– Being apart is bringing us closer together –

by Sally Northeast

Suki in springtimeEverything feels different now doesn’t it? But actually some things are the same. My dog walk, for example. Every day I’m religiously taking the air with the hound, just like I did before COVID-19. It’s even more important now as I strive to stay well so I can play my part to help manage the impact of the situation on my NHS trust and our communities.

I see the regulars out walking on Canford Heath, joined by lots of people who weren’t there before. People who maybe didn’t go out walking with their families but, in a time of social distancing and self-isolation, suddenly realise the importance of some fresh air and time out of the house.

Everyone’s being very good and keeping 2 metres away from each other, but they’re doing it with humour, camaraderie and a building sense of ‘we’re all in this together’. This is one silver lining shimmering round the dark cloud of a world in the grip of coronavirus.

Another silver lining is the break-neck speed with which people are now having to grasp technology and different ways of working. While many businesses will be adversely affected by the situation, others – like purveyors of digital collaboration platforms – will fly.

Two examples of this in my personal world (there are many more in my professional life at the moment too):

  • My sister and I bought our 81 year old mum a Kindle Fire a couple of years ago. She uses it to look at Facebook, send emails and shop on Amazon but that’s been about it. When I realisedsocially distant mother's day how things were going to go I popped over last weekend and installed Skype, set her up on it and added us all in as contacts. We’ve had several Skype calls which I think is a real boost for her while she can’t go out (this threat to my still-driving, fiercely independent mama’s freedom is the biggest challenge for her right now).
  • Our wonderful #unplugged community has been a whirl of WhatsApp and Twitter messages and posts. The WhatsApp groups have been super active since they were created but that’s gone up a notch now with everyone sharing ideas, tips, support, woes, moans, fears and love. A lot more selfie videos are being shared too as well as beautiful, uplifting springtime pictures. For some reason, since the first Comms Unplugged in 2017, it’s never occurred to us to try video calling. But last night eight of us had a virtual Saturday night in together, glasses of wine, cider or tonic in hand, our Comms Unplugged music man Tom Clements playing on Facebook Live from his lounge because he couldn’t play his gig in the pub. It was just wonderful to see and chat to everyone and continue to build those amazing connections we made in the field.

unpluggers' great night inThe five steps to wellbeing are even more important in these strange and worrying times, so here are a few ideas for weaving them into the ‘new normal’:

Connect – this is the biggie, and there are so many ways to do it even if you’re physically separated from people. Via the wonders of Skype, Zoom and other solutions you could have a virtual lunch with someone, spend the evening in with friends (in your own houses), share things that make people smile and keep them going.

Take notice – things are not as we know them right now so be mindful, take notice of how you and others are feeling, just notice the beautiful things in the world around us, the wonderful arrival of spring, the birds singing, the way people are adapting. Being in the moment and trying not to fret about what happens next will really help.

Be active – spring has sprung and most of us can still enjoy it. Going for a walk, cycle or run in the fresh air is still OK. Closed gyms are running virtual classes for people to do at home. I’ll probably be getting the Wii Fit board out again soon – I’ve kinda missed it actually!

Keep learning – online learning has been growing hugely in recent years so now’s the time to take advantage of what’s on offer. You can do courses and webinars, and listen to podcasts (don’t forget #CUontheair – we’ve paused it at the moment while we get back on an even keel but there are plenty of back episodes to enjoy). We’re also cooking up some initiatives to support our unplugged community – more information soon. The biggest thing we’ll all learn actually is about ourselves, how we can and will rise to the challenge we face and come out the other side.

Give – there’s some truly wonderful giving happening as people rally round to support vulnerable members of the community and companies support NHS workers and the public sector in general to keep the wheels on and keep going. What can you get involved in? I’m continuing to send #somethinginthepost to at least one person every week – who do you know who would appreciate a little pick-me-up, however small, to lift their spirits on the darker days?five steps to wellbeing

I have to say, both at work and at home I’m already feeling closer to so many people as we pull together in this mammoth joint effort to manage the challenge we face. I hope we always remember, when we look back on this, how being apart brought us closer together. And I hope we stay that way.

Sally is one of the three co-creators of Comms Unplugged. She is Deputy Director for OD, Participation and Communications for Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust.