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The Museum Team in Lockdown

Blog Post 27th May 2020

The Museum Team in Lockdown

Abingdon Museum has been closed for two months now, since the government ordered the closure of such public venues to contain the spread of Coronavirus. Staff and volunteers have stayed at home. To keep in touch with our audience, the museum has been active on social media, a new YouTube channel and of course this blog. But how are the people faring? How do staff and volunteers experience life in lockdown? Here some of the museum team share their stories, which tell of the challenges of daily life in lockdown, but also the positives.

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Museum volunteer Janet Douglas has been “locked down” in the Old Gaol:

Well, we ‘Oldies’ are in the right place for lockdown, as we are in a secure gated complex!

Around March 23rd the vulnerable age group, and those with health issues, were advised to self-isolate for 12 weeks. There are younger working residents, but our ages range from 94 years of age to late 60s and retired.

How will we all cope?   Well, quite a few of us have an online delivery service, some have family to help, but kindly, three of our younger residents immediately offered to do any shopping and deliver any papers.  They are still as enthusiastic as from the start of lockdown in March, and are greatly appreciated.

But what about prescriptions, going to the Post Office, urgent supplies or just a friendly chat on the phone?

A local organisation in the very early days called ABINGDON CORONAVIRUS COMMUNITY RESPONSE came to the rescue. In addition, ABIMEDS from The Abingdon Freewheeling Cycle Club volunteer to collect and deliver our prescriptions from the three local chemists.

Exercise is important for our health and mind.  Radio and television have fitness programmes to guide us through gentle exercise, but there have been few aches and pains in the beginning from the over-zealous use of unused muscles, but we are now being more sensible and reminded of our age!

We still have a few more weeks to go in self-isolation, or maybe more, who knows, but time seems to be going very quickly. Catching up with all those ‘been meaning to do jobs’, taking up online learning, continuing online art classes, learning a new language, reading more, doing more brain stimulating puzzles and crosswords.  Importantly, keeping in daily contact with families via Facebook, Zoom, WhatsApp and other social media, as the Government Guidelines meant we could not personally meet our families and grandchildren, although at the time of writing, the guidelines have relaxed a little.

What have I learnt so far from this threatening, invisible Coronavirus affecting our lives on a daily basis: the IMMEDIATE speed in which volunteers came forth, and organisations set up to help the housebound, the aged and disabled.  

A memory that I shall never forget from the early weeks, before total lock down, has been the greed and selfishness of the human race caused through panic buying.  So many shelves in supermarkets and local shops were stripped bare of items such as pasta, baked beans, tinned tomatoes, hand sanitisers and wipes etc. and LAVATORY ROLLS.  

We can probably all remember seeing an exhausted nurse interviewed on television after finishing her 14 hour night shift and not finding enough food, fruit etc for her family.  From that very moving clip, NHS workers were given specific priority slots to shop in a supermarket. Then, the elderly and disabled were given priority in the same way, and this is still in existence.

Panic buying has eased up as the weeks progress, but flour, caster sugar and eggs for home baking have been in short supply as more families are finding ways to occupy their home-schooled children.

We have very few babies and only one school-aged child living in the Old Gaol, and up until very recently there were no visiting grandchildren.  There has been little surrounding noise beyond our walls, as all schools are closed, with the exception of key workers’ children being allowed to attend.

Thursday evening at 8 pm a tradition was started for the Nation, when we go out onto our balconies, front doors or clap through our windows.  It is a thank you to our dedicated and exhausted NHS doctors and nurses who have struggled to save the lives and the many thousand whom they could not. The other essential services are also acknowledged adding our gratitude, and reminding us of how deadly Covid 19 is in our community. 

We are so fortunate in having such picturesque grounds to exercise and walk around, but of course, keeping our social distance!

We can hear less traffic noise, and we are now more aware of the joy of the birds singing. So, if the Coronavirus has taught us all one thing, it is to value of our lives and to appreciate our friendly and kind neighbours, some of whom we have never met before the lock down and during these testing times in The Old Gaol.

 

One museum staff member has been worried about family, but found solace in the wildlife which visits the garden and has found a way of connecting the two:

This pandemic has had a big impact on all our daily routine lives mentally and physically. I started to be concerned since the Coronavirus started to spread in Italy, where my mum lives on her own in my hometown. Like many others, all our family had to deal with the lockdown anxiety, and it was particularly hard for my mum as being at risk for her age and health condition. One of the toughest things was the realisation that now we may not see each other for a very long time, and this hit us dramatically. As the Italian lockdown was the strictest, it was a real struggle for mum, as being an outdoor person who enjoys her daily seashore walks accompanied by her dog. Spending the isolation period in her second-floor apartment, with only two small balconies and being allowed to walk the dog out only on her road for a length of 200 metres, all this felt quite a trap particularly on sunny days.

