Stories from Lockdown

Shayne Greenidge“I’m a kitchen manager working within a local school, the company I work for, Aspens are a private Ltd company.

Usually I produce food for up to 300 children, due to the lockdown… I am producing under 10 meals a day for vulnerable and key workers’ children, also for staff who are still on site.

Once weekly we produce hampers for families in need.

My days are usually extremely busy… Baking bread, puddings, providing hospitality buffets, also a four choice menu daily… But now down to one choice, and my team of five have been put on a rota due to lack of work and social distancing measures. Some days I work alone.

I’m scared, but I have a job to do supporting those in need. I keep saying to myself to keep calm and carry on.

One positive is the world has slowed down… people are taking the time to help others.

I am proud to do the job I do, to feed the future, and to all in a similar boat to me… Be proud of yourself, keep smiling and stay safe.”

Shayne Greenidge, Catering Manager, Aspens

Level Trust“Level Trust are distributing 1000 Learn@Home packs for children and young people to provide them with fun / learning resources that can be used at home while schools are closed.

We feel this is especially important at this time with 46% of children in Luton living in poverty and in ‘lockdown’ due to Covid-19, families will be facing many challenges.

The Learn@Home ‘Survival Kits’ are full of great bits, a book to read, craft materials to get creative with, playing cards to learn some retro games with and random bits too, who knows what might be innovated with a marble and some tape!

There will be TikTok competitions and we hope lots of fun.

We have also launched an emergency fundraiser that will enable Level Trust to support families with food, clothing and learning resources.

Our team of staff and volunteers have been great at adapting to different ways of working, lots of meetings on Zoom, setting up work stations at home and of course when out and about observing social distancing.

We are missing seeing the wonderful people who come into The Mall and use our Uniform Exchange and missing being together.

The last few weeks has seen new partnerships being forged, energy created all working together to support those locked in poverty in our town.

[Can you tell us about some positive things that you’ve experienced in the last few weeks?]

“Such kindness and generosity, we visited one family with 10 children who wanted to donate clothes and toys to others. At a time when they were facing daily challenges with shopping for food and essentials, their thoughts were with others.

A wonderful call from Discover Islam telling us that they had over 700 Easter eggs / chocolate treats to donate and these are now going out with the Learn@Home packs.

I am proud of Luton, proud to live in a town where all parts of the community rallies to support each other.

If you would like to find out more about Level Trust our website is www.leveltrust.org.

We look forward to seeing you in person when life returns to normal, in the meantime Stay Safe.”

Phyl Rainey, Youth and Children’s Manager, Level Trust

“I have worked for the same company for two years now. I’m on a 0 hour contract. Due to Covid-19 my workplace has shut down. I am not getting paid anything as we only get paid when we work, and they are only paying the contracted staff. I worked out that for over the last 8 weeks I have earned over £118 a week but I am still not entitled to SSP [statutory sick pay] or furlough.

I have found it really hard not knowing when I will next get money in and even when I go back to work I will need to work for a month before I get paid.

The government hasn’t brought out anything to help people like me. And as I still live with my parents I can’t claim universal credit. So I have no source of income. And I can’t get a temporary job in the shops as I have family members in my household that are vulnerable.”

Young person, 18, Zero-hour worker

Luton stories“No one in my immediate household is classed as vulnerable, but my Mum was the first person I knew of who had symptoms. She has struggled with her breathing before and has a previous heart condition. She contracted COVID-19 and pneumonia and went to hospital with it. She’s recovered really well, and I’m now really grateful I know she’s had it and is out the other side. But it scared me at the time.

I feel two things that I can’t quite reconcile. The first is a sense of dread about the short and long-term impact of the virus: the awful knowledge that our society is not just, so those who already shoulder heavy burdens are likely to suffer the most. The second is a sense of hope that this profound disruption could catalyse a more just society. I swing back and forth on whether I land in a place of hopefulness from one moment to another. 

I’m a researcher and much of my work can be done from home. Every Friday I’m now surveying youth workers with three quick questions to try to capture what Covid-19 means for their work.

I’ve been supporting the local school, helping to set up local mutual aid groups and will be doing some food deliveries over the Easter holidays. I used to volunteer with women involved in prostitution and have offered to return to the drop-in when needed. The women are highly vulnerable to coronavirus, many have pre-existing respiratory problems, housing needs and are trapped in abuse.

I’m part of a church and on the first Sunday we couldn’t meet we delivered a candle to each home, and bread for communion. We are currently meeting online on a weekly Zoom call but we start with lighting our candles as a sign of being together. We have online prayer weekday evenings at 10pm that anyone can join, and households are just trying to be creative and look out for each other and their neighbours. There are lots of doorstep deliveries happening, and we are all going to contribute to singing a recorded song together for Easter Sunday because live singing sounds so awful on a video chat!

It feels like everything must have changed for everyone.  Educating my daughter at home has been new. Working from home has been new. Not being able to visit friends or go out. Having to make decisions about furloughing staff in our organisation. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, the sense of being constantly on edge: of going through something as a whole nation while also knowing it affects people completely differently.  It has felt somewhere between a dream and a film. Sometimes time feels like it’s going incredibly slowly and other times like the pace of developments is dizzying.  

