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Socially Connected Leeds: Work-life balance during Covid 19

Added: 20/05/2020

This post is part of a series of blogs sharing good news stories, positive practice and the range of innovative ways communities in Leeds are remaining connected through neighbourliness.

A version of this blog was first published in the Burmantofts & Richmond Hill Mutual Aid Group

I have always been a believer in the phrase ‘the personal is political’ for me meaning that how you act personally has political consequences and you should therefore ‘walk the talk’, and of course that what happens politically has direct personal impact. I have also in my career blurred the lines between work and personal life.

This has been possible because I have had the privilege of working my whole adult life for Adult Social Care in Leeds, from Care Assistant to my present role, and if working in care is about anything, it is about making a difference to people’s lives, often supporting those most marginalised or discriminated against in society and this of course reflects the values of Leeds City Council and my own principles. This blurring has been taken further as the areas of my responsibility at work developed, in particular to have been lucky enough to be directly involved in work around: promoting equality; championing the cause of older people; developing mental health support services, supporting migrants and refugees, and even work around bringing together the worlds of arts and health and wellbeing.

All things that I am involved in outside of work in my personal life, or through campaigning on equality issues, so it has been great to be doing this through work as well. And over the last few years I have been particularly involved in work in the council with the third sector and community groups around nurturing what is happening within, and the potential of, communities themselves to lead change.

This, within my working life, is known as Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). ABCD is based on: The assumption that, given the tools and the opportunity, small groups of local residents can change the things that they believe need changing in their community better than anyone else. You can find out more about ABCD in Leeds by watching this short film: 

And I have recently written about ABCD and Covid 19 in this blog:  but here I want to focus on how Covid 19 is further blurring the lines between people’s work and personal life even further, and maybe that is not a bad thing.

Because of my work involvement in ABCD and gaining greater understanding of the potential of communities, as shown in these regular Doing Good #TogetherLeeds blogs the examples in the film above, or the work done by the Migrant Access Project in Leeds  and much more across the city, I have started to look at how to apply this personally – as I said ‘Walk the Talk’ – and where better to start than your own street?

So over the last few months I started to deliberately speak to neighbours more as part of a plan to propose a street party, to be honest, I was less interested in the party itself, and more what could come out of it. I was thinking: a ‘What’s App’ group, to equipment share, to ensuring older people on the street were supported etc. However, all this has now been accelerated, not by me, but how neighbours are coming together to respond to Covid 19.

It started small, with the ‘Clap for Carers’, which became not just that deserved recognition of front line workers but also a recognition of each other, a chance to say hi, to check neighbours were OK and a moment of solidarity. That quickly grew to people starting to sit outside their houses on the street in the evening (despite us all lucky enough to have gardens at the back) – Chatting to each other, offering support (we now have shared booze deliveries!) and recently sharing food (all through physical distancing) and you can feel this growing, so no longer just a street party, but plans for barbeques, sharing garden spaces, cocktail evenings, and shared child care all being talked about, and through this making sure everyone on the street is involved and connected – this is ABCD in action.

But the other way that Covid 19 is blurring work and personal life, and very much the personal is political, is that it is a crisis which is impacting on us all, much more than any other event I can remember in my life.

Of course, this hugely varies, my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones, my deep admiration for those working on the front line be that NHS, Social Care, homelessness, bus drivers and more, or recognising the incredible extra work my colleagues in adults and health are doing and of course noting those as usual are bearing the brunt – the poorer members of society.  

I think all of this collectively is affecting us, this is in addition to our individual circumstances ( I for example am part of the shielded group and am stuck at home and will be for a long time – though am privileged to have a garden, money and support). And of course this comes at a cost, and I am very aware of colleagues under huge stress, are fatigued, and of course are themselves worried about their health and in particular that of their families.

But I would suggest, this crisis and our experiences of it also comes with an opportunity, because what this crisis is doing is raising the lid on the inequalities within our society, and at the same time giving many people a sense of that inequality as a personal experience for the first time.

We need to seize those experiences and use them to inform how we work and how we live our personal life in the future as we come out of this crisis. The biggest tragedy of Covid 19 would be if we don’t use these experiences and the knowledge gained to change things for the better

Mick Ward

Chief Officer — Transformation and Innovation

Leeds City Council

(Leeds born and bred)


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