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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Natalie Pilllinger

This instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series is from Natalie Pillinger. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!

I’m writing this on 22 April, 2020. I’ve been working from home since the 18 March, 2020. It’s day 35 for me and my three sons in lockdown.

A little bit of background; I’m the lone parent of three sons; Taylor (19), Jack (17) and Cale (13), affectionately known as my teen aliens. I manage JETS, Reach, Community benefits and targeted recruitment and training.

Reflecting on the early days of lockdown – day seven was the hardest for me. The office was still open and people were still going about their daily lives, but I felt really isolated. I felt overwhelmed and worried. I was out of the loop, my routine had all but disappeared and the pandemic was triggering so many of my anxieties.

What would happen to my children if I was taken ill? What would I do if they are taken ill and I couldn’t see them? Social media was reporting terrible things, supermarkets were empty, people were panic buying, my stocks were running low and I couldn’t go out, my brother has a congenital heart defect, was he going to die? I wanted to run away and hide. To top it all off I had no alcohol, paracetamol or toilet roll.

Irrational thoughts and feelings started to gain control, negative thoughts and feelings. What was I going to do? How could I fix it?

When things at home are hard I anchor myself in work, and vice versa. But both of these places were becoming difficult to manage. Nothing felt safe or secure, and I wasn’t in control.

I went to bed on Tuesday 24 March after having had a very ‘ugly’ cry (you know the kind I mean) to my cousin on the phone. I did some breathing techniques, and revisited some of my coping strategies. I woke up on Wednesday 25 March and decided to make a plan of action. I booked three days of annual leave, and decided to get the house sorted.

I felt that that was one thing I could control, and it would have a positive effect on me and my boys. This was by far the best decision I made in the early lockdown.

I had already set up a self-isolation WhatsApp group with my friends and family (there’s now 20+ of us on there!) and they have been (and continue to be) my life-line.

We have pulled each other along, organised quizzes, we had a DJ set from one of the girls. We talk about everything and anything, nothing is held back. It’s raw, funny, brilliant and there’s always someone to talk to. We have laughed together, and we have cried together. I felt and still feel very lucky to have these wonderful women in my life. I’m talking to my friends and family more than ever and I love it.

My son Taylor (the oldest) is a keyworker, so is pretty much self-isolating when he’s home. He’s just started to study for a new career, and is very determined. He has dyslexia, so this is not easy for him. Having to drive him to work at the moment is actually useful, as it  means I can deliver essentials to my parents as well. I get to see them in person (from a safe distance!) at the end of their drive – this is good for us all. I feel for the people who can’t do this.

My other son Jack is studying mechanical engineering at college. He was worried about not passing because of the pandemic, but he’s  now studying and completing assignments to ensure he stays on track, which is amazing! He’s also dismantled my rotten shed and chopped it into firewood and is helping me out more than ever before around the house. I feel that he’s adapting really well. We now have a lovely back garden to sit in and enjoy. It’s a lovely sun trap, which was previously taken up by something ugly. It’s really lovely to lay back in the sunshine.

My youngest son Cale struggled and needed us to set him a new routine at home. He now has a plan, for meals, exercising, school work, and free time. He is cooking – even making bread from scratch! He pretty much follows any recipe I put in front of him – he wants to be a chef (has since he was about six) so he’s able to have the time to learn and practice these skills. We are enjoying talking to each other and learning new things together, and having a safe fire pit and chopping wood in the garden helps. He’s missing rugby training and his friends. He has control over his new routine, in terms of timings, he needs the flexibility too. I bought him a basketball net and he walks the dog everyday. We’re so lucky to have great countryside right by where we live.

We are sitting down together to eat meals now. I didn’t realise I was missing it until we started doing it again.

I now feel like we’ve got the hang of the lockdown. We have created lists of projects and tasks to complete around the home; for all of us to do when we need to occupy our time and distract ourselves.

I plan our meals and snacks, because the food bill has skyrocketed. I’ve found local suppliers for deliveries; milk and eggs, butchers, fruit and veg. How on earth I would afford wine to get me through was one concern, although it didn’t take too long to sort that out!

In terms of work, it’s been tough. My team were feeling a little frustrated, as things were changing quickly, there was so many communications coming from lots of different angles; emails, chats and phone calls. I listened to the team, we problem-solved, and we came up with a plan of action to continue delivering the support projects offer to tenants and the wider community.

We had clarification from our funders that funding would continue, which was brilliant and alleviated some concerns about jobs being secure. We talked about fun things to do and had after work drinks together wearing improvised masks.

I speak to everyone from work daily – face to face, over the phone, on WhatsApp. It’s not always work related, sometimes just to check in on people. Some are coping, some aren’t, but that’s OK – we are all all different and have different pressures. We’re united and we are supporting each other.

Working from home has meant we connect more online. We are also able to focus and communicate better away from the office distractions and interruptions. It’s less formal. I like it, but I really miss their faces and the chats we have in person!

I don’t miss sitting next to the photocopier, but I do miss my interactions with others in the office, we all do in some way or another.

