But while most of us are self-isolating and working from home, there are so many for whom that is not an option. The smooth running of our lives is made possible by these women; a handful of key workers, still doing everyday jobs that make an extraordinary difference.
Last month we celebrated the women in our NHS; the doctors, nurses and care workers on the frontline of this global pandemic.
We celebrate just a few of them here. These are their stories…
Daniella Doherty, 28, is a teacher at a secondary school in North-West London, where she has worked for seven years.
Since the outbreak began everything has changed at work. Firstly, my school now operates as a form of childcare for pupils of key workers.
There is a three- week rota system so teachers are only required for one week at a time.
This ensures teachers have seven to fourteen days of social distancing at home in between, which I think works really well. Pupils who are at school follow a timetable of different activities such as PE with Joe Wicks, reading, drawing, mental stimulation, documentaries and outdoor activities. My school is also open during the Easter holidays with teachers volunteering their time to come in and support.
Secondly, teaching has now moved online. Of course this way of teaching and learning is new to both teachers and pupils. It is very easy to think ‘why has this pupil not uploaded their homework’ but teachers have to remember homeschooling is different in every household and pupil wellbeing comes first and foremost. I have generally found my pupils have responded well to work that has been set. They have either adapted to online teaching or maybe they just love my history lessons!
I have not felt scared of catching COVID-19 at school as our school have followed strict hygiene protocols encouraging pupils (and staff) to regularly wash their hands, use hand sanitiser, cough and sneeze into tissues and dispose of these. I have seen pupils quickly adapt to these new procedures and it works well. I think it is ok to be slightly worried but I know I am doing everything I can to prevent it.
However, there have been days when I have struggled, and I know that is totally normal. I also often think about the effect it has had in particular on my year 11 form class, two GCSE classes and one A-Level class who are still waiting to know for certain how this will all affect their futures. I spent the last two days before schools closed dealing with children with mixed emotions of confusion, happiness, sadness and general uncertainty. As much as I empathised with them, I felt guilty not being able to give them any real answers. That feeling definitely bears heavy on my heart.
My school has been amazing ensuring that we are well informed, all concerns are answered and that we do not feel overworked. I have had appreciation emails from parents and pupils which have definitely given me a boost. Most importantly, I’ve learnt that communicating with people around me if I feel like things are getting too much really does help with my own mental health; you’ll realise you are not the only one.
I feel so proud of the NHS workers who are saving our lives on a daily basis. I think my job of looking after children of key workers is a small way of repaying them for their continued efforts.
Hannah and Colleen Day-Jarvis, 37 and 38, own and run a small cafe in Hebburn, Newcastle called Daizy’s Kitchen. The couple are using their food delivery service to help out the elderly and vulnerable in their community..
We have always tried to make the cafe a community space and we have a lot of regulars, most of whom are elderly and often lonely, and who come in every day.
When the outbreak first happened we immediately thought about just shutting the whole business and self-isolating. We both had a bit of a cry because we thought straight away about all of our elderly customers who we see every and how they would be affected by this. So we set up a plan, where we went and did a huge shop so we could stock up for them. So many of them were then asking for deliveries from the shop through Just Eat, so we also do their grocery shopping for them – free of charge – and bring that with their delivery from the cafe. They just pop on the note what food they want us to get.
We do about 270 orders a day now.
They’ve been so touched and it’s been so overwhelming how they have come together as a community. It’s something you take for granted but then something happens and you realise how strong your community is, and what amazing things they are capable of. If we are delivering to families with kids, some have taken to laying out little treasure maps for where to find the cash in the garden. It’s a little game that entertains them and it really brightens up my day too!
There are times when we just panic, and cry, and think about stopping it all, but the guilt gets the better of us. We just want to help our customers, we can’t abandon them. We’ve got health and youth on our side, they haven’t. We do get scared about getting the virus but we are so careful with what we are doing. We wear all the protection and basically come into physical contact with no one.
We cry every night because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We worry a lot. We have so many worries and pressures but, because these people keep us busy, that’s keeping us going. Sometimes we can feel really down, but the idea of keeping these people fed and looking after them is what is getting us out of bed in the morning.
Sheena Anker, 34, from London, is a service engineer for British Gas, where she has worked for fourteen years…
I got into an apprenticeship with british gas 14 years ago after dropping out after a year into university as I preferred hands on work.
Since the outbreak we are now carrying out only priority or essential work and the number of jobs has reduced. However the engineer staff numbers are up and down depending on those who may now be staying home and isolating or who are deemed vulnerable.
So far my customers have been pretty good. On the phone call before we head there,we agree on where I’ll be needing to work and how they can relax in a separate room so we can maintain social distancing. We utilise the protective equipment, like gloves and masks, available to us to help assist in keeping both ourselves and our customers safe.