I have experienced greater community and mutual care than ever before I think. We set up WhatsApp groups for all the local roads around the primary school, and lots of new connections are emerging through that. One neighbour has been delivering fudge to the street, another made up a craft-box for my daughter. Around the corner they have started a weekly printed newsletter for their road, and you can hear the clapping for the NHS for miles. You can see people’s generosity online as well. So many offers of support on various websites. A new sense of community has emerged amongst parents of our local school since we set up a Facebook group. I think we’ll all look at each other differently when the school reopens.

I’m also getting to spend some really good time with my daughter. It’s not easy but it’s an incredible opportunity. I’m actually really pleased I get the chance to think about her education, which we otherwise outsource to schools. I am learning a huge amount by being exposed to her curious mind all day.

I’m also aware of the positive impact the lockdown is having environmentally, even if we didn’t choose this or plan this. There are adaptations we are making now that we should keep if we want to live more sustainably. “

Lucie Shuker, Researcher

Lucas Perry LP Bootcamp“I’ve been running the LP Bootcamp since July 2019. I started out in a local field and moved to Pirton Hill Primary School for the winter. Under normal circumstances I average about 20 clients each session (hopefully once everything is over with coronavirus I can move it back outside).

With schools being shut and government guidance advising against meeting in groups I have decided to run a live workout in a private Facebook group for people still wanting to stay active at home. I do this 2-3 times a week along with posting home workouts for people to try. I believe it’s important, especially in times like this, for people to stay active both physically and mentally so if I feel I can help with that then why not.

Covid-19 has changed things for me a lot. I worked 7 days a week for long hours doing a number of different things like group and 1:1 PT sessions, now I’m stuck at home all the time except the odd trip to Tesco.

I believe you’ve got to try to take a positive out of every situation so I’ve been putting my time into other things, like decorating my garage where I personal train and planning for when we are back into normal life so I can put it into action.

I’ve been doing things around the house I wouldn’t normally have time for as well. So in a weird way it’s been quite refreshing to have more time to myself but I’m ready to go back to work now.

In the last few weeks I think everyone has finally shown the praise and support that the NHS and other key workers should’ve got before all this. I really feel that the public have taken their support and praise to the next level and long may it continue after Covid-19 as they really do deserve it.

If I had to sum up the situation in a few words I would say; everything is a bit surreal and crazy right now, but it makes you realise how far togetherness can go.”

Lucas Perry, Personal Trainer, LP Bootcamp. Instagram: @lpbootcamp

Paul Prosser“NOAH is always concerned for the most disadvantaged in society no matter what the circumstances. This current situation has changed the circumstances of a number of people that we work with. In some respects it’s good, because there’s a serious effort to make sure people who are rough sleeping in Luton and Central Bedfordshire are offered immediate free and unconditional accommodation – which is amazing – and that has happened and rough sleeping has plummeted.

A lot of our work that was previously happening in the Welfare Centre has changed, the centre is closed to clients, but we’re still providing meals wherever they are. NOAH has gone mobile, delivering to hotels or wherever they’re staying.

Our outreach presence has continued and hasn’t changed all that much, we’re still doing a high level of outreach in Luton and Central Beds to make sure support is still available for people who are rough sleeping.

A lot of services have gone to telephone only – while this is fine for some people, some of the people we work with may have a telephone today but not have one tomorrow. So we’ve still kept our presence at the front door, and are still delivering triage for them there to understand what their basic needs are. We still allow clients to use our phone, but not come into the building. We’re hoping to reach a level of consistency at the end of this 12 week period.

We’re implementing the usual stuff like handwashing with staff. We’re one of the few buildings still with staff in it so we’re having to implement high standards of hygiene. Some staff members live with elderly and vulnerable family members, and there’s some staff who have health conditions and haven’t been able to keep working.

[Can you tell us about some positive things that you’ve experienced in the last few weeks?]

“Rough sleeping in Luton and Central Beds has absolutely plummeted. At the start of this there were around 40 people sleeping rough in Luton, which is now down to 5. The government had an agenda to eliminate rough sleeping in 5 years, which has happened in the space of a few days. How sustainable that is, though, isn’t clear.

We specialise in supporting EU rough sleepers, and we have people saying “I desperately want to get back home, I don’t want to sleep on the streets of Luton”. We managed to get them on the last few flights home and now they’re letting us know they’re back with their family. Every day another country shuts its borders so it’s pleasing to know we were able to get them home.

The third thing I’m grateful for is that the people in our accommodation projects are settled and doing well, and self-isolating. We’re trying to give them entertainment and keep them in their house, and those in the houses are generally really supportive of each other

Staff are amazing, really sacrificial and going out of their way to support people. We were instantly down to skeleton staffing, and our staff are offering to cover each other a lot and be really flexible to help fill in the gaps. Everyone’s working really hard to offer everyone the help they need.

I feel a sense of responsibility for wanting to make sure that the most vulnerable people in society aren’t overlooked and I think we’re achieving this. I feel this has changed the landscape in terms of our work with people who are homeless and there’s going to be a lot to learn from this and we’ll come out looking at the reasons we do things, and the way we do things, and we’ll come out delivering better services on the other side.

Thank you all for your continued support of the work of NOAH – some of our income has been severely affected by this in terms of our training and employment work and our succession of our social enterprise. So in order to continue our work it would be fantastic to donate to our JustGiving fund.”

Paul Prosser, Head of Welfare Services, NOAH Enterprise

Julia Robbins“The last few weeks have been very hard for me and my family especially as I can’t see my son because he lives with his dad and is over 18. We keep in touch over the phone but it’s just not the same.

I feel really guilty when I go to feed my cows and work on the farm as people, like my parents, have been told to self-isolate due to their age but I know they would love to come out for some fresh air.

Keeping those more vulnerable people in mind has motivated me to help out where I can. I have been dropping supplies and fresh eggs from my farm to older people who need the extra help. It’s been so good to give them a smile and see their faces perk up.

One of my friends is showing symptoms of coronavirus at the moment and hasn’t been able to check in on his 86 year old mum. To help them both out I popped around and left some treats and a bunch of flowers on the doorstep for her. I’ve also been sanitising my grandsons old garden toys and donating them to families with kids that are stuck at home, just doing anything I can to help really.

 [Are there any other messages or pieces of advice you would like to give people during this current situation?]

“If you go for country walks as part of your exercise please be careful when you walk through farmers’ fields and open gates. This is how things get spread really easily, just like foot and mouth did years back. Wash your hands and don’t touch gates etc.

For all parents wanting stuff for their kids to do go to my daughter-in-laws Instagram @HJUcreative or Facebook, she’s a creative freelancer and has free colouring worksheets and activities for all ages. All you need to do is send her a message and she will show you how to download them!”

Julia Robbins, Local Farm Owner, Toddington

Wax melts“I’m Louise, I work in a local high school full-time and do beauty on the side. I live with my partner and in-laws and the last few weeks have been difficult/weird.

My mother-in-law has a compromised immune system due to health conditions so has moved out temporarily to self-isolate with her sister. In our house we are all key workers so we’re scared of the risk we posed to her coming home each day. We really miss her and her cooking; the kitchen is her place. We’ve been taking it in turns to do the dinner each night which has been lovely and has definitely brought us closer. It makes you realise how important your loved ones are and to not take your health for granted.

I am really close to my family and see my sisters most days so the social distancing has been really hard. We FaceTime everyday and have been challenging each other to Tik-Tok videos which has been fun! I’ve made batches of brownies and learnt how to make wax melts in my spare time which I’ve loved doing. I dropped off a little care package to my sisters yesterday on my way to work which is another way of staying connected.

At work, our Head of Design & Technology wanted to do something positive for the community. He asked for volunteers to come in and help make masks for key workers with the materials we had in school. We made 220 in total and they were then distributed to the L&D hospital, Keech Hospice, local pharmacists and funeral directors.

[If you had to sum up how you feel about the current situation in a few words, what would you say?]

It’s scary and very surreal but it has definitely taught me and I think many others to not take what we do have for granted. I can’t wait to see my family and just squeeze them!

I saw something recently that said something along the lines of “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being asked to sit on the sofa, you can do this”. I think it says it all.

Louise Lynch, Careers Advisor, High School in Luton

Tony Thompson“I am now in my 5th week of personal lockdown and realise how naïve I was when I started this process. I wrongly assumed that I would have all this extra time to read and study. Instead I have been busier than ever.

Some of this is my fault. I worked out a long time ago that I am a workaholic and so had put in place boundaries to protect myself. I worked from the office and didn’t take work home with me. Home and office are now too close. I am therefore struggling to pace myself and take time off. Struggling with my own issues and emotions as well as supporting others with theirs! 

In the first few weeks I found myself treating the lock down like a blizzard, putting things in place thinking everything would soon blow over. Ensuring the congregation was cared for, resources and support available; something was available online on a Sunday. Making sure the work we did with the vulnerable could continue in a modified form.

The focus then began to change towards coping with an ice age, how could things adapt for the long haul. Looking at finances, without lettings income and people being able to give on a Sunday we have to adapt. Learning each week about how to improve the services we put up online, realising the congregation now included the curious who were taking the opportunity of watching at least part of a church service in anonymity from the comfort of their home. Including more and more Zoom gatherings, prayer meetings, games evenings…

Life has changed. I still have no idea what going back to normal will look like. Will it just be as it was, or will there be more permanent changes, as the ice age produced.”

Tony Thompson, Church Leader, Hope Church Luton

“I know that lockdown protects us from coronavirus. What worries me is that elderly people of my age are not allowed to go out even for brief periods. During this lockdown I feel like I am an item in a suitcase or box. I don’t see the outside. Staying indoors is stressing me.

I start thinking of the times I was free to go outside whenever I felt like having a walk or go to the shops to buy milk, bread or my favourite drink.

