In which Caitlin Webb ponders how things might go for the residents of Medway in an even more severe outbreak..
Day one. Most of us would shrug off the warnings and think “meh, this is just the flu.” “I survived foot and mouth, bird flu AND I grew up in Chatham, I can live through this”. We will keep calm and carry on and panic buy all the toilet rolls.
The rest will completely panic. Raid the supermarkets and barricade ourselves in our homes and plan to ride it out with pasta, rice and chickpeas.
Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Conservative Leader of Medway Council.
THANK YOU TO OUR WONDERFUL NHS STAFF, OUR SOCIAL WORKERS, AND ALL OTHER KEY WORKERS for keeping us safe during a time of an unprecedented world-wide pandemic.
As I write this column on 1st July it is revealing to reflect on the last few weeks, and consider some of what has been happening. Crucially to consider how people have been reacting to the ongoing understandably cautionary tone coming from government as we all seek to contain the spread of infection.
In the main it seems as though most people have behaved responsible, thinking of their own health, and mindful of the health of others by following government guidance on social distancing in particular and also personal hygiene. There have sadly been exceptions, which I will come on to later.
In which Lauren Heritage ponders the impact the current situation can have on our mental health and what we can do to help ourselves..
Coronavirus, Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, The Rona..
It’s all we hear about at the moment. Anyone remember Brexit?
It is understandably a stressful time for all. With most of us having never experienced a situation like this in our lives, it can all feel very out of control and anxiety inducing. Whilst some may be enjoying being in lockdown and/or working from home, others are finding it a real struggle. Let’s also not forget our health and key workers out keeping the country going and fighting Covid-19 who are also reporting a significant impact on their mental health.
What are the biggest stressors at this time and what can I do to help?
We are, by nature, sociable creatures. Even if you don’t enjoy face to face interaction, most enjoy interacting with others in one way or another. It’s been weeks and months since many have physically been in the company of family and friends. You might have a closer relationship with the security guard at the supermarket than your own family at this point. Shout out to Tony at Walderslade Morrisons!
If family and friends are a source of happiness and support, this can feel like you’ve lost a lifeline.
For those of you missing family and friends, video chatting has become the new ‘going down the pub’ or ‘popping round for a cup of tea’. OK, it’s not quite the same as being face to face, but at least helps you to see your loved ones and take part in things like virtual pub quizzes, games and general chit chat. Houseparty, Whatsapp and Zoom are popular (other apps are available). Some people are even getting into roleplay and conducting virtual afternoon teas and pub nights whereby each person has a drink* going or some nice sandwiches and cakes to make it feel more ‘real’.
*Disclaimer: please drink responsibly.
If familial difficulties are making relationships difficult, here are a few tips you might like to try:
If space allows, everyone has their own area of the house where they can have their own ‘me time’ and can be left alone or can escape to if tempers rise.
This website has some really excellent resources to help aid communication and conflict resolution. I use these all the time in my working and ‘real’ life and think they really make a difference.
Self care isn’t just about personal hygiene and getting dressed. Hands up if you’ve worn jeans at any point since lockdown begun? Anyone? No?
It’s also about attending to the holistic self and wellbeing. We all know we are allowed our government mandated daily exercise and it’s important we use it. Whether it’s a slow walk, attending to the garden, a bike ride with the kids or running many miles; exercise has huge benefits to mental and physical health. Research shows even just being out in fresh air or having a change of environment has a significant impact on mood and stress as well as physical stuff like blood pressure and heart health.
Keeping your brain busy is important. We have a tendency to go to darker places when we have little to do. There is a reason why long term solitary confinement can be considered torture. You don’t have to do anything extravagant or Nobel Prize worthy. It can be as simple as a jigsaw (if you can buy one anywhere at the moment), reading a book, doing a crossword, listening to music or binging that show you’ve been meaning to watch for ages but have never found the time. These easy things can also be used as redirection when you feel yourself getting worked up. The brain finds it very difficult to overthink and do an activity that requires logical thinking at the same time, so if you really throw yourself into whatever task it is, it should reduce your stress.
I think it’s important to have a bit of a reality check here. We all tend to be slaves to social media and it can be very easy to believe that everyone is mastering a new skill, getting in shape or making their house look like something out of a magazine. If you’re doing those things, fine. But it’s also absolutely fine if you aren’t. Getting through this is enough. And remember, social media shows only the best snippets of someone’s life. There is a phrase I really like which is ‘don’t judge your behind the scenes on someone else’s highlights reel’.
You do you, judgement free.
Everyday we get the headlines of the amount of people who have sadly lost their lives, the number of new infections and heartbreaking stories of families having their lives ripped apart. If you’re not careful it can become an obsession as you try to seek out the latest information. It also can lead to extreme health anxiety where you think the slightest sniffle means it’s finally got you. We tend to fall victims to something called ‘confirmation bias’ which is when we look for evidence that supports our beliefs/fears and discard anything that doesn’t. This can really feed into anxiety.
It’s therefore important that we ‘change the record’. Make a conscious effort to seek out the positives or just take a break from the news altogether. If you read a negative story, make sure you then read a positive one after. If you feel overwhelmed with the number of deaths, make sure to read about the survivors, because the reality is there are many. Many more people who survive this than don’t make it. By doing this, you start to balance your anxious thoughts and helps gain perspective.
I am getting asked a lot what resources I can recommend to help people get through this time. Below are a list of just some of the ones I have either looked at and really rate or use on a regular basis and think are really helpful.
More general mental health:
I absolutely love these websites. It has many easy to understand tools for most things mental health and emotional wellbeing. I use these professionally and personally.
Lauren Heritage is a mental health professional born and raised in Medway. She wants Medway to be the best it can be and is growing more exasperated by the day with politics. She likes to travel, enjoys good food, is a scuba diver, and a wannabe pilot.
In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects ponders the consequences of all 2020 elections being postponed..
If you cast your minds back to November, when the biggest crisis the country was facing was the threat of a no-deal Brexit and politicians and activists were busily campaigning in the third general election in four years, I signed off my predictions for those elections with a flippant comment about 2020’s Police and Crime Commissioner election.
Whilst it was written tongue-in-cheek to appear as though I was hoping for a break from elections, as someone who geeks out on electoral data, any vote is a source of unashamed joy. But of course, back in November, no one could have predicted that our lives would change so much in so little time, as they have by COVID-19.
Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics.Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.
This is the third Political Medway column since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK – we continue to see hundreds of individuals pass away every day. We must never forget that behind those huge numbers are personal stories, families and friends mourning in challenging circumstances with social distancing.
In which Vicki Sigston shares her experiences of trying to maintain family order in this strange new world..
As I write this my family are on Day 51 of lockdown. Day 51 of not being able to spend time, in person, with friends and family. Day 51 of work looking very different as I learn to use Zoom, WhatsApp groups and juggle family life with working from home. Day 51 of clubs, sports and hobbies usually done away from home being cancelled.
In which Caitlin Webb considers why our three Medway MPs voted to stop unaccompanied child refugees being reunited with their families..
Any reasonable citizen would hope their representative on an almost £80k salary would vouch for some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
Yet this was put into question for those in Medway in January as their MPs voted against continuing to let unaccompanied child refugees be reunited with their families in the UK.
Rehman Chisti, Tracy Crouch and Kelly Tolhurst all swallowed the Conservative party line voting against an amendment of the Brexit Bill, which would have kept the EU protections so children can continue to come to the UK for safety.
In which Michael Lynch investigates the impact of child poverty on our local communities..
Medway is a brilliant place to be educated, live, and work. Medway is one of the many areas that has suffered the devastating welfare reforms brought in from central government. 30% of Medway children are living in poverty, higher than the national average, which is appalling. The increase in child poverty in Medway and the nation has a direct link to the welfare reforms and cuts that Medway and many other areas have suffered. Thousands of children across Kent are living in poverty.
The government must respond with a credible and urgent response to child poverty in Medway and the wider region. Medway is one of the worst-hit regions in Kent. In Medway the worst ward for child poverty is Gillingham North, where 2916 children are affected by poverty, a shocking statistic. The statistic below posted by KentLive shows that 30% of all children in Medway are affected by poverty, the 4th highest in Kent.
Medway Council must act to solve this crisis that Medway faces. Six out of the ten highest child poverty wards in Kent are in Medway. With the local council failing to act and deal with child poverty in Medway, my local area has seen a continuous and horrendous rise in child poverty.
