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

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 1: Saturday 21 March 2020

Yesterday, all schools around the country closed indefinitely. Social distancing measures to slow the spread of Coronavirus have been ramped up; pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and museums have all been told to close. We have been told to travel only when necessary and to limit face to face social interactions. The headlines in the news are unnerving and people are clearly scared of what might happen next.

So, today I chose to spend the day at home with my husband and daughter. I took the time to do some gardening while my daughter played and enthusiastically shouted about how this was the best day ever, school was cancelled after all and she could spend the day playing outside in the sunshine. We rattled around the house and garden doing chores, we baked cupcakes, she got told off for various misdemeanors. 

Occasionally, I stopped and checked the news, social media and called up friends and family. Occasionally, I looked in the cupboards and wondered whether I was foolish not to have joined the hordes of panic buyers. But mostly we had fun. We played. We laughed. We carried on.

By Michelle Moubarak, Museums and Cultural Programme Director

Day 2: Sunday 22 March 2020

Today was Mother’s Day so I spoke to my mum on Wassap video and sent her some virtual flowers. My dad and her are now in their home in isolation as they are both in their 80s and my dad has asthma and diabetes. My brother and I have spent the last 2 weeks telling them how dangerous this virus is to them and they have finally got the message. We haven’t really got it in Kent yet so it feels like they are in training for when it arrives.

I met my 2 friends for a long walk with the dogs through the woods. We kept 2m away from each other  and met more people than usual- it was such a beautiful day and all around us the signs of Spring – blossom and buds on the trees. It really lifted my spirits.

When I got home I had breakfast with my husband and daughter and my son, who is living in France ,called on Wassap. They are in lockdown and are only allowed out for shopping and exercise and have to carry permission slips with them. My son seems to be ok with it all but his girlfriend sounded stressed.

I spent the day in the garden planting up vegetable seeds and digging over the vegetable patch. Gardening is going to keep me sane! 

I have decided not to have the radio on and to avoid looking at the news on my phone. It doesn’t help! I also avoided the supermarket today – we will make do with what we have for now as there isn’t much food in the shops.

By Mitch Robertson, Programming & Collections Manager

Day 3: Monday 23 March 2020

Today was the first day that my wife and I have both worked from home, as she was on leave last week. We had an excellent plan to get up early and get a lot of work done before our daughter, who has special needs, woke up, but she cunningly woke up at 6.15 so we had to switch to “plan b” i.e. make it up as we went along!

We are trying to totally self isolate, as my daughter’s condition means that the Covid 19 virus would be very serious for her. But it is not easy, especially as we both have aged parents who are also vulnerable, and getting a food delivery slot seems to be impossible at the moment.

These are strange times and must be unprecedented since the “three day week” of the 70s, or even the war. It is certainly odd to be still answering enquiries about Rupert Bear and Medieval pots while all this is going on. However it is important that normal life goes on.

In rough order my working day consisted of; Muesli, tea, google hangouts (other hangouts are available I imagine), museum operations issues, films of Whitstable in the 1950s, checking in with my direct report staff, tea, LEGO, trying to get my laptop camera to work for meetings (and failing), trying to get my phone camera to work for meetings (and succeeding), online video meeting with my managers, my phone camera running out of data as I didn’t realise I had to switch it to Wifi, continuing (now audio) meeting, home working risk assessment, checking museum temperature and humidity levels, checking museum light levels, corned beef sandwich, tea, online audio conference about software for museum temperature and humidity monitors, taxidermy memes, admin emails, museum finance, catch in the garden, tea, “Hey Duggee”, Rupert Bear questions, museum store operations, more finance, planning the week ahead and picking up frozen peas from the kitchen floor.

As we went to bed the government announced that there would now be an official lockdown in force across the country. What that means and whether it will make things easier, or harder, we’ll have to wait and see. 

By Craig Bowen, Collections and Learning Manager

Day 4: Tuesday 24 March 2020

Today was the first day of the official lockdown in force across the country. It won’t have a huge impact on me personally straight away. If anything it’s actually quite nice at the moment not having to feel guilty about the fact I’ve not left the house in 24 hours! I’m sure the novelty will wear off though. Luckily we can still go out for exercise once a day and I have lots of open space near our house, so I have a feeling that will be a god send over the coming days and weeks. 

I’m fortunate not to have elderly relatives that rely on me but my heart goes out to those who do, as it must be incredibly hard not being able to be there for them in person. My brother is at increased risk so my main concern is for him right now. But he seems to be taking it seriously and putting all the right precautions in place.

My day today has basically evolved around morning team meetings via video call, clearing emails and tasks, another video meeting, working on the COVID-19 volunteer community support programme, cat cuddles with Bella & Tilly, clearing more emails, and drinking lots and lots of tea in an attempt to keep warm as my crazy husband keeps opening all the windows just because the sun was out (even though it’s still flipping freezing outside!)

I’ve not watched the news since I woke up as I’ve been working through into the evening, but no doubt the UK death toll has risen. We all know just from listening to the PM’s daily briefings over the last week, and from seeing what’s occurring in countries that are ahead of us in the stages of the virus, that it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

By Holly Buggins-Eaves, Marketing Audience and Development Manager

Day 5: Wednesday 25 March 2020

The Registrar Office was the last service that was operating from The Beaney. They have now moved their operations to a new location. Hopefully the new location is more convenient for those who have to use it in the coming days and weeks.

I am not used to working from home. So, to make it feel like it is my usual working day, I have dressed as I would if I was going into the office (except the shoes – slippers are way more comfortable!) I grabbed a coffee and set off to my temporary office. I am glad I took a keyboard and mouse from work and that I have a big screen to connect to my Chromebook.

One of the first messages I read was an email from our Chief Exec on the plans that the council is introducing in these extraordinary times. Followed by the usual tasks – reading and responding to emails, authorising timesheets and processing invoices as the year-end is approaching fast. Yesterday, I agreed with Sarah (my colleague), that we will test Google’s Hangout function. We try daily to check in on each other and see if there is anything we need to discuss. The Hangout experience was funny – we were able to see each other but we couldn’t hear ourselves, so we actually had a conversation on our mobiles and looked at each other on the screens(!) Then back to the emails, followed by lunch and a quick check on the garden. 

The afternoon consisted of more emails, a video call with Sarah (still no luck with the microphones), then a catch up with Michelle (my line manager) about a pending task that might be vital to our services.

There is a strict evening routine in my household. The priority is to take Jo-Jo, our dog, for a walk. She can easily spend her whole day on a sofa snoozing but at around 6pm she gets anxious – so it is her time to go out for a well-deserved walk. After that, dinner, and while it’s being cooked I call my mum to find out how her day has been. So far, all is good.

By Anna Cudnowska, Senior Administration and Finance Officer

Day 6: Thursday 26 March 2020

It’s nearing the end of my first week working from home. The beautiful weather, combined with the company of my new work pal (see below image), has made lockdown life actually quite enjoyable! Although, I had hoped my dream of having an office dog would be realised under slightly happier circumstances.

Having booked last week off work, I managed to miss most of the craziness that came with the The Beaney and Canterbury Roman Museum closures. While everyone was working super hard, I spent my time getting a little too swept up with Twitter COVID-19 updates and embarking on several (unsuccessful) quests into town for hand wash and cannellini beans. 

Today started with me consuming a bowl of porridge the size of my head while I caught up on emails. The rest of the day consisted of a video call with Holly (my Manager), scheduling social media content, briefing in artwork, taking a photo of my dog on a chair, a lunchtime bike ride, scheduling more social media content, and creating infographics – all while slathering the thickest hand cream known to man on my hands every 2 minutes. I’m very lucky to have a bright home and sunny garden to do all of this in! 

At the start of the week I felt a little nervous about coming back on social media for work, having had to ban myself from looking at it the week before for my own sanity. News about the Coronavirus can feel almost inescapable and becomes pretty overwhelming if you don’t make a conscious effort to switch off from it. However, it’s actually been really nice to have something to focus on and I’ve managed to largely ignore Twitter’s ‘Trending’ list. 

Taking the time to look after yourself, as well as others, is going to be more important than ever in the coming weeks.

By Nina Carroll-Jones, Marketing and Audience Development Assistant

Day 7: Friday 27 March 2020

Day 58 7 of working from home. A Friday. Normally I would send texts to get players organised for Monday five-a-side football and sort my fantasy football team. These weekly things are on hold but I’m not missing them just yet. Possibly because organising footballers is actually like herding cats, on top of this being my worst ever fantasy season, but also because the full reality of this situation hasn’t sunk in yet.

The situation is changing on a daily basis. I have been in contact with people who are on their own and already feeling the effects of increased isolation. The importance of communicating regularly is unignorable, particularly if I can’t give them a hug.

Working from home is going OK. Having the right set up, gear and a dedicated space definitely helps. Previous freelance work means the change is not a completely new experience. However, technology has improved a lot since then, so experiencing a team meeting Brady Bunch style is an enjoyable novelty. I’ve still got a virtual team who are funny and supportive. I’m getting through stuff too which is a nice feeling, as is ending the day with a 20 minute walk across nearby fields in lieu of a commute.

I have spent a bit of time thinking about fantasy exhibitions we could host at The Beaney. I saw there’s a Ray Harryhausen show (still?) on in Edinburgh from May. That would be amazing, particularly being able to see the skeleton soldiers in all their amazing detail first hand. I’ve also been enjoying the Colour of Time book by Dan Jones and Marina Amaral, featuring incredible colourised images from old black and white photographs that bring historical events to vivid life. The images are full of revealing detail and bring immediacy to the subject matter. Large prints of these would look great in our main gallery.

I’m looking forward to things returning to full colour soon.

By Paul Russell, Programming Officer and Collections Assistant

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Artefacts in exhibition case The Beaney Museum

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