It is painful to be indoors morning, afternoon and night. This experience has shown me that life can change in a flash. I think that it is time to have a relationship with our Creator because I believe that He is the only one who can change our situation for the better.

I miss my great granddaughter. I can’t see her even though she is so near me. I don’t know when I will see her. This is painful. I want her to know that I love her very much and I miss her but there is nothing I can do. I am helpless.

I think of the folk songs and stories I used to teach her, like Tsuro woye, Tsuro woye, Tsuro woye Njarikunjanja and Tambarare Hiyayi.”

Great grandmother

“I had no idea how the lockdown was going to have an impact on me. As time moved from day 1 to 15 I began to feel lonely despite the fact that I had family members with me and communicated with family members and friends who could not be with me. 

I searched to find out why I was feeling that way. I realised that human beings need social interaction and that was missing in some respects. I felt hopeless, stressed, sad, afraid and other emotions.

Lockdown is a necessity during these uncertain times but it brings with it emotional, psychological and physical issues on individuals.

I started realising that what I took for granted such as walking in the park suddenly became a very expensive commodity. The lesson I have learnt is to cherish and be grateful for what you have. You never know for how long you can have it.

Lockdown is in most countries. I have been worried about how my other family members in countries outside of the UK are. They too are in lockdown. We have been praying for each other and the world. I think that what keeps us going is that we keep strengthening each other in different ways.

I have my family members who have gone out to buy me groceries so that I don’t risk myself by going out. I thought that they are risking themselves for my sake and that humbled me. I think that love, kindness and selflessness are the values we need for one another.

I miss my granddaughter because she is the youngest member of my family. I love you granddaughter. We will be together one day by God’s grace, God willing.”

Grandmother

Marcas“Not having to get up and prepare for work pre-dawn, I’ve been able to focus on early morning walks and running with my partner, discovering new routes and a fresh perspective on Luton.

In Luton Palestine Solidarity Campaign our committee has taken to using video-conferencing for meetings.

[If you had to sum up how you feel about the current situation in a few words, what would you say?]

The immediate threat will pass, and I hope it has given us time to reflect and work more collaboratively for communally beneficial aims in the future.”

charlotte“I work as a self employed artist and theatre maker, as well as a casual worker for a museum and theatre. With the lockdown in place, this has meant that I have lost a lot of work, as well as having to put a show I’ve been working on on hold for the time being.

Obviously this is less than ideal, but I’ve been concentrating on looking after myself, both physically and mentally, during this trying time. The lockdown has also given me plenty of time to work on things that I’ve been putting off, for example, working on my website and completing commissions.

Having suffered for years with my mental health, this lockdown could have had a very negative impact on me. However I’m fortunate to be in a good place mentally right now, and I have a great support network around me. I’ve been connecting with my fellow creatives and friends online, and checking in on them to see how everyone is coping, as well as making fun plans for when this lockdown comes to an end. The creative community has shown so much love and support for each other during this time, and it’s really heartwarming and inspirational to see.

This is a difficult time for everyone right now, and it’s important to support each other through this. The smallest acts of kindness can make a huge difference.”

Charlotte Read, Puppet Theatre Maker and Artist

“We are Care4Luton a team of young adults aged between 20 to 24, with a common passion to create change within our local community. The first time we met was in October 2019, through an organisation called UpRising.

You may be thinking to yourself what is UpRising?

Well… UpRising is a leadership organisation helping individuals from various backgrounds across the UK. They provide us opportunities to develop our skills and create the next generation of leaders. The main objective is to ensure leaders of the future are diverse, a true representation of our society!

Like most people in this unprecedented time we want to help people. Our social action campaign is simple, to create face masks for our community. Care4Luton members sew them from material, to help improve sustainability within Luton. But more importantly to tackle the growing concern of lack of PPE equipment- like masks during these difficult times. 

Please check us out on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook: Care4Luton

Or get in contact with us by email: Care4Luton@gmail.com”

Care4Luton Team

gardening“Before the lockdown I was just a final year University student, working part time and a UpRiser. Now classes have moved online, I don’t get to see my friends and extended family. However, I have learnt a lot during the lockdown so far… I have learnt to value the small things in life because you don’t know what the future holds. Meeting friends for coffee and cake in Costa seemed like nothing before, but now I know not to take the small things in life for granted.

Aside from this, I have seen people coming together to support one another, especially the most vulnerable people in our community. Every Thursday night at 8 o’clock we clap for our NHS and key workers; it feels like a real community spirit.

One thing I believe is people have learnt and appreciated the amazing work our key workers- like the NHS does for us all.

I truly think of them as heroes and they are the backbone of society.

I find I have more time now to focus on hobbies, I had no time for before the lockdown began. Like; baking, reading and even helping dad with the gardening!

The campaign has also allowed me to focus my mind on the positives, helping people during this time has given me great pleasure. Even if one mask can help a person then I feel like I have achieved something.  

UpRising has enabled me to further grow my confidence. I have made new friends, met like-minded individuals and influential people. It has been great discussing important topics from climate change to poverty and homelessness. UpRising is not the typical setting in a class room where the teacher talks at you for two hours.

