'Lockdown: Our greatest challenge, but in a sense our greater triumph' 

A group of women use the Zoom video conferencing application to have a group chat from their separat

Not everyone has the tools to join in Zoom chats - Credit: PA

With almost 100 family carers, all with loved ones to support around the clock, a £1,600 council grant and kind donations from well-wishers, our self-help Carers Coffee Morning group has managed to keep going each week without a break. It will be our 10-year anniversary next March.

As with so many other volunteer groups, the lockdown proved our greatest challenge, but in a sense became our greater triumph.   

People with learning disabilities suffered disproportionately in the lockdown. Many, often with their elderly carers, had no access to computers, found Zoom impossible and needed the warmth of real companionship to stay well. With many of their day centres shut down, carers found themselves with only a tiny fraction of the support they were used to.  

Sue Hessel is prepared to wrap up and attend a carol service in the garden.

Sue Hessel is worried about the impact The Mary Feilding Guild Care Home story could have on us all - Credit: Sue Hessel

So although we offered Zoom coffee mornings throughout, we also did everything we could, working within a backdrop of ever-changing lockdown laws, to meet in person as far as possible.

We brought the coffee morning to the carers, greeting them on their doorsteps with food bags brimming with treats, kindly donated by Crouch End Waitrose. 

A year ago we began to meet again in the fresh air of Priory Park, with coffee and cake from Flora and Sokol’s café, next to the paddling pool. We had a socially distanced summer lunch and picnics, and were joined by councillors and Catherine West MP. Despite a few testing moments (February was especially cold!) we kept going, rain or shine, week in, week out.

There are two government policies which really helped us during this time.  

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First, support groups for the most vulnerable were exempted from some rules, allowing 15 people (socially distanced) to meet.  

Second, a vaccination rollout policy that prioritised the weak and not the strong, sent a message to carers that not only were they important and deserved protection, but for once put them right at the front of the queue.  

There is a lovely Irish blessing, “May The Road Rise Up To Meet you”. Just occasionally there is a moment, often in a dark time, when we can look back and think, well, maybe it really has. 

Sue Hessell is a campaigner in Crouch End.