Thinking about the future, I’m reflecting and considering it. What do I want to do? What can I do to make it happen? How will our ‘new normal’ look for everyone? What will my personal ‘new norm’ look like?

One thing is for sure, now is the time to make some decisions and plans personally, and professionally.

So, on day 35 I’m sat here having drunk far too much cider last night; I feel settled, I’m happy and I’m safe and I’m loved. I have a lovely warm cup of tea, I have the music on, my boys are around making noise, the back door is open, the breeze is lovely and the sunshine is beautiful too.

I’m feel optimistic, I am happy in my own skin, more than ever before and I know what works for me won’t work for everyone else.

At the end of the day I can only control my reactions, my life, I can’t ‘get’ others to do things the same way, but I can share, open up and empathise.

We all have things in common, we are, after all human beings, we are all in this together; we all have a chance to reshape, reflect, pause, consider, and create our own unique ‘new norm’.

From me to you


Natalie Pillinger is originally from Ely, but now lives in Talbot Green and works for a social housing provider.  She originally wrote this article to share in work, and we’re grateful that she decided to share it with us. Follow Nat on Twitter @NpPillinger.

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Jane Cook

This instalment of Letters from Cardiff in lockdown comes from Jane Cook, a freelance PR practitioner who lives in Canton. She also writes the  sustainable food blog Hungry City Hippy and is one half of the duo who produce the Hank! Cardiff food podcast.  We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

When the full lockdown was announced, my first thought was ‘oh, shit.’

When the full lockdown was announced, my first thought was ‘oh, shit.’ That’s because around 50 per cent of my projected income as a freelancer was planned to come from working with local restaurants and food festivals this summer, and I knew that as they were pretty much closed down with immediate effect, those contracts would be the first to go. I was worried about whether I would still be able to earn enough to pay my mortgage, which isn’t small, as we only paid a five percent deposit towards our house in Canton which we bought four years ago.

As it turns out, so far things are going okay. Personally, my income has gone down by about a third, but my outgoings have also been slashed by not being able to go anywhere or do anything, so I’ll be okay. I’m using the extra free time to cook more, podcast, write my blog, and help out with some pro-bono work on some of the feed the NHS campaigns in the city. The government support for freelancers will also apply to me so I have that to fall back on if I need to. I feel incredibly sorry for freelancers who have been on their own for less than a year as they won’t qualify for support and have probably not had a chance to build up as wide of a network for potential work.

The way that restaurants have responded to the crisis in launching deliveries and takeaway offerings – quickly and with very little help – etc has been incredible to see. I just hope that the restaurants make it through to the other side. I am doing as much as I can to support them with orders and home deliveries during this difficult time.

Moving my work life into the home hasn’t been especially hard for me; I used to work from home when I first went freelance, and whilst I don’t like doing it all of the time, it’s fine really. My other half – who works for Cardiff Uni – works from the spare bedroom and I’m in the front room, so we have our own spaces. I’m also very used to having client meetings via video etc as it’s much more efficient than travelling to meetings all the time; I have clients based in Aberystwyth and Abergavenny and this was always the norm for us.

My home office!

Health-wise, both myself and my husband are low risk. We’re in our 30s, with no underlying health conditions, and pretty healthy, but we’re staying in to protect others. We’re friends with a few healthcare workers the same age who’ve had the virus – a GP who got it and was sick at home for a couple of weeks but has since recovered, and another friend who tested positive but had no symptoms. My grandad’s brother unfortunately died from it last week – at a care home in Sheffield – which is really sad; especially for my grandad as he can’t go to the funeral and has to deal with his grieving alone.

The thing I miss most about ‘normal life’ is other people. Being able to have friends over for a BBQ, being able to go out to eat / drink / dance is one of my favourite things, and whilst video calls can replace client meetings, they’re no substitute for catch-ups with more intimate acquaintances. I miss being up close with my friends and having conversations that flow more easily without WiFi drop-outs and frozen screens. I know my mum is finding it much harder than I am as she is furloughed, so doesn’t have the distraction of work in the week. I am glad I have something to occupy me and keep my brain busy.

I am learning to appreciate the benefit of regular exercise, and I never thought I would be a person who said that! I hate working out, have never been a gym bunny, but in February I started the ‘Couchto5k’ app. It’s a nine-week series of podcasts that builds you up to being able to run 5km in half an hour by coaching you through three runs a week. I have been able to stick to it (socially distancing of course) and I finished the program last week, with a 30-minute run around Victoria Park. I plan to keep up the habit of running three times a week for as long as I can.

For me, one of the most positive changes that I have seen so far in this crisis is the shift in people’s relationship to their local economy and to food.

Local veg box schemes are popping up all over and subscriptions are soaring, people are cooking from scratch more, and they are looking to their local food producers and retailers for help in feeding themselves, instead of relying on the big supermarkets for everything. This is good news for local jobs, local farmers – everyone. I hope that that those habits will continue for long after this is over.

The other thing that has fascinated me is the way that people have been looking to nature to cheer themselves up during lockdown – it shows that most of us still value that connection and are suddenly appreciating it anew.

