s. Sometimes I was the only traffic on busy roads. No cars, no buses, no nothing.

Now the shops are open again. Starbucks. Greggs. I can get coffee from almost anywhere, but I make an effort now to try and get coffee from one of the independents – Brodies, or Hardlines, or Pettigrew (although I feel bad, I was one of those people making Steve Lucas wait in line while I asked for a latte. Steve – I can only apologise to you, getting that coffee was my only connection to normality – to the real world I missed so much back then). And I didn’t want to go home, I wanted to stay out longer. I wanted to do things that took up my day. I didn’t have anywhere else to escape to and the flat was becoming a mess and a prison.

I got used to the roads being quieter. I walked a lot. I took my bike to be serviced. I started cycling again. I haven’t cycled in years. And I walked and cycled for fun, because there was no where to go. I obeyed the rules about not seeing other people, which was hard, as I live alone. But actually my balcony is linked to a couple of others in our flats, and I ended up strangely making friends with neighbours I have lived within metres of for years, but never ever seen or spoken to before.

I blinked, and it was over.

And now, everything is different again. But I’m not ready for it. Before I felt dazed and confused by the lack of traffic and busyness and commerce. And now  I miss the roads being quiet. I miss being the only person walking down a road – being able to stand in the middle and take a photo on my phone, and not rush to get over to the pavement.

I wish I had used my furlough time better. I thought maybe I could repaint the flat, rearrange the furniture. I don’t have any children or pets and I was fairly newly single, so it’s just me, how would I fill the time? I thought I might learn a language, I’ve been meaning to learn Welsh properly for years as I never learned properly at school, or maybe German, I’ve always wanted to do that. I thought I might read more books, or think about writing one of my own even, because think of all that time, and how would I fill it? But now it’s over, and what did I do?

I spent it feeling nervous and worried, watching endless YouTube videos, drinking. One night one of my neighbours had some weed and I smoked some with him, I spent the rest of the night trapped in an internet rabbit hole where I was convinced I could find the source of the coronavirus if I just kept on looking, needless to say I didn’t find it and felt like death the next day. I spent it walking, talking the long route to places, because I wanted to be out of the flat for longer, and the walking was the purpose of being out, not to get anywhere or see anyone.

I’m disappointed in myself I suppose is what I mean. I’m back in work – we are taking turns to go into the office, smaller capacity and very strict hygiene rules. But I feel like I did nothing. That time was a gift. I spent it worried and stressed. I wish I had done things differently. I wish I had spend the time to learn Welsh, or have a proper clean out of my place. Anything constructive. I feel like I wasted it.

I blinked, and it was over. And although I’m happy to be able to see people and happy to see town busy and things, you know, I miss it a bit.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Steve Lucas

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

I sat before the television and watched a new breed of uber-confident, media-trained, silver-tongued, blue-suited, private-schooled politicians as they took turns to wobble along a daily tightrope, trying to show us that they could strike the right balance within the shifting weight in the pole of “the science” without succumbing to the irresistible pull of the gravity of the financial system.

I watched the daily death toll rise like a barometer of fear and struggled to put the grim statistics into some kind of meaningful sense and context.

I watched nurses hold iPads in the air for semi-conscious patients, like ring girls signalling the end of another round in the fight against an enemy too tiny to see.

I felt the sadness on our streets as smiling, considerate people stepped into the road to maintain a respectful distance from each other.

I noticed the faint, ghostly scent of sanitiser on the damp plastic handles of shopping trolleys.

I saw the Holy Grail of our ‘30 hours a week of free childcare’ swept away from us, while my working hours increased and my partner started working from home.

I felt appreciative but uncomfortable when someone stopped me and thanked me for the key work I was doing.

I saw our eldest son fill his wheelbarrow with cardboard boxes and play a new game where he became a new superhero called DELIVERY MAN.

I felt an eye-glistening relief that the COVID-19 virus didn’t seem to show much interest in meddling with the physiology of children as it hitchhiked its way around the world.

I struggled to stay connected to people as I uneasily joined in with the stuttering technological chaos of Facetime and Zoom calls, then wrote letters by hand, and completed my counselling sessions by telephone.

I listened as people began to ask more questions about our whole way of life, our rushing around, our ways of working, our monetary system, and then our racial equality.

