Interviews with keyworkers
Francesca Roach Secondary School teacher and 6th Form Tutor
How have you had to adapt at the start of the first lockdown lock down?
I changed schools in the middle of last year and the transition was made all the more difficult due to the restrictions. I was ill at the beginning of the first lockdown and thinking about it now, it might have been Covid but there was no testing at that time.
We had to adapt to remote learning very quickly, which involved lots of extra planning. We used power point presentations whereas later we had lessons online.
We created a rota to go into school once a week to look after the children of keyworkers.
How much did it change when you went back into school in September?
I started at the school I am working at now in September. The extra planning that we had to put in place to ensure we had a safe environment for the pupils took a lot of time. We had to adjust to the instances when year groups would have to isolate, with, at very short notice, having to produce adapted lessons for this whilst still having other year groups in school. In a lot of classes we also had individual students self-isolating at home and accessing live lessons via Teams (online) so I had to teach the students in the room at the same time as the ones I taught virtually. It was chaotic but it was good.
How do you manage the classes with social distancing in place?
In primary schools I think the bubbles work much better. In secondary schools I feel it is harder and each school chooses a different system. In my previous school they decided on fewer lessons but they were longer. This meant that there were fewer changes and less movement between classes.
In the school I am at now we have each year group in a bubble and they stay in a department all the time. This reduces movement but brings problems for teachers who have to plan more for not being in a classroom that is designed for a particular subject. I am a music teacher so this impacts on me a lot.
Are you looking forward to being in School next week when the pupils are back in?
Yes, I am excited to see everyone again. I think that there will be some behavioural management issues with everyone having to wear masks I am worried about the risks of transmission into the family. Teenagers are fabulous but naturally are programmed to push boundaries and their stock answer can be that they are in a bubble so “It’s ok Miss”. We take all the precautions at school but if a child contracts Covid they take it back into the home and there could be vulnerable people there. I am not worried for myself as I am not in an at-risk group but in the students’ homes there are some people who might be badly affected. I was given the vaccine last week because I have some very clinically vulnerable students who have been shielding but will be back in school. They have been shielding but that stops on 31st March and, as they are under eighteen, they cannot have the vaccine as it is not licenced for children.
How have you managed with your daughter Louisa aged three whilst still trying to teach?
The first lockdown it was hell as the nursery closed because they did not have enough staff able to work or pupils to make it viable to open. I spent my days with Louisa and then worked on my lessons and school work late into the night, whilst answering queries from individual students on my phone via emails during the day at the same time. A lot of juggling, like with most families. It was exhausting but we got through.
This lockdown it has been much easier as the nursery is open and I can work while she is there. The expectations of live lessons are different to the last lockdown though, so if Louisa was not in preschool, we would be struggling.
What do you think about the decision to have teacher assessed grades for pupils and not exams?
Last year was a big mess. They used algorithms and did not trust the teachers. On results day we had students who had been predicted an A getting a D and sometimes vice versa. This meant that pupils who thought they were off to universities suddenly lost their offers with no good reason. There were a lot of tears that day.
This year I hope it will be fairer but it is still in the consultation stage and so we feel we are teaching blind to a point. Teacher grades are calculated using a lot of evidence though so if there is a dispute about the grade the teacher can produce all of the course work and grades to prove there is a reason the grade was given.
There has been no clarity from the government and there is a lot of anxiety among the students and a lot of mental health issues. The media has been horrific and created a lot of scaremongering and reporting of lots of things that are not true. The general public’s attitude towards teachers is influenced by this. The impression given is that we are not working, when we are. Some people think I am on furlough when in fact I have worked all the way through. The press is not helpful for autistic pupils in particular, who struggle with change and if they see something printed in black and white they automatically believe it!
Our school, like many others, stayed open for children of keyworkers during the holidays but that does not get reported. Most teachers are not so much worried about themselves but more about the risk of transmission back into families with vulnerable members. This is generally reported incorrectly in the press and then a lot of bad feeling towards the profession as a collective is created.
What plans you have for the summer as restrictions ease?
Well, this is a secret and exciting. I am starting to help plan the Prom, all being well with restrictions easing. After the year we have had the pupils deserve a good Prom.
We had a holiday booked last year, which we had to cancel so this year we really hope we can go. I really want to sit in the sun eating a pizza, drinking a cocktail and then read an actual book rather than be on screen time.
Patrizia A member of nursing staff at the RUH
How difficult has it been over the past few months?
I am from Italy and have been working as a nurse in England for many years.
The ward at the RUH I work on was turned into a Covid ward in January. We felt the incredible pressure that I and my colleagues were under during the height of the Pandemic. We were not only much busier than normal but the ward suffered more losses than is usual and we had to work in difficult circumstances with everyone afraid they would catch Covid and take it home to their families.
There was one particular day when I was on an early morning shift, doing the rounds when I turned and looked at a patient I had spoken to earlier and realised she had died. There was a sense of shock that it could happen so quickly in the space of a few minutes.
There are so many more stories as distressing as that but it makes me really emotional to talk about it. There were many instances when I and my colleagues have cried because we struggled to cope with the trauma and challenges of the work.
How did you feel with having to spend so many hours a day working with PPE?