Sadly, the reality is that collectively we have treated nature so poorly for so long in the name of economic growth. Now that growth has been stalled, people are realising that yes, things could be different, and in some ways better. I wrote a more detailed post about the lessons I hope we learn from all of this here: COVID-19 BRINGS OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH NATURE INTO SHARP FOCUS.

Follow Jane: Hungry City Hippy website | Hungry City Hippy Twitter | Hungry City Hippy Facebook | Hungry City Hippy Instagram

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Neil Cocker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can help Cardiff’s homeless and vulnerable by donating to some of the following organisations:

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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: contribute to our new series!

Well hello there.

Nature reserve with a large bay behind, on a sunny day, blue skies

There’s almost so much to say, I don’t quite know where to start. Firstly, just quickly, there’s a new series of posts coming here on We Are Cardiff, and we’re looking for contributors. It’s called Letters from Cardiff in lockdown, which hopefully is a fairly self explanatory thing. We’re looking for anyone (really, anyone at all) to send us short pieces about your experiences in lockdown.

If anyone says the word unpr*c*d*nt*d again I’m going to eat my laptop. But genuinely, this is a pretty unusual situation. Most of us (if we are lucky) would never have been through anything like this before. The city of Cardiff certainly hasn’t experienced anything like this, not in my lifetime.

If you’re interested, we’d love your contributions:

  • 500-1500 words on your experiences of being in lockdown;
  • some photos if you can (they don’t have to be of you, they could be of whatever you’ve been doing during this time, or what your post is talking about);
  • feel free to write whatever you like, but if you need some prompts, you could think about these aspects:
    • What’s your lockdown situation in terms of work, health, relationships, friends, family, pets…?
    • How are things in your neighbourhood, your local area?
    • What were you doing before, what are you doing now?
    • Have you found it difficult to transition to lockdown life, what is the hardest thing for you, what do you miss the most about your “normal” life?
    • Is there anything you’ve been surprised by in terms of not finding it as bad as you had thought?
    • Any tips for other people struggling with lockdown for whatever reason? Your hopes for the future? Anything you’d like to take from this time into future life?
And that’s it. We’ll accept and publish everything we receive (but only things that are real, obviously, so please don’t troll us, as ain’t no-one got time for that). We’d love to document your experiences.
Please send your pieces to wearecardiff@gmail.com.
Peas, and don’t forget to wash your hands

Looking after your mind in lockdown


Morning all.

Seems like a trite thing to say, but we genuinely mean this: we hope you’re keeping safe, keeping happy, healthy, and free from suffering.

Yes, we’ve been trying to do our loving kindness meditations to cope with it all. If you’re looking for resources to help manage anxiety or general feelings of being out of control, there are a number of free things you can access.

Thanks to the wonderful We Are Cardiff reader who works in addiction counselling – who wished to stay anonymous – who sent me all of this. You’re amazing and thanks for all the work you do!

Mental wellbeing while staying at home (NHS UK) (our favourite bit from here – “You may feel bored, frustrated or lonely. You may also be low, worried or anxious, or concerned about your finances, your health or those close to you. It’s important to remember that it is OK to feel this way and that everyone reacts differently. Remember, this situation is temporary and, for most of us, these feelings will pass. Staying at home may be difficult, but you are helping to protect yourself and others by doing it.”)

Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak (The Mental Health Foundation). (Our favourite bit from here: “Try to avoid speculation and look up reputable sources on the outbreak. Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety. Having access to good quality information about the virus can help you feel more in control. You can get up-to-date information and advice on the virus here: Gov.uk  |  Health Protection Scotland  |  Public Health Wales)

Self-Isolating For Coronavirus? Here’s How To Stay Mentally Well (Huffington Post, includes advice from a counsellor and a volunteer from Rethink Mental Illness). (Their list of advice is good, and covers the following topics: Get on top of things, Use social media for good, Read a book or three, Marie Kondo your room, Buy yourself something nice, Prioritise sleep (but not too much), Get creative, Dance, Focus on the future).

Local sources of support:

  • Cardiff Mind. They have a great resource for dealing with stress during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, which is a six-session, cognitive-behavioural therapy class used in community-settings by the NHS (UK) and HSE (Ireland) and across the world. Usually you would attend these sessions in person, but at the moment they’re being live-streamed twice a day. Visit the Stress Control website for more information and to sign up.
  • Cardiff and Vale Action for Mental Health. They have a list of different resources you can access, including support groups.
  • Stepiau. This is a service developed by the Primary Mental Health Support Service for Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, and provides accessible self help resources and links to local services as a first step to developing mental wellbeing. They also have options for people needing emergency assistance.

More options for help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK – this FREE number will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email them: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.
  • Insight Timer. The world’s largest free library of meditations and music to help you with sleep, anxiety and stress. The app is FREE and available for download, and features a host of different meditations and courses to help you manage your mind. There is also a large section of audio for kids and young people.
  • Palouse Mindfulness. This online training course focuses on mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) and is completely free. It’s  created by a fully certified MBSR instructor, based on the program founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Big love from all of us, especially from Zelda, our mental health officer, who offers socially distanced vibes.