I heard Orwellian-style concepts like ‘the second wave’, ‘air bridges’ and ‘the new normal’ and wondered what the implications might be.

I regretted not buying a second hand copy of The Plague by Albert Camus when I saw it on the shelf in Troutmark Books in the Castle Arcade way back in February.

I savoured the small, positive things: the quiet cycle ride to work, the cleaner city air, and the chance to spend more time together as a family.

I waited in a queue outside the Pettigrew Bakery for 20 minutes just to buy a loaf of bread and a Chelsea bun because everyone else in front of me seemed to need a cup of coffee.

I waited and I waited and I waited some more until I finally saw Liverpool win the Premier League.

I wrote a haiku (as suggested by Peter Gaskell) which went:

 

Spring stops everywhere
Rainbows mask isolation
Time leaves us alone

 

I missed meeting up with friends, going to yoga classes, playing 5-a-side football, walking in hills and forests… in other words the things that help to keep my mind from sneaking off to the craters on the dark side of the moon.

I kissed my son when we walked around the park and he asked me, ‘Have all the germs gone now, daddy?’ and I said, ‘Not yet, son.’

I went to Pontcanna fields and observed the thoughts I had like: TAKE YOUR LITTER HOME; DON’T JUST LEAVE IT NEAR THE OVER-FLOWING BIN – WHAT’S WRONG WITH SOME PEOPLE?!

I didn’t watch any boxsets, didn’t paint the house, didn’t go jogging, didn’t walk any dogs, didn’t write a sitcom, didn’t go on social media, and definitely didn’t drive to any castles to test my eyesight.

I carried on with life as best as I could.

And I realised

That despite my perception

Of my suffering

I am actually pretty lucky.

And I also feel more grateful

For the things that I have,

Rather than sorrow

For the things that I haven’t,

And that as human beings

We are adaptable,

Beautiful

And maybe

A little bit stronger now

Than we were before,

And that perhaps

There is nothing

In this world

More important

Than kindness.

***

Steve Lucas is a busy dad, works in social care and currently plays the role of a burnt out, reclusive rock star. Please don’t follow him on social media or in the street. Big thanks to Steve, the rock’n’roll poet, who wrote his first piece for We Are Cardiff back in 2010, ten years ago!  

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Mike and his lockdown baby

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Mike, who welcomed a baby boy into his life during the lockdown. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in Lockdown

Common Story

When lockdown started here in Wales, I was sitting in the office with a workmate talking about how the company would react to the possibility of shutting down. There had already been an email the week before about the potential of home-working and the conversation moved to how we would cope with balancing work and all the rest of life in the same space. Bethan said that being stuck at home might give her a chance to rediscover some old hobbies, or start new ones. And that she was going to start her day as early as possible and really put those regained commuter hours to use. I was looking forward to the birth of my child, due on April 20th

It couldn’t have gone 10am when there was another company-wide email advising all employees and visitors to leave the Cardiff office with all of the equipment that was needed as soon as possible. There was quite a bit to be fair. I was thinking of how I’d get the monitors I needed back to the house on the bus when I read the last paragraph of the email which strongly advised against using public transport. In the weeks leading up to lockdown I’d like to say I was casually cautious – I didn’t wear a mask when I went shopping and I wouldn’t avoid seeing people that I needed to, while physically distancing of course. I wouldn’t cross the road when people walked against me, and I didn’t panic when people got ‘too close’ as some saw it. Even on the bus earlier that day on the way in when someone coughed, I just turned to the window and wondered how awkward that person must feel that they might have upset someone or made someone paranoid that the disease sweeping across the globe was on this very bus.

When the email came at work the chatter started to build and build around me. People got out of their seats and got into action. Laptops and paperwork were shoved into bags, monitors were unplugged, and comfy office chairs were loaded up with all they could carry, then pushed cautiously towards the elevator doors. It was pretty surreal. I had the image that we were a front for some illegal business and about to be raided. The building started to empty, and from the third floor I could see the line of traffic leaving the car park and speeding up the road. 

It was just Bethan, myself and a handful of others left in a wide-open room that usually had 70 to 80 people moving around it. It was the first time I thought that there could be a chance that I could bring this thing home and that Lisa and our kid due in the coming weeks could be affected. It had seemed so far away. Something that could be prevented by staying away from anyone who had symptoms and washing your hands for the duration of a short song.

