Isn’t this the question of our time?
We can all swap stories about this shared experience but in truth each one of us has experienced it in a different way.
The effect of the Coronavirus Pandemic will continue for some time (years?) to come and has already hit some very hard. I know of several people who are at risk of redundancy and many freelancers who have seen their income completely dry up. Like a giant game of Jenga, the heritage, arts, hospitality and retail sectors seem ready to topple as the precarious financial support put into place by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is gradually removed.
What was it like for me?
Pre-Covid19, I worked from home and used a co-working space 2-3 times a week. I would attend meetings locally and in London. I used my freedom as a freelancer to get to exercise classes a couple of times a week. For me from March onward the world shrunk, as it has for everyone, to my home office. The confinement was made worse by an accident at Easter where I scalded my foot badly so I couldn’t even walk very far!
So what was it really like for me?
The good thing about being a freelancer is the variety of places and people and the projects you work on. In March I was involved in preparing two applications to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and in evaluating another building project which was due to open this summer. The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s closure of all new applications stopped the two projects I was working on in their tracks and so far there seems to be no prospect of these funds reopening while understandably they deal with the devastating impact of Coronavirus on the Heritage sector. Thankfully, one of these clients is keen to work with me on alternate schemes so it’s not all doom and gloom. The third project has been continuing but understandably delayed. This has impacted on both my workload and finances. I am fortunate to have two ongoing clients and I am thankful to both of these for keeping my bank account out of the red. I didn’t qualify for the government self-employed scheme because I had a substantial PAYE project in the qualifying year.
I thrive on being busy and enjoy the buzz of juggling appointments, deadlines and workload and that’s what I missed most. The lack of variety of work and appointments which punctuate the week and provide points to bounce off and help to organise your time made it difficult for me sometimes to focus and led to lower levels of motivation. A Zoom meeting doesn’t provide the same level of energy as bouncing ideas around in a face to face meeting. I missed the side conversations which both provide social bonding and also help to fill in the gaps, something you don’t get in the slightly clunky online format.
As the days all merged into one I found it hard to keep the momentum up and maintain my self motivation. I’ve had to really try hard to update lists and keep looking ahead to ensure that deadlines are not missed and at the same time try to protect weekends so that work didn’t stretch across the full 7 days of the week and I didn’t lose track of time completely.
It’s not all bad though...
Like everyone, once my foot healed, I was able to enjoy walks in our semi-rural town. We live literally on the edge of town and on the edge of the Salisbury Plain. To post a letter I can take a route either through an unmanaged wood and along a country track or along a busy A road. The choice is easy… It was great to take time to note the changing the season blossom changing to fruits and crops growing from green shoots to golden wheat and barley. The bird sound and the variety of flowers in the hedgerows. Enjoying the views. It was also a time to discover the back routes and tracks in and around the town where I live and trying to ditch the car. My garden too has benefited and I have found a lot of solace in my greenhouse completed not long before Lockdown.
Like everyone else I’ve had to up my digital game and learn new skills and platforms quickly. In my other life I am a Churchwarden and along with Zoom services we’ve moved to YouTube and Mailchimp and made much greater use of the website – all of which I manage. I’m still learning, always my favoured method to learn a new skill; learning by doing. The Facebook account has also been more active too. Learning these skills with a lot of older retired people has had its funny moments but many have adapted very quickly to these new technologies.
Though I have missed the fixed points in the diary that appointments and meetings create and I have found this made it difficult to keep up focus and motivation, NOT having a lot of things in my diary was also freeing to a certain degree and allowed for more time at home to enjoy the garden and do a few home projects like the dress I started and nearly finished 5 years ago! I just wish the charity shops were open so I could get rid of more clutter…
I am a follower of the inspirational duo who run the Museum Freelance Network, Marge Ainsley and Christina Lister. They have both been freelance in the sector for several years and have been doing a great deal to champion the needs of freelancers working in the heritage sector: check out their website for some great Covid19 related resources. I caught the Being Freelance Podcast with Marge Ainsley which came out in July. This gave me pause for thought. I needed to do something about the sense of drifting without much focus on the future and Marge talked about taking a whole month off to take stock of her business and think about what she wanted for the future. I wasn’t quite ready to take off a whole month but I could manage a couple of days. As I am drafting this Blog I have just completed two days away from home, fully catered in a retreat house. They feed me at regular intervals and the rest of the time I have been able to look at my diary for the rest of the year, think about what areas I would like to focus on and how I can do that. It’s been great and I so needed a holiday as I haven’t been away since February.
My plans include taking a half a day each week to do some personal study and reflection to keep up my skills, learn new things and do some research to ensure that I am up to date with my practice. I hope that the new structures I have planned work out and bed in. Life is so uncertain at the moment but I am determined to learn some new habits!