A big Thank you!

Two weeks ago we published the Communication Report: Home in the Time of Coronavirus.

“Congratulations on this report! What good voices and what good ideas!” from Argentina

We are very happy to see the great reception it has had. We have received hundreds of messages thanking us for this compilation of articles and testimonials. But the thanks are mutual. We are also very grateful to all the participants for not hesitating for a minute to say “Yes” to our proposal, and to all of you for receiving our news with such affection.

Many of the contributors to the Report have opened their hearts and closely shared what this quarantine means for them. This has allowed us to know more about what this virus is demanding of us as a society and as individuals. Without a doubt, the home has recovered its place as a vital centre and we must learn from the mistakes made before the virus.

“HRF is doing a fantastic job, furthermore, I enjoy the posts a lot. We are all in this together” from Thailand

The Report is a document that requires leisurely reading. We know that many of you have left the Report on file to read over the weekend. We remind you that there are six different chapters and that in them you can see how the different sectors have been facing the pandemic.

Those who have turned their home into a workplace, those who have made their offices into their homes as key workers. Those who have had enormous difficulties in surviving this situation because they live with people with disabilities who cannot stop receiving their therapies. But also those who are homeless, have lost their homes, and those whose homes are not safe places to live.

“Many congratulations on your report it represents an enormous effort on your part with a wonderful outcome which is entirely appropriate for these extraordinary times” from the UK

Covid19 has caused so many tragic deaths, but it has helped us to see the value of home. Our home now and always should be that place where one feels safe, cared for and loved. At HRF we are not going to stop working every day so that every human being has the chance to be born and grow in a stable and supportive home.

“I want to congratulate you for this very thoughtful initiative to produce a documentary about the Home and the context of the current pandemic” from Portugal

The Value of Home Work

During this period of lockdown the internet has been buzzing with the activities that people have found helpful, therapeutic, or at least a welcome distraction at this time. There is no surprise that reading has proved popular,  along with learning new subjects and skills and watching some of the great live-streamed concerts and shows. More surprising, perhaps, has been the number of “quiz nights” taking place. This is possibly because it gives a context and purpose to our virtual social gatherings – or a substitute for all those missing competitive sport.

Most popular of all, though, has been work in the home. This has varied from ambitious DIY projects to long-postponed smaller endeavours, such as finally tidying the cupboard under the stairs.  In the UK, the news that B&Q was to reopen brought queues of householders, keen to buy equipment and materials to complete the home improvements they had embarked upon.

There are many reasons for this. One of the most obvious ones is that we have all been spending so much time at home that we have noticed that the hall really needs painting or that window fixing. It’s the same recognition that firms that sell sofas have when they bombard TV with adverts at Christmas, reckoning that we’ve all been sitting on our old sofas long enough to be persuaded to buy a new one.

In certain gift shops, you can often find a small, circular plate for sale with this message printed on them: “I am a ROUND TUIT – now you can do all those jobs you said you’d do when you got me!” In our homes, during quarantine or lockdown, there are few excuses for not “getting around to it” and hence the burgeoning maintenance activity in our homes.

There is something else too, something less tangible but more important. Janice Turner, a journalist writing in The Times, touched on this last week in her article “Is there a gadget that makes your family clean?”. Aside from some humour about task sharing, Turner notices the satisfaction that comes from really cleaning something properly. Be it the fridge, the windows or the kitchen floor, the drudgery aspect of cleaning that we felt when we had so much else to do, is replaced by a sense of calm and even pleasure.

It is easy to mock this realization and to see it as “what we are reduced to” in lockdown. Whereas, in fact, it is what is raised to our notice – not our dirty windows, but the physical and mental benefits of sorting them out. Anthropologists and psychologists will note the in-built need of humans to create safe spaces for ourselves and our dependents. Maintaining the safety and protective environment of our homes, as we have been forced to as a response to the coronavirus, has made explicit this implicit need.

The pleasure we might get from a clean fridge and mended windows is not just about a passing sense of achievement, but about caring for ourselves  (and many of us do find ourselves on our own at this time) and those we are sharing our homes with. Sharing that care, passing skills on to the next generation, transforms and renews not only these tasks but us in the process.

Amidst all the anxiety and the background “noise” of these strange days let us hope that the connection between our homes and our well-being is recognised – and that this stays with us when our doors open again.