As people had left the building and the distance was put between us, the sudden fear of catching something grew closer. I thought of the lady who had coughed that morning, and of a trip I had taken to Berlin a couple of weeks before, and the amount of people I must have passed every day since the start of the year as this thing was growing and spreading.

Bethan asked if I wanted a lift home with all of my stuff, even though she’d have to make a second trip for the rest of hers. I would honestly say I’d have declined on any other day previous to that, but that day I thanked her all the way home. 

It was weird at first, being home with the person I had shared my life with for 12 years, but only usually 30 hours of my waking week with for a long, long time. We kept busy and made a list of the remaining things we’d need before the baby arrived – any list feels like a long list when it’s for a baby. As shops closed and deliveries were delayed those last few things put pressure on us. And Lisa was feeling the pressure doubly, our daily walks got slower and we didn’t go as far. Then again, there was nothing open to go to, so we just saw less of the park.

News of restrictions for visitors at hospitals and between countries became worrying. Our parents and most of our family and friends lived in Ireland and it was looking like we would be on our own when the baby arrived. Of course, I should take a moment to say that those poor people who lost their lives and the families that they left behind were in our thoughts also.

There were updates every couple of days and it became apparent that Lisa would have to go to hospital alone when the day came to deliver, and I could only be there for the main event. She was becoming more stressed by the thought of going through labour alone as the days went by. As there was still time to choose where she wanted to have the baby, she decided on a homebirth. This, without any shadow of a doubt in my mind, was the most anxiety-inducing thought I have ever experienced. Lisa then told me she had been thinking about it for a little while and her dad suggested that I should learn how to deliver a baby, just in case no-one could make it out to us. That then became the most anxiety-inducing thought I’ve ever had. After my mind melted and reformed it was weird to think of a place in our house that would be a good setting to bring new life into the world. 

I woke up on Saturday, April 25th, around 6am and noticed Lisa wasn’t in bed beside me. She was five days past her due date. I got out of bed to go and look for her, finding her downstairs bouncing on a yoga ball. The contractions had started and were happening close together and then quite far apart. We had learned that this could happen and that labour for first-time mums could take a while. So, I got Lisa some water, gave her a big kiss, and went back to bed for an hour. Then when I woke, I went back downstairs to find Lisa frozen solid. The contractions were really close together and she was in serious discomfort. I called the hospital and was told someone would be out in a few hours. Lisa was having a hard time of it and, when the first midwife arrived, she was in a lot of pain. But there was a long way to go we were told. 

Hours passed before the next midwife came. I had called the hospital again with my best effort at staying calm. There’s something that hurts so much when you see someone you love in pain and you can’t do anything but hold them and say breathe. We were told that Lisa still had a ways to go and the second midwife left. The contractions had been minutes apart for hours when I called the hospital again and, looking at Lisa, asked that someone come now please, that now would be really good, please. I think that’s all I could manage to say after our names. Chrissy arrived at 9pm and at 11pm her colleague Ruth came with a tank of gas. The midwives and the gas are what got Lisa through the last few hours. I did my small part again, continually chanting breathe interspersed with offering water. 

At 3:54 on April 26th Lisa brought our son into the world. He cried, and it was one of the strangest and most beautiful things I have heard in all my life. I told Lisa I loved her and then I cut the cord. After I held the boy for a while, just looking and chatting at him, I helped the midwives load up their gear. It’s a terrible time when you can’t hug someone for any reason. Lisa put the boy to bed for the first time and I helped her into the shower. When I put her to bed I went down to where the boy had been born. I noticed the adrenaline as I loaded the washing machine. I floated around cleaning up for another hour or so before I poured a small glass of whiskey. Then, with the sun climbing, I called my brother in Australia to give him the news. He was the only one I knew who would be awake at that hour. We didn’t have a name then, and for a few days after he was just called the boy or the baby. He has one now, it’s an old Irish one. And hopefully Oisín will see his family and his father’s land across the sea before too long. 

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The Virtual Big Social Run – during Cardiff’s Lockdown!

Runners – did you take part in the lockdown Virtual Big Social Run! We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Runners are a real sociable bunch. So lockdown has been hard for us (and for everyone else of course) – we’re used to multiple races a year with thousands of people, parkrun every weekend with generally at least a hundred (if not 700) and regular runs with friends either training for events or purely for the fun of it.