Many colleagues I know are very stressed heading in and out of people’s homes, never knowing what they potentially may be picking up. It’s a scary time out there. Can only keep our fingers crossed like everyone else. My stress and anxiety levels are definitely rather high.
I feel proud to be doing something of use but it’s nothing in comparison to the awe I feel to the real front liners working in the hospitals. I cannot imagine what that must be like.
One of the mums on the school run last week mentioned she worked at the hospital. I asked her if there was anything they needed. She suggested things like water and snacks. So I asked a group of mum friends if anyone had anything small to spare and managed quite a hefty collection. I also went and purchased some more water bottles, breakfast bars and snacks then I went and dropped it in. They were surprised and extremely grateful. I said a huge thank you for them and all they are doing.
It’s definitely a time to pull together as much as possible! I never think of my work as hugely valuable as it’s just the norm for me. But every now and then there is a small moment where I remember that it is a unique skill, not everyone can do what I do, and I’m keeping people safe in their homes. This is something we all forget too easily.
Sophie Wood, 27, from London, is normally a head buyer at a fashion brand. But, when the pandemic hit, she decided to take a part-time job at Tesco, to do her bit to help…
Tesco have taken me (and thousands of others) on to help take some of the burden from their full time staff in the current circumstances. Even though store hours have been shortened, there is still plenty of overtime to be shared between the team to make sure we can keep up with the flow of customers.
Overall I’ve been really impressed with how all our customers have behaved over the last few weeks. Everyone has been really understanding of the purchase limits placed on items, and been great with the social distancing policies that have been put in place. So many customers have also thanked us for still coming into the work and even treated us to the odd box of chocolates! Although it will never cease to shock me to see customers queuing up in their deck chairs waiting for us to open!
I don’t feel scared about catching COVID-19 as there are so many safety measures in place with even more to come and I’m able to hand sanitise between customers. Luckily I live alone so I’ve not been overly worried about giving it to anyone else; if I have been in contact with family members I’ve made sure to shower as soon as my shift is over and wash my clothes.
I think being able to step up and help at this time has had a positive impact on my mental health. I didn’t think I would feel any sense of pride, but the more I am working, the more I feel it! To hear customers genuine thanks makes a real difference and anyone I mention it to has also been really proud. It just shows that a little bit of help can go a long way!
I would like to think that what’s been going on the last few weeks will make people stop and think a little more in the future about the amazing work that supermarket workers are doing all year round. My Mum is a supermarket worker, and without people like her, the public wouldn’t be able to just pop out and do their food shops without a second thought. It makes you realise the little things that you usually take for granted or don’t even realise that you’re doing, and also that a job that people would have previously deemed as ‘low skilled’ has now proved to be so important when there is a crisis.
Since the outbreak I have worked in a number of Boots stores across my region and it has definitely been busier than usual both in the pharmacy and on the shop floor. There have been times where we have been short staffed, due to those following the government advice in terms of self-isolating; due to symptoms or underlying conditions but we are doing all we can to support each other. I was at a store last week and we felt comfortable with our staffing, so one of the pharmacists went to a store down the road to give them a helping hand. The team spirit has been amazing and is what is getting us through this surreal time.
There are some amazingly kind people out there. I’ve seen customers give up products, especially for the elderly which has been very sweet to see. There was also an instance where one customer gave up her bottle of Calpol, for another mother whose child had a high fever .
Of course I do feel an element of nervousness but I think that is only natural and is something that everyone is feeling right now. With pharmacy playing such a critical role in supporting the NHS, this is a really important time for me and my team to help people to stay well and feel better.
To help keep us safe, we have been provided with hand sanitiser and are ensuring that we are regularly washing our hands. Every store also has cleaning kits so that we can keep on top of cleanliness. 20,000 protective visors have also been ordered for colleagues, these are optional but it is great that we are being provided with extra safety measures to protect us.
I feel proud of myself and my colleagues and the huge levels of care I have seen over the past few weeks for both our customers and each other. I’ve seen colleagues sharing hand sanitiser with customers and one of our colleagues from our warehouse even decided to push back his retirement to help out during this busy time and others have cancelled their annual leave. Even colleagues who are not usually in the healthcare area have been offering their support where possible.
The reason I have always loved my job is because of the satisfaction I get in helping people get their medication and caring for those to feel better. Being in the heart of the community and supporting my patients during this novel time has made me love my job even more.
Emma Steel, 33, is Head of Water Networks for Thames Water. She is responsible for getting drinking water to over 2 million people in the Thames Valley region…
I have been at Thames Water for almost 8 years, having started on the Graduate Scheme. I now manage 500 direct and indirect people across this area to ensure we maintain a reliable drinking water supply to our customers.