The UK’s leading child poverty coalition is calling for the government to outline ambitious child poverty-reduction strategies as new data shows that child poverty is becoming the new normal in many parts in Britain, which is shameful. The data, published by the End Child Poverty coalition, highlights how worrying levels vary across Kent and the nation.
The government need to restore the link between benefits (including housing support) and inflation, and then making up for the loss in the real value in children’s benefits as a result of the four year freeze and previous sub-inflation increases in benefit rates. The government needs to end the two-child limit on child allowances in tax credits and universal credit. The government need to reform the Universal Credit system which has plunged millions of families and children into poverty in the UK. The government need to reverse the cuts and investing in children’s services such as mental health, education, childcare, and social care.
There are around four million children growing up in poverty, which isn’t good enough. The poverty rates have risen year after year for every type of working family – lone-parent or couple families, families with full and part-time employment. The figures are stark!
In 2017, four in ten children were in temporary accommodation, around 50,000 children.
The temporary accommodation that thousands of children find themselves in is regularly substandard. Frequently the accommodation is a B&B where often the bathrooms are shared and there is nowhere to cook. Places where vulnerable families can be living in the same corridor. Office block conversions into individual flats that many families live and sleep, the size of a parking space. Even converted shipping containers – cramped and airless, hot in the summer, freezing in the winter. It always seems to be disabled and vulnerable people that of lower priority. Families are disgustingly living in theses horrendous conditions for years. Our housing system needs to be urgently reformed. Child poverty should be a moral endeavour for every government regardless of its political persuasion. I’m afraid to say our government is failing us on this.
A million children – around four in every school class – need help with mental health problems. Over 50,000 children aren’t getting any kind of education, while nearly 30,000 are in violent gangs. Many more children are growing up at risk, due to family circumstances. These are young carers; kids living in households where the adults are involved in substance drug abuse, mentally ill, or violent. These children bear the brunt of the cuts in public spending and services rationing.
I’ve heard more from politicians about: HS2, tax cuts, and of course Brexit, more than about the vital issue of child poverty. Child poverty has been overlooked too long by politicians and the government – enough is enough! We need to see change to Universal Credit; we need more affordable housing, and vulnerable families are not having to live in shipping containers and converted office blocks.
I am calling on Medway Council and central government to prioritise child poverty and tackle it head-on. The welfare reforms and cuts introduced by the government have had a detrimental impact on the most vulnerable children and families in Medway. The government need to take urgent action and prioritise such an important issue in my local community. Child poverty has been brushed under the carpet for too long now, something needs to change! Medway is one of the many towns that have a heavy percentage of child poverty, this has to stop! The failure of central government and councils have led to millions of children and families plunged into poverty, and the government and council need to take responsibility and rectify this urgent situation that Medway and the nation face.
Michael Lynch is a young Labour activist. He has lived in Medway all my life, and believes it’s a great place to live, work. and for education. He is a member of the Medway Youth Council, and is running to be the communities lead in their upcoming elections.
Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Conservative Leader of Medway Council.
THANK YOU TO OUR WONDERFUL NHS STAFF, OUR SOCIAL WORKERS, AND ALL OTHER KEY WORKERS, who put others before themselves! THANK YOU TO OUR WASTE TEAMS AT MEDWAY NORSE FOR KEEPING MEDWAY CLEAN AND HYGIENIC.
So, the coronavirus pandemic moves on. The number of daily deaths has fortunately decreased, which is absolutely no comfort for family and friends of those who have tragically passed on.
At least there is a degree of clarity in the reported numbers, as when we were running at death rates approaching 1,000 a day there was a feeling that these were merely the deaths recorded in hospital. Now the numbers are being reported as all encompassing.
There are of course time-lags in reporting. It is no coincidence that reported numbers fall each weekend, only to climb again once we get into the following week.
Despite the ongoing crisis there has been some very limited relaxation, with the message of STAY AT HOME being modified to STAY ALERT. Some of the territorial restrictions have been lifted, whilst there has been more latitude shown for those engaged in recreation and sport. Team activities are of course still very much in lockdown although we are hoping for better news after 1st June.