Those in Cardiff and a few other select parts of Wales are also used to getting together every couple of months for something called The Big Social Run. These runs have no chip timing, no finishing positions and no competitive aspect – they are all about getting out and enjoying running (whatever pace you run), talking to old and new friends, and sharing a coffee and cake over a chat afterwards.

Cardiff was all set for the next Big Social Run in late February when Covid changed everything and we had to call it off.

But the Big Social Run Organisers, supported as always by RunWales (Welsh Athletics Social Running arm), really wanted to somehow bring runners together again just like at those events – if not physically, then virtually!

What we planned for the weekend of 20/21st June was the first Virtual Big Social Run Wales!

The task? Simply to run (or walk) half an hour or more on that weekend (whilst following guidelines of course) and to share pictures of the run using the hashtag #virtualbigsocialrun. We asked people to choose a place that meant something to them – a favourite running spot maybe, or where they went to school, where they met their partner – anything with meaning for them.

Leading up to the event we shared some (frankly ridiculous) teaser videos encouraging people to sign up.  And sign up they did – by the weekend over 650 people had signed up to take part, including some runners who used to live in Wales and were (of course!) missing the place and the people.

Friday night anticipation was high as we posted a video wishing everyone luck for the weekend:

The event was kickstarted on the Saturday morning by a fun warm up session video to get runners ready to head out, put together by some of our organisers from the Cardiff, Swansea and Bridgend Big Social Run teams.

 

Over the whole weekend hundreds of runners got out for their run or walk (walkers are very welcome at all the events!) and shared their videos and photos in the Big Social Run in Cardiff, the Big Social Run in Bridgend and the Big Social Run in Swansea.

There were runners from Cardiff, Barry, Swansea, Maesteg, Newport, Devon!, Penarth, Ogmore, Swansea, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cowbridge, Llantrisant, Llantwit Major, Pencoed, Port Talbot, Merthyr, Pontardawe, Pontyrpidd, Mountain Ash, Llanelli, Cornwall!- the list just goes on and on!

Throughout the whole of Saturday and Sunday our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages were bursting with pictures of these happy runners, brought together virtually to have a good time and feel part of this lovely community.

Runners also had a chance to win a fab Big Social Run t-shirt. Our organiser Ben tells us all about it:

“Everyone who participated in the inaugural virtual big social run event and shared a photo of themselves on a run using the hashtag #VirtualBigSocialRun was entered into a competition to win a fantastic prize, a Big Social Run Tee. We couldn’t believe how many people got involved, all of the entries were fantastic and it was a pleasure to see people getting involved and enjoying themselves.”

We had some live videos into the group as well which is always great fun:

  • Helen, pretty new to going live on Facebook but now a total pro! 🙂 
  • Lucy, Big Social Run team organiser
  • Me and my mate Gerda at one of Moti Cardiff’s favourite hill session locations
  • Rachel, Big Social Run team organiser
  • Chelle, who could be described as one of our most “enthusiastic” runners 🙂
  • Sue Greening

As organisers of these events, we are super grateful for everyone who got involved. 

We started the Big Social Run two years ago as something to bring people together, in a non competitive environment. Since then we’ve had many many events and they always get really lovely feedback from the runners that come along. We realise it’s not the same when we can’t all run together – but we wanted to do something that at least reminded us of that and where we could all encourage and support each other.

Those who joined in on the weekend have told us that it was a success and we’re so happy they enjoyed it!

We finished the weekend with a little video to say thanks 🙂

 

I’ll finish with a quote from Lucy, our founder:

I’ve been overwhelmed by the engagement we’ve had across Wales for the virtual event. It’s really reminded me how important social running is and the amazing buzz I get from it. I hope we can build on this event and whether the next is virtual or face to face I look forward to it”

We all look forward to it too. Big Social Run is here to stay and we have more exciting plans coming your way, maybe sooner than you think, so check out our facebook groups and other social media – we’d love you to join us on the next one!