The sessions are interactive and enjoyable; I have listened to inspirational figures, gave my opinions and suggestions. Usually younger people are not taken seriously, but in UpRising I feel valued, and felt people have taken me seriously. Another bonus is the exciting trips we have attended including a residential trip and a trip to parliament!”

Lubna, 20

sewing machine“Our idea [as part of our UpRising social action campaign] is to create face masks using reusable materials. The idea behind this is to improve sustainability within Luton. But as you can imagine, this pandemic has changed everything… including the campaign and we have also had to alter the project to be “COVID friendly” shall I say. We recognised there is a shortage of PPE equipment like masks. As a group we want to protect our community and provide support during COVID 19.

What has inspired me during this time is Islamic advice:

 “A Muslim shall never leave another human helpless in the time of need!”

Prophet Muhammad (saw). [sallallahu alayhi wa sallam; peace and blesings of Allah be upon him]

It has been a good time to reflect on what we can do for our families and for the community to be a better person and help those in need. We wanted to start our action campaign during this difficult time, because we want to support people and do what we can from our home during the lockdown. Yet still be beneficial for our community.

I believe we should live in a harmonious society where we can show love, support and respect for another, which is something that is more than ever needed during this pandemic.”

Runi, 21

hobbies“Every day feels the same now. I can’t distinguish one from the other. I feel like I am stuck in a time loop like Phil in Groundhog day. Pardon my pop cult references, but if you haven’t watched that movie this is the time to watch it! It’s a classic. My day starts at 1:30 like everybody else. Just kidding, my mum would not let me sleep till late.

The days typically start at 10, then breakfast, then helping mum and dad with household chores, then sewing a bit, then Netflix, then lunch, then again watching more Netflix, more Netflix or TV.

Sometimes, I would successfully convince myself to exercise or take a stroll in the backyard (rarely), getting lazy, having dinner, more social media, sleep. Oh, and did I mention Netflix? I am someone you would call a movie/series junkie, always have been and this lockdown is all about me overdosing on movies. Other than this I pray 5 times a day. Sometimes to make the days less boring we play board games as a family. If I have assignments, then those days I would work on it but for this Easter holiday I had none.

I had some dying hobbies which revived due to this. I didn’t get time for myself or my hobbies before all this. But now I paint, sew, read, cook, bake and DIY. Since everything has moved online this makes everything so much more boring. Waking up to the same thing every day gets exhausting at some point. I always thought about taking long holidays and just sitting at home but now all I want to do is meet my friends, go to classes, talk to my lectures, learn more, and the main one GO OUTSIDE. As some wise person said, where there is hope there is a way. Let’s hope for the best, this might just not be the end. Take care and wash your hands.”

Fariza, 21

nazia“Hi, I’m Nazia. I’m a MSc student and also a health worker at the L&D hospital.

To be honest, at the beginning of lockdown, I didn’t treat it so seriously as I genuinely thought it would “all blow over soon”. I was so wrong. I’ve lost count of how long it’s been and realise now how naïve I was to this whole situation. I assumed I would have had a lot of extra time to catch up on/start new hobbies, instead, I’ve been busy all the same.

There’s no line between work and home, it’s all a blur now. No days off. Housework during Uni work breaks, Uni work during housework breaks, and caring for my ill mother in between.

I’ve stopped going to work now. My vulnerable immunocompromised mother means that with me going to work I could risk bringing something home, and that could lead to unwanted consequences. After all, she is all I have. Worried is an understatement.

It also pains me that, knowing that I am a key worker I cannot go out there and help out in the front lines. At this point, worried is an understatement. Useless is an understatement. I hope that being part of the UpRising campaign will fill in that void.

Life has changed. Never have I thought that food would run out in the shops! My friends/relatives and I speak to each other over the phone, we video call each other but it’s not the same. One of the lessons I have learnt from this is that you should be grateful for what you have and don’t take things for granted. You never know for how long you can have it.

Maybe that’s a small white lie. Maybe I’ll start taking things for granted again once all this is over.

And it will all blow over soon…”

Nazia, MSc student and health worker at Luton and Dunstable hospital

prayer beadsTasbih phiree ta dil na phiriya

Ki lena tasbih phar ke hu

[You have been turning your prayer beads, but without turning your heart (for the better). What do you wish to gain from such a practice?]

I was in my teens when my granddad introduced me to  Kalam Sultan Bahu. Despite being from a Punjabi household, my parents had taught us to speak Urdu and being a child of the diaspora meant the extent of my desi vocab was quite limited. So, an epic poem by Hazrat Sultan Bahu wasn’t going to easily integrate with my lexicon but my granddad persevered and translated it on many occasions as we sat together listening to its melodious renditions. I remember hearing the above-mentioned verse and it having a really profound affect on me: the idea that our heart has the ability to turn, to gravitate back towards the source of contentment, but without the desire to return to the One who created it, it’s nothing more than a beating entity without a higher purpose.

We now find ourselves in an unprecedented time due to the current pandemic and at first the lockdown left me feeling extremely anxious. The thought of being stuck at home, having to work as well as homeschool my children, and not seeing relatives and friends was very overwhelming and watching the daily government updates in the news started to take its toll.

