At the end of March I, like many with long term health conditions got a shielding letter from the government. This letter detailed the many things that I should do to keep myself safe during the pandemic. The main instruction being to stay home for a minimum of 12 weeks. Having been into a&e only the week before my letter arrived I saw firsthand how preparations were beginning within the ambulance service and hospital.
At first it was great, I had time at home to complete those “I’ll do them when I’ve got time” tasks that you never actually get time for. But it quickly got boring and more than anything I was missing going for walks with my dog, known within Essex ACF as The Newshound. Like many people I began to lose track of days. This was the first way the ACF helped. It started with the cadet salute on a Thursday evening during the clap for carers. I was getting pictures through of cadets in their uniform on their doorstep to post on our social media. It’s such a small thing, but it was a fixed point in my week and the only one that I had amongst the endless days in the house.
Being confined at home shielding brought challenges in terms of exercise. Luckily I have exercise equipment at home, so it wasn’t too bad for me. The only thing I really missed was getting out in the fresh air. However, inspired by Sir Captain Tom I began doing laps of the garden when “cabin fever” set in. Then another opportunity came about via the ACF, The Pen Y Fan Stair Challenge. The goal was to “climb” Pen Y Fan by measuring the height of your stair case and climbing the corresponding amount of stairs, as the height of the mountain. It was done over the course of the bank holiday weekend. On the Saturday night we pitched a tent in the living room to add to the atmosphere.
Mid April should have been the County Mess Dinner. So that we didn’t miss out on the fun we made it into a virtual event. It was great fun cooking a lovely meal in my ball gown. But also a busy evening receiving everyone’s pictures and putting them onto social media.
Throughout Lockdown there was weekly challenges from the Commandant, that the cadets participated in. The interaction from the cadets was invigorating and I loved receiving their pictures. Seeing inventiveness of some of them was often the highlight of my day during those difficult times.
Next up was VE Day. With it being the 75th anniversary, there had been many cadet events planned which unfortunately had to be cancelled. We wouldn’t let Lockdown spoil our celebrations and did things from our gardens. With bunting, cakes and many other treats we all celebrated together virtually. Just like the mess night it was another wonderful event that helped me to not feel so alone.
In June the shielding rules were changed and i was allowed to go out once a day for an exercise walk. I was so happy to be able to get back outside again and especially to be walking my dog. But I was extremely nervous, I hadn’t stepped outside my front door in over two months. The very idea of going outside was daunting to say the least. The ACF was on hand though to give me the encouragement I needed. The June running challenge that SMI Galley had set included the prompt of going running with someone. My husband, who is also a member of Essex ACF was taking part in the challenge. He needed me to be his “someone”. If it hadn’t been for having that goal and purpose, I’m sure I would have gone straight back home after leaving. But I wasn’t able to let my nerves get the best of me as I had a goal to complete. It went well and after that I accompanied my husband on a few of the subsequent challenge prompts.
The shielding time period was then extended, but I didn’t even notice the restrictions place on me as I was too distracted with the run up to Virtual Annual Camp. For me Virtual Annual Camp was almost as busy as a face to face one. Posting zoom links for the lessons, answering questions from cadets and parents, attending the lessons and regular phone calls with the County Training Officer. Virtual Annual Camp was action packed for me and an amazing immersive experience.
Whilst I was grateful to be able to rest after Annual Camp, I did miss the constant activity. But the rest didn’t last long as I joined the National Step Change Diversity and Inclusion Project Team soon after. I’m lucky to have joined a wonderful group of people, who are bringing awareness to very important issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.
After a little break, zoom lessons had resumed post summer shutdown. But my free time had also diminished. Not only was I now able to get out more after shielding had been lifted, I had taken on a massive challenge. