Highlights of 2020

It’s been a difficult year. One that will continue to be challenging both personally and generally for some time yet. There is though a lot of hope shining through the clouds today. Yesterday, the University of Oxford welcomed the news that the UK Government had accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise the emergency use of the coronavirus vaccine in the UK. This means more people can begin to be vaccinated and at the very least see loved ones.

Here are some highlights:

In January, the boyfriend asked if I’d seen what was happening in China. I hadn’t. We found videos of people collapsing on the streets of Wuhan from some sort of virus. Initially people returning to the UK were quarantined on the Wirral. I worried if the UK would close its borders in time. My anxiety was increasing. I watched as an Italian scientist waved his hands in the air at an English professor going on about Herd Immunity. By then Italy was in the clutches of the pandemic. There were daily reports of people arriving in the UK without checks, surely not. Help!

February was a stormy month. Cancelled trains and plans, missed coaches, but somehow I arrived at Southampton University on time! Some hours later, I emerged from an examination room as a fully-fledged PhD candidate.

March was when Lockdown proper began. Suddenly we were in some weird post-apocalyptic world. Streets and roads were deserted. Shops closed. Aeroplanes grounded. Central London was empty!

Less traffic meant cleaner air meant fewer fatalities from air pollution. In the UK, 2 million people with respiratory conditions experienced reduced symptoms. There was clear evidence that smog over Wuhan in China reduced dramatically and for the first time in decades residents were astonished to make out Mount Everest in Kathmandu, Nepal. The benefits were felt almost immediately and animals began to take over the streets!

Great Orme Kashmiri goats on the streets of Llandudno, Wales. Credit: Andrew Stuart

During April I was still a Research Assistant at Oxford but due to Covid-19, future plans were put on hold. We held a special Care Convos on Twitter at the beginning of Lockdown. We checked in with each other, shared coping strategies and pooled the many resources that exist out there to support the care community. It was after this that we began discussing a new project. Care in the time of Covid-19 explored the day to day lives of care experienced adults in the UK during COVID-19. We wanted to know how the care community was coping and what helped them. We also wanted to record their experiences in history.

In May, Care in the time of Covid-19 was approved by ethics and we launched the project. I also started a Memoir and Autobiography section on the blog written by authors with care-experience. An exciting guest was Kirsty Capes whose novel Careless will be published in May 2021. Kirsty was recently featured on BBC’s Books 2021.

June was a month of extreme sadness. People witnessed the unlawful killing of George Floyd by police in America. George captured the hearts and anger of the world. Black Lives Matter protests were held internationally in spite of Covid-19. My nieces attended the march in Bristol where the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into the Bristol Harbour.

June was also the 72nd anniversary of the arrival of Windrush. William Saul, father of my sister Jayne and brother Gary, travelled from George Town, Guyana in the mid 1950s. Jayne wrote about this and reflected on the current Windrush scandal and recent protests.

A devastating lowlight wa the deterioration of  the mental health of one of my sons’ to such a point that he was sectioned, I was totally floored and my own MH severely compromised. Coupled with this was not being able to see him because of Covid-19 and the rest of the family.

I found lack of connection, hugs, like many others, particularly difficult. I thought about how to get some PPE and had a lightbulb moment. I ordered some an old fashioned rain-macs! They arrived brightly coloured to mingle in with the gleaming June sun. The joy and healing of that afternoon will stay with me.

July saw some of the stewards from Greenacre Walks, meet for the first time in months. We were all wary but the sun was shining, it was gloriously hot and we had such fun.

Ratty, Otter, Mole, Mr Toad and Me (with chipped tooth as no dentists were open)!

August saw the exciting launch of the Alliance for Care Experienced People in Higher Education (ACEPHE) an international organisation for those working and studying in HE. And a trip to the seaside, well estuary really, Maldon and the first sighting of Northey Island. It was so nice to get away if only for a one day holi-day.

September I finally saw my son which was both sad and a relief. I’d been stuck for years with images of my mother being over-prescribed with drugs and ECT and consequently was myself very anti-anything to do with sectioning or medication. I learnt about mental health in today’s world and communicated with psychiatrists, nurses and social workers. I knew that for my son, anti-psychotic drugs were the only way forward. He’s a bit better but will remain in hospital for some time. He and I are lucky that he has a good team supporting him.

September also saw children returning to schools after 6 months off with parents stepping in as teachers. My daughter found this very difficult to do whilst juggling looking after a lively six month old.

Revising the PhD novel was very much in mind and I began a brilliant course Psychology of Character designed by Stephanie Carty, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, which was all about really getting to know your character’s patterns of behaviour based on childhood attachment and whether they were believable. The value-added of this course was getting to understand my own behaviours even more.

October was the month we published some of the findings from the Care in the time of Covid-19 project and the end of my time at Oxford! Results showed anxiety and depression were high. The similarities between people coping/not coping with Covid-19 and the general difficulties experienced by care experienced people both leaving care and post care was again apparent as more research about Covid-19 and mental health were published. Experts say COVID-19 is the worst hit to mental health since world war 2, the impact is likely to last for years. Fingers crossed that the research into the impact of Covid-19 trickles down and reaches those in care and those with care experience to access the help some so desperately need.

Also October was National Care Leavers Week and the launch of a project I had been discussing with Aoife O’Higgins and the Widening Participation team at University of Southampton: A Portrait of Care. This amazing project linked with the representation aspect of my PhD but in this instance those often stigmatised were free to define themselves. We also held a draw and asked some care experienced artists to do some portraits of the winners.

Nic by Millie

Reena by Yusuf

November saw the first public meeting for ACEPHE where we welcomed those with care experience who are studying or working in HE as well as those working with them. From this meeting, Deputy Director of the Rees Centre, Dr Neil Harrison will run an event about academic publishing.

December A Christmas like no other, but for whom? Every year behind the public scenes of a wonderful Christmastime are people working their butts off to improve the Christmasses of those less fortunate. This is often includes Care Leavers and Care Experienced people who for a variety of reasons have often had family connections severed from a young age. Sometimes it is those very reasons that means reconciliation is just not possible or maybe fails. Again there is a parallel between Covid-19 and Care Experience – for the first time ever, some of the nation will have experienced a little of what it is like to feel isolated and alone at Christmas (not that I would wish this on anyone). Whilst the happy-ever-after adverts play out on TVs, Christmas for care leavers has always been difficult. Often without a place to call home or sense of belonging all care experienced people can do is window shop. This of course is not the whole story, many go on to create their own families and homes bringing about change for themselves.

And so, as we zoom into 2021, what now?

Something I didn’t mention above is a project Dee Michell from University of Adelaide and I have been working on. I can’t say too much at this stage other than it is of course something to do with care experience…and that it has received approval and funding. We are very excited and more details will be announced in February.

This just leaves time to say some special thanks yous:

Aoife, for making my experience at Oxford a fantastic one.

Rebecca, for being a fab supervisor.

Annika, for her support re mental health of my son.

Victoria, my daughter for being so lovely and level headed too.

Dee, for the fab convos in this and the coming year!

Mike, for being there.

And the many friends (Saira, Jamie, Lisa, Yusuf) who’ve been there in one way or another.🧡

I wish you ALL a healthy, peaceful and creative New Year. See you on the other side…

Here’s hoping that 2021 is the first one without any Tiers! 😉

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