As the UK grapples to deal with COVID-19 we have become more reliant than ever on the frontline workers that hold up our services and support our communities. We hosted a Digital ThinkIn in partnership with Tortoise Media, Tortoise ‘ThinkIns’ bring different people together to debate the latest thing in the news. This ThinkIn was all about listening to the unheard stories of the coronavirus pandemic.
This ThinkIn was chaired by Merope Mills, Editor and Partner, Tortoise and featured four speakers from the Being the Story Spokesperson Network; Sue James, Simeon Moore, Marissa Begonia and Darren Murinas, as well as bringing in different voices throughout. It was attended by 150+ people, and here’s what we learnt:
Is Coronavirus a leveller?
An interesting question to start with, and the answer was essentially a no. We heard from a vast range of perspectives that showed the impact this is having on already vulnerable communities, from homeless individuals, migrant domestic workers in precarious employment, refugees in camps and detention centres, and sex workers. A really important point raised by Maff Potts, Camerados was that many people have no access to Wi-Fi, meaning they are harder hit by isolation, unable to connect and keep in touch online, something a lot of us take for granted in this time. Through our network we have seen this even pre-pandemic, when poverty means access to old or limited tech, and no access to Wi-Fi or data to go about daily tasks, and stay connected.
#Operationwifi is a campaign to lift restrictions to Wi-Fi for people who don’t have access to Wi-Fi. Sign the petition here.
Staying home, when your home is at risk
Polly Neate, Chief Exec at Shelter put it poignantly when she said ‘we’re all told to stay at home on assumption that we all have a place to live in which all of these groups don’t have’. Sue James, the Supervising Solicitor for Housing for the Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre spoke on the reality of housing evictions. Although headlines on the government preventing new evictions were pleasing, many aren’t aware of the current procedure that means there are 6-8 weeks of listed cases still to go to court. That means courts full of people will still convene. And with a 40% reduction in funding for the justice system, courts are underfunded. Sue said one court has had no hot water for a year, too often you see courts with no soap, no hand dryer, no towels. She spoke of a pregnant woman and someone with Lupus who turned up to save their homes. People with masks turning up with symptoms saying they felt they had to turn up to save their homes.
We also heard from Paul Atherton, he’s homeless, and had been staying with 150 others at Heathrow Airport. Since the ThinkIn last night, he’s told us Heathrow Airport has now been closed, and all the homeless people there are heading to council offices and are uncertain of what will happen.
Vulnerable Children are at Greater Risk
Journalist Louise Tickle highlighted that vulnerable children are at a greater risk, for example families with two households, with no social care oversight. Louise wrote this piece for the Guardian on how care experienced children face uncertainty with fewer foster carers, and the risk of children’s home staff unable to work. Cathy Ashley, Chief Exec at the Family Rights Group also echoed that care leavers are likely to be exceptionally isolated during this time.
Fears of Freedom
Simeon Moore, writer, musician, and advocate for young people was formerly a member of a notorious Birmingham gang, he now works to tackle what he sees as the glamorisation of gang culture. He believes that crime in the short term could go down, that violence will drop between the youth as we’re facing a bigger problem but the more pressure they’re put under the more likely people are to act out. Interestingly, he said that a lot of the people he’s spoken to have spoken more about losing their freedoms than the fears of the virus itself. Because they don’t understand what’s going on, they’re scared. Misinformation is a big issue; social media is spreading fear and this needs to be addressed.
Protecting Vulnerable Workers
Marissa Begonia is a domestic worker and founding member of The Voice of Domestic Workers, a charity calling for justice and rights for Britain’s 16,000 overseas domestic workers. It also mounts rescues for domestic workers stuck with abusive employers. She said CoronaVirus and isolation has affected domestic workers in two main ways; some are asked to stay at home in their workplace, if they go out, they risk losing their jobs and some are not being given food from employers. Those who can’t go to their workplace, or whose employment has been terminated have not received their salary. There is no certainty they’ll go back to work after the virus. To help address this Marissa has been crowdfunding to create a hardship fund, and as of Monday they’ve started to deliver food to those who cannot go out. But she fears this is not sustainable.
Blue Fawkes from Umbrella Lane, a charity working with sex workers said they’re being asked by their beneficiaries how can they keep safe? how can they make enough money to pay the bills? Some sex workers are registered as self-employed so may be able to access support from the government, but many aren’t. They’re also fundraising to provide a hardship fund.
Protecting Vulnerable Communities
We heard from Darren Murinas, CEO of Expert Citizens who support people experiencing multiple disadvantage (a combination of mental ill-health, homelessness, addiction and offending). Many of the people they work with are on universal credit and have been impacted by panic buying. They can only shop when their money comes through and with empty shelves at supermarkets, they’re forced into independent shops on housing estates that are hiking prices.
Phil Parkes, who volunteers at Expert Citizens is 11 months sober, and says that social structuring of his day and volunteering has kept him focused on his recovery. Having that social interaction and not being caught up in his own head has helped him stay sober, and not having that has been a struggle as he is currently in social isolation. He wrote this blog on how he’s keeping well.
The hour was thought-provoking and it was brilliant to hear from such a range of voices, and to hear these stories that often go unheard in the mainstream media. What became really clear to us was not just the importance of a platform like this to share these stories but also the real need to look out for and look after the welfare and wellbeing of leaders with lived experience who are supporting their communities, but who are also often exposed or vulnerable themselves. We hope to have more conversations like this, and to keep people connected in this isolating time. And to seek out how else we can be supporting communities during this pandemic.
Please do let us know your thoughts on the conversation, watch the full ThinkIn here:
About Tortoise Media
Tortoise Media is a very different kind of news organisation that launched a year ago. Tortoise is building a different type of newsroom, for a slower, wiser news. Tortoise partners with community groups and charities across the country to bring a wide range of people into our conversations, people who aren’t usually put at the forefront of the news agenda.
Find out more about Tortoise and subscribe to their membership https://www.tortoisemedia.com/
We’re an award-winning digital storytelling organisation. We have a passion for storytelling and amplifying the voices of people with lived experience who are using their experiences to find solutions for change. We help organisations to navigate the changing media climate and harness the opportunities that social media offers. We also work to connect charities and the media together to build long-term relationships. We build confidence and knowhow through practical, hands-on training, create powerful content that engages and inspires people into action and amplifies the voices of people and issues that are under-represented in mainstream media. www.sounddelivery.org.uk