As I am an operational leader it is key I maintain visible leadership for my team to keep morale going so I have been continuing to visit operational sites depots where possible and speak to my team every day. As a mother of a 2 year old, working full time and being at home a bit more than normal has been challenging but has also enabled us to spend more time together as a family.
We have had some fantastic feedback from some customers about the importance of the service we provide as key workers, keeping this essential service running.
Due to the operational nature of the job, I obviously cannot work from home all week and we all have concerns over catching COVID-19, but with the right precautions in place we can reassure teams that the risk of catching it is significantly reduced.
So far I am keeping positive and have been really inspired by the great work of my team. Clearly, there are many challenges so I’ve found it essential to set aside time to switch off, whether going for a run or spending time with family.
Water is an essential service to life especially for the provision to hospitals and care facilities at this time. I feel immensely proud to know that, although this period is challenging for us all, that all the work we are doing really is making a difference to maintaining a degree of normality in people’s lives, keeping clean and healthy, and helping to fight COVID-19.
Kerri Rogan, 32, is head of network command for London Underground, which means she is, quite literally, keeping the tubes running for other key workers and essential travel during this time…
My job is varied, and includes managing incidents of various sizes from signal failures to people sick on trains, through to major incidents such as terrorist attacks and the current COVID-19 pandemic!
It has been an extremely busy time for everyone at TfL. This is like no other major incident we have ever faced. The key difference is that for all other major incidents we have faced before we have done so with our full workforce. But the current crisis is hitting our own workforce as much as everyone else, so we have to think even more creatively and quickly about how we sustain our own resilience and in turn that of the service we provide.
Everyone is working extremely hard, long hours and long weeks, but we’re all driven by our common purpose and the fact that we provide a critical public service. London is looking to us to keep the Underground moving, and so that’s what we are focused on doing around the clock. The biggest challenge is workload and ensuring I rest and take breaks to stay fit to ensure I can support my team and make the right decisions. It is about balancing and managing the desire to keep working and supporting the team without overloading yourself, because then you’d no good to anyone!
I take great pride in being able to undertake that role and do my part for our city. The wonderful thing about the Underground is the diversity of people who live and travel around London. Overall, I have been extremely impressed at how our customers have responded. Most people have stayed home, and those who need to travel are generally practicing social distancing. There are some parts of the Underground which are still used by a greater number of people at certain times of the day and we continue to work to try and support these customers by encouraging social distancing in every way we can.
Every station has its own community – we’ve seen some heart-warming messages of thanks to the front-line team who, like other critical workers, are doing an amazing job to support the response to the coronavirus. I am always so proud to be part of a team that is so closely linked to London and all of its wonderful local communities.
Kirstie Cotton, 31, from Radstock, Somerset became a postwoman a year ago, and is still out there working in the middle of the pandemic…
I really enjoy the route that I cover, and it allows me to meet some really lovely people. There’s a lot that we do in the local community on our day-to-day business, and our customers really appreciate that, particularly for those who are more vulnerable.
As a key worker, it is important that we continue to provide a lifeline to businesses and communities everywhere during the coronavirus crisis.
As the UK is in lockdown, we also help families stay in touch by delivering things like birthday cards, to keep people connected. This is even more important now that people can’t meet. Online shopping is also more important as people can’t get out so much – especially for those at risk who are self-isolating.
Since the outbreak, changes have been made to the way we deliver the mail to reduce contact with our customers and prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
For example, the office has rearranged our delivery frames to ensure that when we are sorting mail in the office – we are practicing social distancing – to stay a safe distance apart while we work.
To reduce risk while we’re out on delivery, we’ve been given hand sanitizer and gloves while we are out on our route. A new rule that was implemented means there will only be one person in a Royal Mail delivery vehicle at any one time.
I have been really impressed by the positive response from our customers, several people have stopped me to say, ‘thanks for carrying on’, there’s lots of lovely messages left on doors and one gentleman even gave me a round of applause as I passed his house! The well wishes and thanks always makes me smile and it’s nice to know that people do appreciate that we’re still out delivery for our community.
If a customer is unable to come to the door at all we will issue a ‘Something for You’ card, advising of other ways you can arrange to get your item. For example, by getting a friend or family member to collect the parcel from our local Customer Service Point on your behalf. In this situation, they will need to bring along the card we left you and a form of ID in the name of the person the item is addressed to.
We also stand ready to help our NHS with the distribution and processing of the COVID-19 home testing kits. NHS key workers will be asked to post their test, in secure packaging, at one of 13,000 priority post boxes across the UK, Monday to Friday. These postboxes will be located close to Post Offices, customer service points and/or parcel post boxes. NHS key workers will be able to find their nearest postbox on the Royal Mail app and the Royal Mail website when the scheme goes live.
I feel proud that I can keep people connected, and it is really uplifting to see all the support and lovely gestures from customers, it really helps to keep my spirits up during this difficult time.