Creating Heritage: A diary during Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Part Fourteen

Over the last year, I have had numerous requests from my team for me to write my ‘Talking Heritage’ blog, and unfortunately I have told them that I was too busy each time. Now, following a week that is sure to go down in history, I have stopped and taken the time to reflect. My job at Canterbury Museums and Galleries is to preserve our City’s heritage and culture, making sure it is relevant and engaging to all. We spend time thinking about what and how we ‘collect’ objects that help uncover our history and tell our story, as well as which we might dispose of, so that we can make room for the new.  In this time of uncertainty and unorthodox decisions, I have decided that instead of choosing an item to talk about from our collection that I will start a new collection. From today, Saturday 21st March 2020, we will document the everyday lives of our community as we pass through this point in time.

Michelle Moubarak, Museums and Cultural Programme Director

Day 92: Saturday 20 June

When I found out I was successful in my application to become a counsellor for the NHS I was the happiest I have been in a long time. I knew the 4 years of studying whilst working full time was all worth it now. My dream had come true! I’ve dedicated my life to helping people, I love seeing my clients grow and become happier. I love being with them during the dark times, and guiding them into the light. I could never imagine that the way I work would change so drastically right at the beginning of my career. I had not trained for this, I was not prepared and I had some serious adapting to do! Starting a new job right at the beginning of a pandemic was a serious challenge. 3 months later and I still have not met a single one of my clients. We have never been in the same room, I have never looked them in the eyes or laid a gentle hand on their shoulder. But, we have each adapted. We have connected in a completely different capacity. We have laughed, cried and sat in silent reflection together. We have built trust, empathy and compassion. My work has been so much harder in so many ways but it has also been more powerful. I have been able to support people from the comfort of their own homes, they have not been concerned about what they look like, whether or not they could be bothered to put makeup on, or brush their hair. There has been less pressure and it has allowed people to relax and trust the process of therapy right from the very beginning. I know we all can’t wait for covid to be a thing of the past but I hope we can all take something away from this time. What is important is our connection with each other. We will still always be able to care for one another, even from a distance. So that’s what we need to do. Times are hard for us all sometimes, I hope this helps people to slow down, reflect, refocus on what is important and be kind to one another.

By Victoria Monsoon – Ramirez, Palliative Care Counsellor

Girl with purple hair taking a selfie in front of a purple background

Day 93: Sunday 21 June

There is hope in sight that all non-essential shops will open soon. Life will return to some normality. People will wander, as they have done for centuries through the city of Canterbury, albeit gingerly at first, observing how life has changed for us all. You will need to queue patiently, two metres apart, to go into the shops. You won’t be able to try on any clothes and face masks will be the new look of 2020. 

I bought my first face mask today. It’s made of a stretchy, synthetic fabric and can be worn up to 20 times and washed on a 40 degree washing cycle before being discarded. I tried it on. I don’t like my nose being covered. I felt suffocated by it, especially in the hot June weather.  All shop assistants are wearing them, some have both a fabric mask and face shield.  

As I do my essential shopping, which has become an ordeal in itself, I notice that people are purposefully avoiding each other or else coming closer than the recommended two metre distance. Some people don’t pay heed, they have forgotten about the safety etiquette and the deadly virus rampaging across the world. Someone came too close! Have I been infected? A sudden side stepping manoeuvre, trying to breath through the stretchy fabric across my face has caused me to perspire. I can’t wait to leave the shop. Alas, I did not get all my shopping, but I don’t care!

 Shopping for my elderly mother has been difficult because during lockdown there has been a limit on buying certain items. I was questioned on my need to buy two bread loaves. I shall buy a bread maker and make my own bread at home next time, but now they are currently out of stock everywhere.  

I visited a local beauty spot to watch the sun set, snapping a few photographs. I bought a new smartphone so that I can load the Track and Trace App when it is up and running. I dare not drink when I’m out in case I need to go to the toilet. Everywhere is shut. I miss sitting in those quaint pubs and cafes, so quintessentially English, and watching the world go by. I hope they survive the recession!

Driving home, I pass an ambulance with a flashing blue light. I stopped watching the news on TV many weeks ago for my own mental well-being. They say that the death toll is going down. I breathe in the reassuring antiseptic smell of hand sanitizer and sigh with relief.

By Janette Eyres, Visitor Services Officer

View of the countryside and fields at sunset with flowers in the foreground

Day 94: Monday 22 June

Today was a pretty momentous day. My two boys went back to school, after months of being at home. My husband and I are both key workers – I am a music teacher at a school in Ramsgate, and he works at a local care home – but up until now we have managed to juggle our roles so that one of us could be at home to look after the children. This has been really tough at times. I have had to put my lesson planning and the time-consuming creation of remote lessons to one side on certain days, to make sure I am free to help my sons properly with their work. I admit to feeling waves of irritation and frustration at times, whilst attempting to teach my youngest boy maths – something that I have honestly never had to do before – all the while knowing that I had an important piece of work to get done, or an email to write.

But despite these feelings, I admit that I have also enjoyed this amazing time, the duty of teaching my children that suddenly fell on me. Before Lockdown, when they were at school, I didn’t get much of an insight into what they were learning, apart from the odd gruff sentence about something they had done that day. All of a sudden, I knew exactly what they were covering in maths, in their writing and spelling, and I enjoyed sitting with them, impatient though I could be at times!

