19 February 2021

The eve of my 46th birthday, and the ping of a text message brought an unexpected present: fast-track membership to the 2.2 million strong ‘Shielding Club’. If I’d been playing Monopoly, it was the equivalent of Go to Jail, Do not pass Go! and definitely do not collect £200 on the way!

Kate Budd

Along with millions of others, I received the sobering message, bluntly communicated, that I am much more likely to die if I catch Covid-19. Wow!

It’s astounding when you stop to think about it, just how often you do something without thinking about it, to pop to the shop, walk to the post box, take my two terriers for a walk or chat to neighbours through the back gate that leads into the park. The park, a fabulous extension to my back garden, but for the next 3 months or so became my nemesis, that forbidden no-man’s land just out of my reach. All daily occurrences which were now forbidden.

My 9–5(ish) was filled by throwing myself into work, determined to find the solutions, to help fill the hours with activity ideas and keep our members and volunteers connected via their living rooms whilst we couldn’t meet in person. Yet the non-working hours – that was the tougher nut to crack. Having to persuade myself to take my own advice and be as active as I could for the benefit of my own mental and physical health. As nice as it is to look out from my garden into a park on any other day, it now was an ongoing source of frustration. Whilst others took full advantage of being encouraged to go out and exercise in the glorious sunshine, I had a growing resentment of everyone else using ‘my park’. I knew it was irrational, it wasn’t going to be forever, but I did start to understand how you can be isolated in your own home, even with people around you every day.

I was now uncomfortably aware of my health vulnerabilities and was constantly reminded of this by the sometime inescapable news bulletins or social media posts that seemed somehow to be taunting me as one of ‘THE Vulnerable’, the 24-hour around-the-clock media coverage, informative and necessary as it was, had started to really annoy me at the same time. I had to regain some life-balance and find something else, and quickly.

Thankfully work came to the rescue…

At Sporting Memories we were sourcing and promoting ideas for our members and their families to become and stay active in and around the home, even if they couldn’t leave the house for exercise. The ‘ping’ of that text message meant that I now found myself in the same situation as many of our Sporting Memories family.

During the week of 22 April we added a step challenge to our array of physical activity ideas. As I typed up the copy for that week’s Sporting Pink, a plan began to formulate in my mind… I am one of the Sporting Memories family that needed to be more active whilst at home. It was as if I’d lit the flame of that competitive spirit in me, and I started my own step-counting the same day. By the time shielding was over I’d scaled Mont Blanc and also stood on top of Canary Wharf on three separate occasions, all without leaving my home! It’s surprising what you can do when you put your mind to it. I found myself having walk-and-talk meetings with colleagues, and checking my step count after calls. I’m not sure what my neighbours thought of me walking round in circles in the garden talking to myself!

My work life and home life suddenly had very blurry edges as one ran into the other, and now I recognise that at times that wasn’t as healthy as I had thought in those early days.

The initial advice in lockdown 1 for those of us shielding was you MUST stay indoors at all times, then a slight easing to stay within your home and garden, and then a glimmer of hope from the 1 July, the permission to go for walk and venture beyond my own front door – freedom at last!

After 16 weeks at home, there was a surprising hesitancy on my part to ‘join the real world’ and venture outside my gate, but being able to go out for a walk was amazing! To reconnect with others (albeit at a safe distance) and with nature beyond my gate was the boost I’d been missing. Shielding guidelines were still in place for another month, so not much changed apart from we were now encouraged to exercise outdoors, as apparently it was good for us – whoever knew that? This had been the missing piece of my jigsaw for weeks and a much-needed step towards some normality.

I gained this new appreciation of how the messaging and support (or lack of) is critical to our wellbeing. Get it wrong and it can completely up-tip you and knock you off course. I have noticed a change in people’s behaviour and attitudes since then, with regional tiers and new lockdowns since the summer. The ‘Hi, can I help?’, ‘Do you need any shopping?’ and general jolliness of most people in those early weeks has been replaced in some by their own inner focus. As we started to open up the UK, people got on with their lives, returned to work, ‘ate out to help out’ and schools reopened, many of those shielding felt left behind. Those explicit offers of help became ‘You only have to ask if…’ Believe me, it’s not the same!

Back to the messaging. It’s not necessarily what is said, but how it comes across. I lost count of the times I heard, “Leave the elderly and vulnerable at home, they’re protected” – in essence they may as well have added “and let me get on with my life!”

When you’re in your 40’s and working full-time that is a bitter pill to swallow. Not all of us were non-working or on furlough and, in the eyes of some, being paid to stay safe at home. I can’t imagine how hurtful and damaging that message is to people who are already lonely, isolated and feeling more of a burden than a valued part of society, especially those with 24 hours a day to fill and a narrow channel of options to do that.

At Sporting Memories we did a huge amount in those early weeks of the COVID pandemic to get some immediate response and keep things going. Over recent months we have refined and re-invented programmes to make the best of the situation. I’m particularly pleased with our new at-home pack: the Sporting Memories #KITbag. These will allow Sporting Memories to play a part in members’ lives any day of the week, rather than waiting for the once-a-week slot of the Club session or weekly call.

At the time of writing, I’ve already had my first vaccination and for now time does seem to focus around the 12-week window for my second jab. In a way I am one of the lucky ones to be given the shielding status, able to work from home and keep myself away from unnecessary risk. Many others are less fortunate. But spare a thought for all those who don’t have the structure and support I have both personally and through work. The longer that lockdowns and shielding goes on, ‘COVID-fatigue’ seems to be getting to everyone. Don’t forget that some haven’t gone back into lockdown – they never left!

Thanks for staying to the end. This was oddly hard to put into words, as it could easily have been a “Woe is me tale” – for all the challenges COVID-19 has brought us, there have been positives, such getting to know colleague better as we work more closely than ever, and the messages we receive from our Sporting Memories Club community that remind us why we do what we do.

For me, I’m still in that proverbial tunnel, but I can see the end, and the light is most definitely on!

Kate manages our Sport England-funded programme, working with 28 of our Clubs across England. She is also the lead for the London region and our London Together programme funded by Comic Relief and the GLA.

Find out more about:

Sporting Memories Clubs

The Sporting Memories #KITbag service

The Sporting Pink nostalgia paper, available as a free weekly download