Dave, Big Social Run Cardiff Committee 

@cardiff_dave

The Big Social Run Cardiff team is: Lucy Marland @eatrunlearn, David Sinclair @cardiff_dave, Rich Skyrme @overload74, Ben Annear @Ben_Annear, Dafydd Trystan @DafyddTrystan, Rachel Flint @rflintnews, and Ellen Perry @EllPezz, with the support of the great team at RunWales, @RunWales. To find out more about Big Social Run and the teams in other regions visit the I Run Wales website.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Caroline Richards

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

We’re coming to the end of lockdown – the quietest three months of my life …and most lacking in purpose. I’ve remained very sheltered from the virus and I’m grateful, for that – so it’s interesting now to reflect on the suppressed fear that occupied our minds at the beginning of the crisis. During these three months, so many thoughts have meandered through my brain. I’ve pondered if it was a global practice-run for an as yet unknown, more contagious, more deadly virus; or a New World Order experiment to observe how societies react under such restrictions. What felt drastic in March, now feels normal in June and I struggle to think of the benefits of emerging from lockdown. But as I was saying, I’m one of the luckier ones.

Permission to be, not do – do less, BE more.

This was something that took adjusting to but as we found, there are benefits… comfortable clothing, ignoring my bra, sleeping longer, cycling freely, watching the birds, listening to birds… our feathered sanity saviours; sipping a drink as the setting sun marks the end of another day, eating healthily  … adopting daily rituals.

Ritual = meditative space = self care = sense of connection -> mental and spiritual well-being.

Lack of ritual = time saving = cutting corners = loss of connection -> neglect of self and others.

One of my failings has been falling into facebookland. Mainstream media journalists write their stories to fit with a pre-existing narrative and the repetition is mind-numbing …while the more varied rhetoric found on social media is confusing and between it all I’m struggling to find any truth. But then truth is much more complex and subtle than any loaded narrative designed with socio-political manipulation at its core. Take the ego out of outrage and you’re still left with bull. Often people adhere to their pre-formed opinions, some express themselves like a vile sport but when I read conversations that accommodate diverse thoughts – showing kindness and agile thinking, it gives me hope. Gone are the days of goodies and baddies …today’s narratives stretch way beyond that simplicity. There’s so much convincing and contradictory info out there that I find it impossible to form an opinion much beyond anything is possible… the confusion, so much confusion. We become addicted to seeking information but the information lacks answers, so we feast and feast until we make ourselves sick …sick with worry and fear.

Airborne, not airborne, no long term immunity, vitamin D improves your immune system, 5g suppresses immunity, fake news, released from a lab, Wuhan has a lab, dripped from pangolins or bats, corona virus pandemic predicted years ago, herd immunity, more ventilators needed, stay at home, be alert, mutating strains, track and trace, wear a mask, don’t you know it’s more dangerous to wear a mask? lose face, 72 hours, wash your wheelie bin hands, clap for key workers, give them a pay rise, wash your shopping, become OCD, off licenses are essential, so are nannies and golf; shield our elderly, they’re care homes not share homes, hothouses of viral transmission, the young are safe, they’re not as safe as we thought, blood types, ethnicity, ventilators aren’t helpful, return kids to schools, home schooling is safer, be safe, go back to work, that’s an ill-fitting mask, only masks made of three layers work, in a capitalist societeeee.

Somewhere round the third week of lockdown, Arundhati Roy writes an article entitled The Pandemic is a Portal. And it’s true, this timely pause allows space to re-evaluate and work out how to step through into a different life. A crisis is not to be wasted. Here we are, careering towards doomsday and businesses want to return to normal!? Only a fool or a business person would wish for things to ‘return to normal’. The world pulling so abruptly to a halt has been a gift for Mother Nature …possibly a sentient act by Mother Nature. Will we ever end this era of opportunistic development? It no longer feels modern, much more fin de siecle. Unrestrained growth on a finite planet transpires as a tad problematic. Let’s move into a new era where the status of nature increases, outmoding current aspirations for (addictions to) financial gain. No more disposable value packs and lazy gratification, thank you. Instead, adopt a sense of fair that works from all angles; a-greed, without greed.

I hope that as lockdown eases, we step forward slowly, empathetically and on a different foot. I hope ‘business as usual’ takes a back seat and nature draws towards centre stage.