We all felt a huge sense of hopelessness, trying to care for the patients while at the same time being afraid of catching Covid. The PPE we were given was masks, gloves, face shields and aprons. If you were treating a patient with Covid who was coughing you were very aware that the droplets were in the air and that it felt like it could get in your hair and arms which were not protected. The nurses in ICU had full PPE and so were much more fully protected. The patients in our ward were admitted from A&E as the hospital was trying its best to keep Covid patients isolated.
Our job was to care for the sick and that’s what we wanted to do but the pressures were so often very overwhelming. Wearing PPE all day and coming off shift was exhausting and left you with marks on your face from wearing the masks. There was a genuine fear of catching Covid from the patients and indeed, like so many of my colleagues, I did catch it and am still suffering from long term Covid even now. The fatigue I still suffers makes work even more difficult but I still carry on.
How do you feel about rule breakers?
Rule breakers made me angry and frustrated. I walked past the park recently and was horrified at how many people were out, and I kept thinking that while I am trying to keep people well these people are oblivious to the dangers. If those people worked just one shift on my ward they would act differently after seeing all of the heartbreak and suffering. It’s the public’s responsibility to wear masks, take precautions and follow the rules. I understand that the restrictions have gone on for so long and that people are weary, but they still have to follow the rules. It’s one of the ways we will get out of this.
How do you feel people’s attitudes to you are now?
Brexit has added to the pressure and I have experienced people mocking me for my accent and telling me to go back to my own country. Yet I still stay and go into work every day with a smile on my face ready to help.
I have not seen my family in Italy for over a year and I am very worried about them. There is a fear in the back of her mind that if they got sick I would not be able to see them. I hope that as soon as restrictions are eased I will able to see them. I speak to the on the phone every day and do FaceTime but it’s not the same as giving them a big hug and maybe cry with them.
I look forward to the day I can sit outside in a pub garden having a drink with my friends.
In the meantime I will continue to work caring for the people of Bath hoping that things will improve soon and that if offered the vaccine people see it as their duty to have it.
Senior Community and events Fundraiser for Julian House
How did life change when the pandemic started?
We were allocated thirty flats that we very quickly had to furnish in order to get people off the streets. The outreach workers were working flat out reaching people despite the fear that we all felt with a virus we knew very little about. The priority was to ensure we could get everyone housed quickly and safely.
We have four people who did not want to take up the offer of this accommodation and our outreach workers have stayed in contact with them. There are a variety of reasons some people choose not to come in so we have to ensure they are as safe as possible.
We also had to provide phones for everyone as the majority of our services went on line and we wanted our clients to still be in contact with us. The outreach team still went out every day to make sure that anybody who needed it could still access our services.
Which services are you still able to offer with the restrictions in place?
As restrictions ease we will open more of our services up as operating virtually is never the same and we want to offer all of our support services.
Our outreach workers are busier than ever and increased the times that they go out. This brings added pressure on them and we have introduced Mindfulness and wellbeing sessions for them to access. Their job has become so much harder during the pandemic and they also have concerns about their own families, their own health as well as home schooling. The pressures can be very difficult so we need to make sure we look after them as well.
We have 20 bedroom pods but at the moment we are operating on half capacity. The day centre is also open so that a hot meal and showers can be accessed as well as the help of the nurse who comes in every day. One of the most common ailments is trench foot, which is caused by walking the streets wearing wet shoes, and socks. It was very common in the First World War, hence its name.
We also have the added capacity of camp beds as part of the Safe Sleep initiative in the Church next door.
The food is supplied by the Charity FareShare and we work closely with other agencies such as the Big Issue, DHI, refuges, Banes and partners in other areas of the country so that when people come to this area we can get them back to where their friends and family can be part of a support network.
What is the percentage of men compared to women who become homeless and what are the specific challenges of women?
We have a ratio of 20%women and 80% men who are homeless. Women’s needs are usually more complex. They are often in or have been in abusive unhealthy domestic relationships. We offer the Freedom Programme and other counselling services. We can offer emotional and psychological support. Many of these women have suffered trauma dating back as far as childhood and we aim to give them the power to rebuild their lives and recognise abusive relationships through our programmes. Some of these relationships are perpetuated by the woman feeling they need to stay for safety when the opposite is really the case. We work with other agencies, refuges, Off the Record, Banes and schools.
How do you think the issue of homelessness and also the public’s attitude to it will change post Covid?
We think that the homeless will increase as a result of a rise in domestic abuse, and evictions. The pandemic has been very hard for a lot of people.
I hope that people will understand that there are many reasons that people become homeless and that it is often through no real fault of their own and could happen to anyone if their circumstances change.
The public can help by using the Street Link app https://www.streetlink.org.uk/Streetlink_faq where if you see a homeless person that needs help you can log it on the app and one of our outreach team can find them and offer our services.
If you see a homeless person buy them a coffee or sandwich and just chat to them. You will find that they all have a different story to tell. Buying the Big Issue is another way to help and sales have dropped significantly.
How has your fundraising been affected?
Our fundraising has been really badly affected.
We are doing the Big Sleep Out this year differently. We are challenging people to sleep out in their gardens to raise money. http://www.bigbathsleepout.co.uk/
We have also holding the Circuit of Bath walk in April and again in September http://www.bigbathsleepout.co.uk/
Of course you can donate through our website https://www.julianhouse.org.uk/ at any time.