I realised very quickly that I needed to do something to ease the turbulence so I took two steps: 1. I reduced the amount of news I was consuming and 2. I increased the time spent doing dhikr (rhythmic remembrance of God). The effects of these two actions brought immediate results. The latter though had a deep impact on my state of mind. Feeling the smooth, spherical ebony beads between my fingers as I recited la illaha ilallah (there is no god but God) injected into my heart a huge sense of contentment and I felt more accepting of the situation. Though the first jummah (Friday) of lockdown felt extremely strange, I had a heightened sense of gratitude for all the blessings I have: a safe home; a beautiful family; fridge and cupboards stocked full of food; a lovely garden in which to play badminton; shelves stacked with books; WiFi access to help stay connected to relatives; and the list goes on and on. Alhumdulillah (praise be to God).

Now, the blessed month of Ramadan is upon us and it is an experience like no other. It is usually a time of communal gatherings including family iftaris (breaking of the fast) and night congregations at the mosque, but having been thrown into a huge global crisis means Ramadan serves as a beautiful reminder that isolation need not equate to loneliness but rather a pathway for spiritual retreat, and being disconnected from one another physically is an opportunity to reconnect emotionally. Though we are having to practice social distancing, the time for self-reflection might be the key in actualising our hopes and dreams for the future.

Spending Ramadan in lockdown may be challenging for a multitude of reasons, but the lack of external pressures on how we spend our time is truly a blessing like no other. The opportunity to reconnect with our inner selves and transcend the materialistic nature of our current worldly sphere might very well be the catalyst in finally gaining the spiritual nourishment we need, otherwise what indeed is the purpose of life except the (re)turning of our hearts to the Divine.

Imrana Mahmood, Creative Producer

sayfur“My take as the country goes lockdown.

I’ve personally not been in lockdown, I’m going to work as normal except the roads are quiet and I’m getting to work quicker, going to work hasn’t felt more rewarding until now, delivering essentials to people as they self isolate, the thank yous on windows hand written by little angels as young as 4, the appreciation I see from people everyday, most definitely made me feel proud of what I do.

My favourite day of the week has to be Thursday as that’s when majority of the country open their doors to show appreciation to our heroes on the frontline, my little boys crafted a giant thank you NHS card, we’ve clapped, shouted I’ve even made my own thank you NHS song and most importantly, bonded with my neighbours from a distance.

The most amazing thing I’ve seen is the community spirit in my hometown (Luton), people from all walks of life coming together as one, people getting involved with community projects to do their part for the nation. I know there is a tiny minority of racist folks still causing division hating on Muslims despite most of the frontline staff who died were Muslims, this tiny minority will be the cause of division again after lockdown, I sincerely hope the good people of my country tackle this head on, so no division can be caused.

The hardest part of this lockdown has to be the fact of not being able to spend time with the family, seeing my parents from a distance despite the heart crumbling to give my mum a hug, my heart aching as I watch my siblings, nephews, nieces through windows and facetime. In the end we will remember this lockdown, tell stories to future generations of the time “we were all in it together as one “. “

Sayfur Rahman, Lutonian

“I’ve been furloughed from work and the colleges are closed, so the three of us are at home. My son works weekends plus some overtime, various days here and there, so at least he gets out of the house a little bit. 

My daughter accesses services for support with her disability and mental health, but the services aren’t open as usual and the people I normally speak to aren’t there. If anything were to happen, we’d be in an even worse position than if we were in crisis under normal circumstances. 

I’m bored more than anything. I’d rather be one of the people who are working, but I can’t be a carer – more power to the people that do it, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not something I can help with. I’ve applied for jobs in transport and call centres.

Knowing I don’t have a job now frustrates me, I quite enjoyed my job! I liked it there, I liked my team, and there were so many opportunities to move around the company. Now the company has a freeze on recruitment, so my temporary position wasn’t extended.

There’s only so much you can do indoors. Thankfully I’m no longer in a flat – if I compared my life to a year ago; what would Corona have looked like? It would’ve been much more difficult; that’s one way of staying sane about it and not getting down about it.

I’m doing my gardening, which is nice when the weather’s alright. Except when the local cats came and dug up my garden! There’s not much good being stuck in your premises all the time. One benefit I’ve had is when I go shopping, I haven’t had to queue. Standing for hours for some toilet roll – thankfully I haven’t had any of that. I haven’t not been able to get stuff.

People say when we come out of this everything will look different. I doubt the difference will remain forever. We’ll go back to the same, no one will care, no one will care about the homeless, everyone will be looking up to materialistic celebrities, nothing will change.”

Anonymous, mother

suffa tul islam luton“I feel like I am in constant state of emergency. Though our mosque buildings are closed, we are still here, and people are reaching out to us. I’m grateful for that, but it isn’t always easy. It can at times feel overwhelming to feel the intensity of the needs of others, whilst managing my own anxieties about my children and family.
 