Intergenerational Care in the time of Covid-19

One of the emerging themes of the current crisis is the awareness of a previous undervaluing of carers. As one carer has put it, “We have gone from ‘low-skilled’ workers to ‘key’ workers in less than a month – but our jobs remain the same, caring for the most vulnerable in our society.”

CARE is the simple word that will be on the new badges to be worn by workers in this sector, in recognition of what they do, and for the rest of us to recognise them as they go about their work. This simple word “care” is also a very precious one, but it has been open to misuse, or at least misapprehension in recent years.

Children removed from their birth parents in the UK are frequently described as “looked-after children”, or having been “taken into care”. Reports, and criminal trials, have shown that in many cases being looked after or shown care is far from what these youngsters have actually experienced. Using the word “care” hardly guarantees that this is what is being offered. This is no criticism of individual children and youth service social workers, but a fault-line in the whole of society’s responsibility to its most vulnerable members.

Care Homes are associated most often with the elderly and sufferers from dementia, but in fact a wide-range of needs and age of residents makes up this sector. Stories and coverage in the press in recent days have given a voice to those managing, under extremely difficult conditions, to keep these residents safe and indeed cared for. To this observer at least, the quiet, professional dignity and genuine compassion shown by care workers has been humbling and revealing.

For these are the people who do the jobs that many of us either cannot or will not do. The phrase “personal care” covers all the basic needs of keeping someone clean, fed and comfortable, but it is also about becoming a trusted presence in that person’s life while these intimate tasks are undertaken. To see this care as “low-skilled” is to misunderstand not just the value of care, but the meaning of being human.

On our screens have been carers, usually younger, often immigrant, almost always women, talking not about their pay, or their grievances, but about their worries for the people they are looking after. This intergenerational care is especially poignant at the moment, as the statistics for this disease tell of a stark age differential. The older and more infirm you are the more likely Covid-19 infection is to be fatal.

This has led to 1.5 million primarily older people to have been instructed to self-isolate for at least three months. The pattern of living in the UK means that for many of these 1.5 million it will be at least three months without seeing children or grandchildren. Those families who live with older relatives may have even more troubling concerns – how to protect grandparents while some household members have to go to out to work.

Bryan Sanderson CBE, Chairman of Home Renaissance Foundation offers a positive personal insight into this time as he acknowledges that social-distancing from grandchildren is particularly hard if, as his family are, we are used to spending time together. The new technology is a life-line, and keeping in contact via facetime, skype or zoom, makes this deeply unsettling time more bearable. Those needing care now, have all been caregivers in the past. Remembering our interconnectedness and our interdependence stops care becoming someone else’s responsibility and returns to its place at the heart of our lives and our homes.

We cannot yet see what the aftermath of this crisis will hold, but whatever else changes and is never the same again after Covid-19, let us hope that the undervaluing of care and carers are at the top of the list.

Groundhog Day

By Antonio Argandoña

Groundhog Day is a classic film from the 90s in which Phil (Bill Murray), an arrogant and frustrated meteorologist who works in television, is sent to a small Pennsylvanian town on February 2 for the annual Groundhog event, which involves a groundhog supposedly foreseeing the exact date of the arrival of spring. But when the reluctant newsman awakes the next morning it is February 2 again without any change in circumstances, as some may feel is happening with Covid-19 forcing us to stay locked up all day at home.

The film portrays the despair of Phil, who hopes that circumstances will bring him the happiness he desires. But the circumstances do not change and since he knows what will happen each day, he takes advantage of others; he tries to dazzle Rita, his new producer (Andy McDowell), and commits suicide multiple times, only to wake up again every morning, again on groundhog day. Finally, he changes his attitude and begins to worry about others: he saves a child who falls from a tree, he studies medicine to save the life of a homeless person … the people of the town appreciate him, he confesses his love for Rita, who accepts him … and finally he wakes up on February 3.

The film contains some messages for us, confined to our homes. Let us develop our virtues every day. Let us promote knowledge through curiosity. Do not trust in good luck, but in our effort. And, like Phil with Rita, we will discover that virtue is what makes us really kind … and we will break the groundhog day spell. We cannot control the circumstances, but we can control ourselves.