Spring 2020 has put on a belter of a display to coincide with this crisis. She played her best hand, reaching into our shortsighted gaze to wake us up to all we’re destroying. So much of lockdown is like stepping back in time, even my eyes regained their childhood clarity of the 1970s. Bluer skies and greener leaves, like pollution isn’t a thing; the insidious cataracts of contrails and exhaust fumes peeled away. Now, when I gaze at the blue of the sky, I can connect it with the thin blue line seen in satellite images – that finely tuned, atmospheric glow that circles our home. And just like an opal backed with onyx, outer space gives a quality to a cloudless sky that is otherwise indescribable. Let’s not forget how wonderful it is to have these deep blue skies, clean green leaves and rainwater pure enough to drink. I am so in love with our planet. My biggest hope is that we now recognise how do-able a huge shift in lifestyle and mindset can be. Please people, put our planet first… in all our everyday decision-making, allow the natural world to thrive until we find a harmonious balance. We’ve been given an invaluable chance.

Planet Earth faulty, Global Reset button pressed – system updating – initialising…

I thought this enforced break/reassessment was 100% about the planet – but two thirds of the way through lockdown saw the murder of George Floyd. This, the subsequent violence across the States and the ripples felt across Britain and much of the world remind us that the story is way more complex. We’ve been doing things wrongly. Our new steps forward must be inclusive to create ourstory not history (where his = able-bodied, white, cis, hetero). Unless we aim for equality, we’re looped into this highway to obliteration. Colonialism played a big part in warping our minds, giving us perceived status. Diverse perspectives are essential for us to rethink our future. A better, stronger sense of fairness is what we’re aiming for but there will be other bonuses that flow from an inclusive approach.

A pre-covid walk through our city centres was degrading… unable to meaningfully help the homeless was a gut wrenching affair that de-humanised the rest of us, forced to bear witness. The British government has become some macabre circus fronted by a two faced, jolly/evil blond ringmaster. It started with Cameron’s Austerity and continues onwards through this pandemic …the slow realisation that our government is conducting a cull now seems inescapable; a cull on its financially less-active citizens. Watching New Zealand’s PM, Jacinda Ardern helps bring our own situation into sharp focus – a leader who wants to save her people versus leadership facilitating a societal cull. Who can forget our PM’s jolly chilling words, to ‘‘…take it on the chin’’. Neo-Liberalism engineered Austerity – the British government is accountable. And does it need pointing out how poorly the UK government has communicated with Welsh government throughout the covid-19 crisis? Again and again it ignores the Wales in ‘England and Wales’ – in general and particularly noticeable during this pandemic. For this reason, I have one more wish for how we emerge from this crisis …Yes Cymru, I’m glad to be Welsh. We’re managing this situation with more consideration for a healthy outcome, both at governmental and community levels. We display less arrogance and less greed. Our time has come to ease the dis-ease and step away from a London-centric Parliament. Connect with other small nations, reunite with our Celtic cousins, liaise through open doorways with mainland Europe – feel our rich heritage and join the global conversation.

A world where nature has elevated status; where people do less and BE more; a place where equality and inclusivity is normal; where we’re affected by decisions that are made more locally with people and land represented fairly and without greed. This vision can be a reality if enough of us want it – so for all these reasons, please let’s not ‘return to normal’. Instead, let’s step forward through this portal of consciousness thoughtfully and on a different foot; a foot that fits its breathable shoes and walks companionably, with all who care and dare to place Nature before Business. Because one day soon, Nature and Well-being is how we’ll measure a nation’s wealth.

With love, hope and respect,

Caroline Richards

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#SupportWelshBusiness – Alex Feeney

#SupportWelshBusiness – erm, that’s it

#SupportWelshBusiness. There, that’s pretty much it. It’s all there needs to be said about the economy in Wales right now. I could go on, in fact I am going to go on, but if you take one thing from this blog, it is that. Think of it as the TL/DR version.

For a five minute version, please watch the video below.

 

Completely separately, but entirely related to this is an opinion piece I stumbled across in the Financial Times recently. It posited the idea that UK governments should stop providing financial support to small and medium-sized businesses and concentrate on large-scale companies.

The argument was that SMEs are disposable and will be replaced, or replicated, while large national, or even multi-national companies, are plugged so deeply into the UK economy that they cannot afford to fail. 

They employ more people, both directly and indirectly through supply chains or even whole communities built around one plant (Port Talbot being an example). And if they were to fail, tens of thousands of jobs would be lost and communities would never recover (see former coal mining towns in the valleys for further details).