Most people will have read about the disproportionate impact on BAME people and within Luton’s Muslim community, we are experiencing this first hand.  There’s always a message, an email, a missed call by the time I wake up in the morning and it’s always someone in crisis. There’s no food, there’s no money, they’ve run out of electricity, they need nappies for the babies. At the worst end, they are calling because a family member has passed away. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. We have buried more people these last few weeks than we normally do in a year. Yet despite this, I am so humbled by the way in which our community come together to support others. Whether it’s been cooking meals, delivering food parcels or helping get PPE to key workers, they have risen to the challenge.
 
It has been a physically and emotionally draining time, but I can’t think of a more meaningful way to spend Ramadhan than in the service of others.”
 
Faisal Hussain (Suffa Tul Islam, Bradley Rd, Luton)

shana“The hardest part of Ramadan in Lockdown is not being able to host Lantern’s Ladies Iftars. Each year we host over 150 women every Friday in Ramadan.

The Iftars started off the back of my own isolation as a new Muslim. I was so fed up of breaking my fast alone. Iftars and congregational activities in the community were centred around the needs of the men in our community (taraweeh, itikaf etc). I had a young child so swanning off for meals out with friends like other Muslim women my age wasn’t an option, and I never felt at home in spaces set up especially for ‘reverts’.

There were many women like me, literally or figuratively alone for a plethora of reasons – Friday Iftars became our safe space.

Lantern as an organisation has grown since those early days, we have lots more volunteers and a quite a few more members.

We eat together, we pray together, we serve together. We have grieved and laughed, we have become a family. And not being able to see your family in Ramadan is so hard. (Can’t say I miss the clean ups till 1am though!)

But out of this isolation, will come forth something beautiful, as it did in the beginning and we will be back with something even better Inshallah [if God wills]. I just hope that the vulnerable people we ordinarily support are able to find solace in their own isolation.”

Shana Iqbal, Co-Vice Chair, Lantern

zahra“The lockdown has brought uncertainty and difficulty for me and my family but along with it came some blessings. 

My name is Zahra, I am an anaesthetics nurse and my husband Ahmed is a chauffeur. Just before Covid19 reached the UK our ordeal has already started. Last December I was heavily pregnant and already on maternity leave when my husband fell ill and had an emergency operation. It had a mental, emotional and most especially financial impact on us. My husband stayed home for two months to recover, which meant he had zero income for this duration as he is self employed. When our baby girl was born things were very difficult having to manage a newborn, a toddler and a post operative person at home. 

My husband finally was able to go back to work early February. At this time corona virus was at its peak in China whilst the rest of the world watched, not knowing which step to take. I had to survive almost everyday of looking after a newborn and a toddler without help. There were days that I thought I was going mad. Inasmuch as I wanted my husband to stay home with me to be able to manage the children better he could not because it is not financially feasible. This went on for about a month until the lockdown was imposed. When the number of Covid19 cases and death tolls skyrocketed we have decided for him to stay home and for us to just live on the minimum to stay safe. We cannot afford to fall ill because our children are very young and very dependent on us. We do not have anyone else for help. 

On lockdown we may be living on the minimum but I am no longer struggling with child care. We sleep better, we eat better as I now have time to make proper food in the kitchen with my husband helping me out at home. We are spending more time with each other than ever and we get to play with our toddler. These are the things that my heart will always be grateful for despite the horrors of Covid19. Whenever the Covid19 situation gets very stressful because of what I hear from the news, social media and WhatsApp messages from people at work I look at these blessings that remind me that there is always hope.”

Zahra, anaesthetics nurse

lauron“My name is Lauron Macauley and I am 24 years old. I have two children ages 8 and 4. Being in lockdown has been very different for my family. We are unable to visit other family which my kids have been upset about as they would see their nan regularly.  We have all been trying to keep as busy as possible. Although, some days because we have done so much; we can get very bored.

Before the pandemic lockdown began I was fully employed. Working as a support worker towards people with acquired brain injuries. As these people are very vulnerable they were no longer attending our centre and it then made my position change to furloughed.

During my time in lockdown I began to write a book. My working title and subtitle is ‘I Am Not Your Stereotype, Trials And Tribulations Of A Young Mum’. I have always wanted to write a book and during this time I accomplished 200 pages and my book is nearly completed. My book is about pregnancy, birth and motherhood from a ‘young mothers’ perspective. Also the stereotypes and judgements that we face. Being a ‘young mother’ myself I have had to fight through the trials and tribulations before I was able to realise that I could still follow my dreams and accomplish things regardless of what other people may say. I want other young parents to feel the same.

During this lockdown period I have begun to realise more about myself and that my goal is to help others.

So if you are bored in any way, think about the things that you have always wanted to do and plan to accomplish them. Social media has come to be a blessing, as I have met so many new people through the zoom talk activities and things that are going on in our communities through Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. It’s amazing how we are coming together by taking advantage of the systems we have.

The current situation is unfortunately bitter sweet. I have bad days and good days. Thankfully they are mostly good.”

Lauron Macauley

luton lockdown stories“My name is Huma Qadeer, and I want to share my experience as an Ahmadi Muslim woman during Lockdown in Luton.