In which Stuart Bourne talks us through the Mutual Aid Road Reps Community Initiative, and how such groups might continue in a post-coronavirus world..
It’s fair to say that this country is going through some traumatic times, and yet that trauma has spawned many acts of kindness. We have all seen them, from the wonderful support shown for Captain Tom to the support of the NHS and care workers shown on every Thursday evening. But nothing is more symbolic of this kindness than the multitude of community support groups that have sprung up across the country. These groups have provided a vital service in getting shopping to people, picking up prescriptions, and even providing a person to talk to over the phone. They have reassured people that no one is alone at the moment. I myself have been working with the Mutual Aid Road Reps (MARR) group of volunteers in Medway since March. Yet are these groups just around until the crisis is over, or are we witnessing the start of a revolution of community cooperation and mutualism that will impact our political landscape?
I imagine most of the groups have started very much like ours did. You have one or two people, who are already community spirited, who see the crisis unfolding and know they have to do something. Then there are people who have never thought about volunteering before, but the extreme nature of the crisis has awoken a desire to help that has been dormant inside them. And then you have those people who have been active in the community for years, community leaders, local politicians or charity workers. Years of experience has shown them that there will be a lot of work for people to do. Then all these people end up coming together, normally through social media, and they begin to be organised. There’s a WhatsApp group setup, maybe even a Facebook group. Soon they grow bigger as word is spread, maybe several groups even merge to share resources. Then suddenly before you know it, the ad hoc group has turned in well-funded, well-structured organisation, which is filled with dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers. As of the end of April, MARR has well over 150 registered volunteers from across the Medway towns, with new members joining each day. We are organised into several areas of Medway, with a dedicated Admin officer assigned to organise each area, and with a dedicated WhatsApp group to distribute tasks to people.
This is a lot of people willing to join a brand new organisation, and they are coming from many different backgrounds. Yet, they all seem to be gravitating together under the same simple idea. The idea that COVID-19 threatens the people of community like nothing before, and the only way to fight it is for the community to come together to ensure no one is left behind. But alongside this is the concepts of mutual aid, which has spread from many different groups across the country. Mutual aid is where a group of people organise themselves to meet their own needs, which is outside the formal structure of existing governmental organisations or charities. It’s about people coming together, in a spirit of solidarity, to support and look out for one another. And this emerging feeling of community solidarity isn’t just isolated in those people volunteering. From my experience of talking to the people I’ve helped, there has been a consistent comments of ‘where has this been?’ and ‘once the crisis is over, I hope this keeps going.’ So whether the Covid crisis has created this feeling, or it’s been bubbling under the surface for years, there is a good chance that this will still be around after we have returned to some level of normality.
The next question is where would these groups fit within the political landscape in that new world. This is hard to predict as they have much more longevity than other single issue community groups that have often shaped local elections. An example would be the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, which was formed to fight the civic complex development, but is now haemorrhaging councillors back to the conservatives. It is also hard to predict as the ethos of mutual aid is for communities to take care of themselves outside the normal government control. This makes them oddly politically non-political and wary of working within local politics. Finally, many volunteers are not politically minded and are members to simply help people. It would be far from certainty whether they would switch their time for any other reason.
However, what I can predict is that these groups should not be ignored. From my own experience of MARR, they are filled to the brim with enthusiastic and dedicated people. People who are willing to drop anything to help deliver shopping, prescriptions, and offer a friendly chat to anyone alone. I have seen nearly the whole of Medway leafleted within a month (something many political parties would be jealous of during an election) to make sure no one is forgotten about or missed. And we have had nothing but positive responses from many people, even those who did not need our immediate help have been grateful and appreciative. They have even told me that we have restored their faith in humanity. That sort of political muscle and high favourables would be the envy of any Medway political party, let alone a normal community group.
It is hard to predict what the future will be like in a post-covid world. Yet it’s also hard to imagine that the many community support groups, whose beginnings have been forged in the traumatic world of a pandemic, will not play a major role in shaping that future.
Stuart Bourne became politically active in 2005, helping to re-elect the Chatham & Aylesford MP Jonathan Shaw. He became the branch secretary for Chatham Labour Party, and stood as a Labour candidate for the local council elections in 2007 and 2011. He moved away from Medway in 2012, but has now moved back as a Liberal Democrat.