So yesterday, when I dropped them off at school, all neat and tidy in their uniforms, and slightly anxious about what the day would bring – my oldest son asking me rapid questions in a low voice, not wanting to show anyone that he was worried – some strong emotions, of sadness, of nostalgia even, swept over me. I wanted to hold onto something. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

As I watched them disappear into the school, I realized that I was letting go of something really special that had happened to us, that happened to the world. The Covid crisis was terrible in so many ways, and has brought so many people extreme sadness and stress, but I will look back at this time spent with my boys at home, this precious bubble in the rushing stream of life, as a moment hopefully not to be repeated, but equally, to be remembered with love and something like awe.

By Amy Howard, School Teacher and mum

2 boys sitting on a white moped

Day 95: Tuesday 23 June

I’m married to Craig, the Collections and Learning Manager at The Beaney. I also work in the museums sector as a Museum Development Officer for Kent and Medway and have never been more busy than at present supporting museums in the Covid crisis. We have both been working from home during lockdown as well as caring for our disabled daughter, and attempting some home schooling and all her therapy work. To say life has been hectic these past few months would be an understatement! I took the last two weeks as annual leave to spend more time focused on our daughter but as my colleagues wished me a ‘relaxing break’ I laughed inwardly as I knew that wasn’t likely! 

Today I woke early and pushed my daughter for a walk in the fields nearby. On our return, we attended a virtual 13th Birthday party of one of her friends via Zoom. Then we played musical instruments before lunch and afterwards for some reason I decided to paint the dining room wall whilst Lucy did some drawing! Next job on the list was pumping up the enormous paddling pool we had been given as a gift. It was a huge mistake not using an electric pump, we realised an hour later! With dinner, bath and bedtime for Lucy over, I got to spend my 1 hour a day me-time sewing. Sewing has been my therapy during lockdown and today I made a fun skirt for my Mum. 

A day of several halves, but variety, I personally feel, is the key to getting through the next few months and treating the experience as an opportunity for adventure and personal growth. 

By Sam Bowen, Museum Development Officer

Sewing machine with flowery material underneath the needle

Day 97: Thursday 25 June

On a very hot morning I welcome the children in my class bubble at the school gate. Children used to be dropped off at the classroom door, but now families wait 2 metres apart on the pavement outside school.

The children who have returned since wider reopening have adapted well to the changes – they seem to quite enjoy having their own sets of resources, their own spaces in the classroom and the opportunity to choose individual baskets of toys to play with for the day – but I still find it a very strange environment!

We all go outside at playtime to enjoy the sunshine. After the children have used any of the playground equipment I clean it with disinfectant, either by spraying it or dipping it into a box of disinfectant solution. We spend the rest of the morning painting, the children making colourful repeating patterns as part of our maths lessons, and our Teaching Assistant cleans all the painting equipment after each child has used it.

In the afternoon we read our book of the week and do some writing and craft activities linked to it. This work has also been sent home for those children not at school to complete.

Before we go out for afternoon play we do some Yoga, and then at 2.45 I say goodbye to the children on the playground before heading home to my family – having a shower and changing clothes before I give my boys a hug. Then we head into the garden for a cooling dip in the paddling pool – the beach is too busy! – and a picnic tea.

By Angharad Thomas, Teacher at Westmeads Community Infant School, Whitstable

A sign attached to a gate that says 'Be smart, keep apart'

Day 98: Friday 26 June

Following the record temperatures over the last few days, it was a relief to wake up after a thunderstorm to a much fresher feeling. So an early morning run for the dogs in St Augustine’s Abbey was enjoyed – mentally sending thanks, as I do every day, to the kind person who provides fresh drinking water for the canine community. This fabulous resource is so much appreciated and has been a delight during lockdown restrictions, for both dogs and their humans.

By breakfast time the heat was back. I had a full day planned so thought I would get the council food parcels delivered as early as possible so that I could be home before lunchtime. Volunteering to collect and deliver meds and food for our local Council, along with the NHS volunteer responder scheme, has given me the opportunity to do something small but positive during the Covid 19 pandemic. My usual self employment as a social worker remains suspended since March.

It has been interesting to meet people as they navigate their own coronavirus experience. Some have been upbeat, some lonely and relishing a (socially distanced) chat on the doorstep. Sadly, some have been too apprehensive of human contact to even risk appearing at the door – calling out requests for items to be left on the doorstep, only to be retrieved once I have left the premises. I worry about the physical and mental circumstances of this last group, especially now the government has advised that ‘shielded’ people can start going out of their homes. There are incredibly vulnerable people that need continued support.

All mums are used to changing plans at the drop of a hat and today was one of those times. Whilst I was out delivering food my daughter called to say she needed to make the trip from Dover to Tunbridge Wells as her latest blood tests had shown she needed an immediate medical procedure this afternoon. She didn’t feel well enough to drive herself so I offered to drive. My lovely husband volunteered his car as “it’s more comfortable for you”. Well, it would have been had the air con not failed! Three hours driving in temperatures reaching 30 degrees made for a very hot and sticky trip.

By Deborah Cruickshank, Volunteer at the Canterbury Community Support Hub

St Augustine's Abbey

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Artefacts in exhibition case The Beaney Museum

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