The social work apprenticeship started in Norfolk in January 2020. This was exciting and anxiety provoking and, over the first few weeks, we settled to some sort of rhythm of balancing work, study, family and life in general. We had formed some friendships and relationships within the apprentice group and in our work settings.
By late February 2020, Coronavirus – or COVID-19 – began to intrude on most of our daily conversations. It was the elephant in the room, making things feel uncomfortable and hovering over us. Talking to people around me, I think most of us were guilty of thinking it would be a storm in a teacup. I could certainly never have prepared myself for how overwhelmingly different the world was going to be, or how all the things I took for granted were about to be taken away.
Mid-March 2020, just three short months into our new roles, college closed its doors as did our offices. We were going to have to find ‘new ways of working’, words that struck fear into my very core. Every day that passed brought new changes and new danger and I began to feel overwhelmingly sad and anxious, quite opposite to how I felt at the start of the apprenticeship.
I felt sad for people dying in large numbers of this ‘invisible’ killer which seemed indiscriminate in its rampage through the population of the world. I felt sad and angry in equal measures for the effect on the human rights of so many – right to liberty, right to family life, right to education, right to freedom from discrimination (this last one particularly in respect of abuse of Asian people as the cause of the virus). I felt sad for children and adults for whom home is not the safest place, forced into lockdown with their abusers without escape or support.
I felt angry with people for stockpiling and particularly when I read a social media post of a lady who had come across a bewildered man in Aldi who told her this was the third shop he had been to that day to get just basic items. He was so worried as he had left his wife (who had dementia) to do the shopping and he had been three hours instead of the usual one. He hoped his wife would be ok, but honestly, he didn’t know. This kindly person lent him her phone so he could call to check and helped him find the items he needed in a very unfamiliar store so that he could get home. What a relief that not everyone is as selfish and self-absorbed as it had started to seem.
The ‘Clap for Carers’ seemed a lovely idea, however this led to some vilification of those who did not partake, being called out on social media and in person. I even read of people being told if they did not clap they did not deserve to be treated if they fell ill. How short people’s memories are when in February after the death of Caroline Flack, the hashtag #bekind trended widely and we were encouraged to think about our actions and how they could affect others.
I think for myself, having found it hard to integrate into my new team at work and only just getting to know my fellow apprentices, I felt isolated and totally alone. I knew I could speak to people but honestly, I didn’t want to. I have heard others talk of how they have adapted to working from home and now prefer it, but not me and I felt that it was best if I kept quiet because people get tired of the negativity and don’t want to hear it.
I miss driving to work, that time that is just for me, listening to audiobooks or the Stereophonics up loud. I miss the structure of the day and routine has gone out of the window. I miss the real action of social work, seeing people, supporting decisions, helping to change things for good. I miss my friends and I am afraid that the time when I might be able to see them properly again is a very long way in the future.
We ‘soldier on’, we move forward, we do the ‘new normal’, we adapt, we change, we learn and we grow. We have no choice. Good things will come from the changes I am sure, but bad things probably will too. And, what worries me most is that the ‘bad’ will affect the most disadvantaged in society – people with physical or learning disabilities, people who are mentally ill, those who are young, old, poverty stricken, homeless, or people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. What I am positive of (if I can be of anything right now), is that we, the social workers of the future, have a responsibility to help those who need us most to live well in the new world.