I spent the lockdown in my house here in UK, and the fact of having a garden gives me some psychological wellbeing, but at the same time I was very worried for my mum’s mental health. During every call she remarked how she wished to be with me and also be able to enjoy a bit of nature and sunshine. Therefore, to get some of the anxiety out of both our systems, I let her experience my garden with its wildlife visitors and ‘take her’ with me during my daily walks.

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The regular visitors were a flock of starlings who enjoyed feasting on my garden worms, snails, and insects. There is a short time to see them before they fly away again, and as my working station is next to the patio window I am always able to spot visiting wildlife straight away, and call my mum promptly to watch them together. They visited almost every day, and observing the bird flock silently from behind the window was like watching a live nature documentary. And we ask ourselves, how they could eat a whole long worm in one go?

Other visitors spotted were stunning diurnal moths I had never seen before.

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The most lady-like, and often mistaken for a butterfly, was the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae), named after the red mineral cinnabar for the red stripe and patches on its black wings. The Cinnabar Moths are day-flying species and are about 20mm long and have a wingspan of 32-42mm. It was interesting to read more about this species and to discover the fact that the bright colours of these moths act as warning sign to predators to let them understand they are not tasty to eat, which was amusing.

Another visiting moth was a huge moth called Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) spotted resting on one of my rose plants. Its distinctive V-shaped pinkish-brown and green marking provides excellent disruptive patterning camouflage, and at first sight it gives the impression of dry or autumn leaves. This species is from the family of the Noctuidae and has a wingspan range of 42-50 mm.

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We got passionated about garden wildlife, but living in a new estate with almost non-existent wildlife corridors in my neighbourhood area only flying visitors can get in. Therefore, me and mum spent time to look for ideas on growing a welcoming wildlife garden for flying visitors. This was a panacea for my mum as she loved monitoring, through video call, all my gardening actions, like where put the bird feeders, how to dig and plant flowers and vegetables with the lovely accompanying phrase “change the position more on the left… no, more to the right… too much!”

While gardening and observing wildlife kept us entertained, I also ‘took’ my mum along my daily walks, which usually was at the end of the day. We both explored my neighbourhood, its footpaths and green spaces, and stopped to admire wild flowers along the way. The calling time always ended with the sunset and it did not matter if we were far away from each other, watching views of the sunset sky surely improved our emotional wellbeing. 

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Although the Italian lockdown finished and here it has been eased, the ‘Ducks Call’ became one of our favourite moments as we both enjoyed seeing the ducks and ducklings, geese and goslings. We were quite amazed by the firm guarding position of the mother, and as we noticed three of them always together, we ended up naming them Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria as the three Spanish ships used by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage across the Atlantic.

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The time spent together, even if it was by phone, was useful to be able to escape from the reality of what’s going on and take our mind off even if for a short time. We are grateful for the technology allowing us to stay connected through this harsh time, and it surely makes a difference to reduce some of the stress.

 

Another museum staff member has found these times quite challenging, but has also found help:

My last day actually working in the Museum itself was Friday 20th March 2020 and since then we have been on lockdown due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 Coronavirus. The first two weeks seemed okay, I guess it was partly due to not realising or even thinking about how long Lockdown would last, the settled weather and the longer evenings, even the novelty factor of working from home. Then it reached week three and it just struck me how much I missed seeing people. As very much a part of the front of house team, most of my role involves interacting with people at the Museum. I started to really miss the many daily chats and conversations with visitors and colleagues, and I realised just how much I miss being at the Museum. I was given the details of a local group called the Help Hub. They are a group of qualified therapists who listen to the concerns and anxieties of people struggling in the current Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic. I phoned them twice and it was reassuring to hear that 'it is okay to not feel okay in the current Lockdown situation' We are now in week nine, it is Mental Health Awareness week and I think it is really important for people to share how they are truly feeling. I have most definitely struggled at times over the past few weeks, often feeling so many different emotions in a day. My mind has been saturated with so many new phrases including ‘Stay safe’, ‘The new normal’ and ‘Social distancing’. But in dark times there is always light, and I realise that we are all in this together. I look forward to the day when the Museum reopens and I will be reunited with my colleagues ready to welcome the visitors to Abingdon Museum once again.

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