Covid 19 Community Reporter, Dianna Djokey, interviews local resident Laura Rook, who works for Portsmouth City Council’s Mediation Service, about her personal experiences of the pandemic, including managing home schooling while working from home, and the challenges of self-care.
Dianna Djokey: How has Covid affected you and your work?
Laura Rook: When we couldn’t go anywhere and the kids were at home, working from home was hard. I was juggling a lot, my husband is a full-time firefighter and we both are leaders at our local church, he’s the assistant pastor. So, it was quite straining in many ways and [we also] had [to] homeschool. Working from home during that first four months of lockdown was tedious because of the sensitivity of the cases I handle, trying to take calls, trying to manage the kids, manage their emotions. It was difficult for us to keep them focused at times. I think there have been so many difficulties in that respect.
I work for Portsmouth City Council Mediation service and, normally we would go to people’s homes and listen to them [talking] about problems they have with their neighbors. We were then able to bring the disputing parties together in a joint meeting. However, since Covid we can’t do that so we were addressing disputes on the telephone or Zoom. Many people don’t have smartphones and some people with mental health issues or confidence issues don’t particularly feel comfortable being on camera. Using Zoom can be daunting so a lot of the time I [am] making phone calls. It’s been a huge change, as I usually work at the Oasis Centre.
At the beginning of lockdown I was in my bedroom so we had no boundaries. That was the only confidential room we had at the time so no one was allowed in because of my line of work, it was really difficult. My husband does night shifts so he couldn’t rest easily and had to rest in the boys’ bedroom. But now, we’ve got the downstairs and I don’t have to worry about people walking in because it’s just my husband and me and he keeps out the way. As of now, the kids are back at school, so this is no longer an issue as it was before.
Did you find that the cases you had affected you a lot more than usual?
If [I was] in the office usually there was always someone, at least one person extra. So in this circumstance it’s very rare that I’m on my own and normally I’d be able to offload, but during lockdown we had a lot more calls to deal with. We had 75% more cases because of Covid, people were having parties and they weren’t social distancing so a lot of our cases were extra to the ‘normal neighbor issues’ we would mediate. We had a lot more cases and I just didn’t have the time or energy to offload to my team or boss. I’d make dinner and just want to switch off, I didn’t even want to talk about my day with my family. But now we regularly put time aside for the team to talk/offload to each other and that has made such a positive difference.
Can you speak on your experience of homeschooling your children?
I think the kids would say it was really positive but I think that’s because they weren’t doing an awful lot of work. They were probably doing about two-and-a-half, three hours at the beginning of lockdown and it went down to an hour-and-a-half by the end, sometimes an hour. What we decided by the end of the lockdown [was] that we would have [to focus on] quality learning. They’d do stuff on their own like reading and we’d put educational programmes on but the actual learning we’d do was 20 minutes of Maths and 20 minutes of English. Then we’d focus on doing other types of learning, what me and my husband ended up doing was teaching things that we just knew off the top of our heads so for me, music is a big part.
I can’t read music but I love writing music so we did lots of songwriting sessions. We spent time playing the piano and ukulele, so for me as a teacher, I’ll teach what I’m good at. My husband did the same, he taught history because that’s what he’s passionate about. When we taught things we were passionate about the kids found it really positive and it felt really fun and sometimes we’d do it outside. I don’t know if the neighbors minded but we’d do a bit of ukulele practice out in the garden and we sometimes would take a book and go on a walk. Usually it was a [Christian] devotional book or a storybook sometimes and we’d read so it was really a bit more like learning out in the wildlife.
I know for a lot of people [it] felt like they had more time but I felt like I had less time. I felt like I suddenly was a teacher, I was [a] mediator doing my job, then I felt pastorally there was a greater need, within the church, [and] outside the church with our family and neighbors. I felt the biggest thing was burnout. I don’t know if that’s normal for everybody? I’d be supervising the kids then quickly leave them for half an hour. Then we’d be pre-recording the worship, the sermon, as well as checking my Dad and my Mum and it felt like I’d lost the ability to look after myself.
The boundaries were lost during lockdown because although people weren’t coming into our home (which in a way was nice, because sometimes you don’t get your space), WhatsApp and technology became a big thing. I think that was probably the biggest impact on my mental health because technology became like our lifeline. I was almost about to withdraw from technology before lockdown. [I was] thinking about closing my Facebook and whether to continue with that because I’ve got enough in my life, do I need to be looking at that? So for me technology suddenly became a thing you had to do.
You said self-care was something you lost, have you been able to get that back?
Sometimes you think it all calms down and then it gets busy again. I think I have gotten better because we talked to our church leaders about what we were not coping with anymore and they were brilliant straightaway. We were like swans kicking our feet under the water just trying to keep afloat, and actually they came up with loads of solutions, so we had more people helping with worship and the load was lightened. With work, it got quite bad, I got quite anxious – not just because of work – but eventually I did speak to my boss, and he was really good, and gave me fewer cases. I feel okay now, I feel better, more balanced and I haven’t got all that anxiety. I think it literally was tiredness that was causing a lot of it.
S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:
- voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
- small businesses and self-employed people
- BAME communities
- people with disabilities
We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.