This, the columnist concluded, could irreparably damage the UK economy, setting us back years and ultimately lead to another Great Depression, swarm of locusts and world-ending meteor strike. (I might have made the last two up).

The reasoning was reasonable, carefully worded and played very nicely to the audience it was intended for i.e. not small businesses, but business and political leaders. It was a lobbying piece.

Disrespectfully, I disagree, i.e. you can fuck right off son! 

As a small business co-founder I may be slightly biased in my view, although no more or less biased than big business wanting more support for big business. But I find the notion that small businesses are disposable and easily replaceable as nonsensical as a fish playing tennis, with a jelly racquet, and a cannonball. 

I offer you this POV. A coffee shop closes down, then a few weeks later another sprouts in its place or just across the road. Some jobs are lost, but they don’t affect whole towns, or countries. I get that.

But the argument ignores the wider issue. The person who lost their job at the coffee shop has to find another job. Because they weren’t working for a massive company there is little in the way of financial support, retraining, redeployment etc. No politicians are lobbying ministers on their behalf. 

It is a very personal and very lonely experience. It impacts on their mental health, their family, their income. They may need to take another job quickly to make ends meet because they have bills to pay, families to feed. They can’t weigh up their options or follow their dreams. There is no time. 

So they gratefully take a job when it is offered, even if it is a zero hours contract and they don’t know from one week to the next how much work they will have. They also can’t then get another job to work alongside because the hours vary.

They may hate the job, hate the company, the manager, the commute, the time away from their kids, or their studies. They may take a credit card, or a loan to get by, which eats into their monthly income, meaning the household budget is stretched even further. That brings increased stress and depression. They may not be able to work because of it and end up on benefits. And so the circle goes on and on and on. They are trapped. 

When a big company fails, everybody hears about it. Everybody is sad and shocked and supportive. The TV cameras, radio mics and photographers are there to feast upon the misery. It is tweeted across the world. There are hashtags, gofundme pages, messages of solidarity, politicians looking solemn and concerned with their arms around upset workers and their families.

But if you lost your job in a coffee shop, none of this happens. 

Now, multiply that one coffee shop by hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands.

Depending on which Google result you tap on, anything between 40-60 per cent of small businesses fail within their first five years.

One result claimed as many as 600, 000 small businesses could fail this year. 

If that’s true, and I’m not saying it is because, y’know, the internet, if each of those business employed on average two people, that’s 1.2 million people out of a job.

So, Mr FT opinion writer, tell me that 1.2 million people out of a job isn’t going to have a profound effect on the economy. And of those theoretical 1.2 million, how many will have to take the first job offered and face a cycle of low-income, hand-to-mouth, increased pressure existence. And what is the longer term impact on the country in terms of financial support through benefits, social care, health care and loss of tax revenue through lower wages. 

Big business likes to believe it takes longer term view of things, but its view is always very narrow, and self-focused. That’s not a completely negative thing, nor is it the sole preserve of big business. There are lots of businesses, organisations, people, politicians and governments which have similar views.

But without the broader view, without seeing the whole picture, without seeing not just one small business fail, but tens of thousands like it and the impact that brings, then we miss the opportunity to make things better and to end the cycle.

I’m not saying don’t support big business. They still employ millions of people across the country and have a massive role to play in our recovery. But I don’t think supporting big business over and above all others is a productive, rational or responsible thing to do.

Yes, small businesses fail, for many reasons, and yes, they can be replaced. But what are the longer-term, broader, cumulative effects on the nation? That’s why small businesses need support. That’s why we made this video. We met loads of really amazing people all doing their bit to support each other, their community, to do something different, or to do something in a different way. 

Each of the businesses we featured was run by passionate, dedicated people who cared about more than the bottom line. And there are thousands of small businesses across Wales run by people who feel the same way. That can only be a positive thing for the economy and for communities.

That’s why we’ll be doing all we can to tell these wonderful stories, highlight these amazing people and support companies which are trying to make things better one small step at a time.

Alex Feeney is a co-founder and director of EatSleep Media, a production house which makes cracking content showing what an organisation is doing but in a way its target audience finds entertaining and informative. He also hosts the Accidental Startup podcast which tells the stories of entrepreneurs, their experiences, their decisions and what they have learned along the way. The Accidental Startup is available on Apple, Spotify and most other podcast providers. Follow EatSleep Media on Twitter.

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