I am married and blessed with five children aged between 8-18 years old. It has been a month now in lockdown, and we have come to terms with being at home. We have adopted a habitual practice of doing daily things at home like cooking, eating and praying together. I guess a positive/uplifting outcome of this is we are having good quality family time together. This is an eye opener and has shown us to appreciate what we took for granted.

On Fridays, rather than going to the mosque we have adapted to a regime of praying and listening to the Friday Sermon live on TV which is led by the spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya Community. My husband and my eldest two sons will take it in turns to lead the prayers as Imams, reading a short sermon followed by prayers in congregation. Thus, further enhancing the family’s Islamic understanding, which is beneficial and valuable.

Now that Ramadan is fast approaching, we will encounter a new way of living. Normally we would convene every evening at the local centre to read our prayers (Taravee), and on weekends we would get together as a community to share food and open our fasts together (Iftar). This is an act of building close relationships and bonds. Being deprived of that will be a very disparate experience and loss. But we will continue to read our congregational prayers at home.

We have by the grace of Allah become healthier and united even more as a family. It is a blessing to have a big family where typically our lifestyle is often busy and challenging and now to make time for each other. Now we are eating all meals together, instead of only one beforehand.

Our community has organised a range of diverse classes on social platforms such as zoom and Microsoft teams, catering for all age groups, which keeps them all busy.

My youngest son is 8 years of age and has two classes a week which he’s learning the correct pronunciation of the Holy Quran and gaining general knowledge. He is able to talk to a teacher for advice on all different subjects.

My 10-year-old daughter has classes about Islam, Art and on learning the Holy Quran. Likewise, my eldest two sons also have two classes according to their age group of 10-15 years.

Myself and my eldest daughter who is 18 years old have classes too on health and fitness, Quran and arts and craft. Personally, my favourite is arts and craft as daily we are given a word, which enables us to express ourselves in whatever way it means to us. So, writing a poem, drawing, painting, etc. then we share our experiences via WhatsApp.

All these classes were normally kept face to face, but we have reconciled ourselves to this unprecedented way of life that we are in at the moment. It’s a blessing that we have all these classes and  also many volunteers that have given their time to help and uplift  community spirits.

Our ladies of the community are keeping busy by continuing to care about the welfare of their neighbours, friends and the other ladies of the community. A buddy system was devised where we can make sure everyone is taken care of. We have assigned roles in getting shopping for the vulnerable , calling in to ask about their welfare and also caring for our local communities such as food bank donations  and providing face masks sewn by our ladies

As an Ahmadi Muslim, we are taught to be charitable and during Ramadan, we see it as a perfect opportunity to continue to be more caring and to reflect and better on ourselves. The best way to do this is through reading and understanding the Holy Quran and conducting Prayers which enables us to get closer to our creator.

I will not be able to go and see my parents since they live in London, and I’m sure I am not the only one as we are all experiencing this for the first time. This is an emotional challenge and to be honest a very difficult one.

With prayers and the help of our Almighty Allah , we will get through this challenging time, and will see each other very soon. Ameen.

God willing, I pray this is soon.”

sarah“I can’t go into work but my colleagues are there. With Open House, at the moment we’re serving food through the window and the conservatory, Monday and Wednesday at 1pm, and Saturday at 10:30am. It’s our same opening days, but we’re just open for half an hour. We’ve had the usuals plus some other people, about 35-40 people. There’s only three people on site at a time, and I’m trying to move the volunteers around as much as we can to help out, because it can get too much for people, and it’s a big ask to be honest. I can’t do it because I’m vulnerable and have to stay home for 12 weeks, so that’s annoying. 

At home we’re sleeping in separate rooms, and trying to keep two meters apart like the guidance says. How can people be living in homes as married couples and living separate lives? I never thought in an instance we’d have to be living separate lives.

We’re doing an online prayer meeting every morning from 9.30-10am via Zoom. We do a church service on a Sunday at half 10, and meet on Zoom for tea and coffee; that’s quite good. We also do a 4pm service on zoom every Sunday.

[Can you tell us about some positive things that you’ve experienced in the last few weeks?]

I’ve learnt to crochet; I’ve made myself a teddy bear. I’ve been making rainbows for the ambulances. I’ve crochet a few rainbows for James [my husband who works for the ambulance service], I think that’s been really positive.

My parents, even though they’re in their 80s, they’ve been able to communicate on Facebook live and that’s been really positive. 

[Are there any tips for coping while staying at home or when going out that you would like to share?]

Plan the day. Make sure you have a plan, and try and do something that you’ve not done before. Today I drew a giraffe – I looked on Facebook and found out how to do it. Things like that are easy to do because you don’t need any resources. Do something you don’t normally do in a day so every day doesn’t feel like groundhog day. Remember it’s a tough time and your moods will go up and down but that’s OK. Seek help if needed.

[If you had to sum up how you feel about the current situation in a few words, what would you say?]

I think it’s a very difficult time for people, but it’s not always going to be like this, we will get through it. As time goes on not meeting people becomes harder. Be kind to yourself and others at this time.”

Sarah Hibbard, Open House Lounge Manager

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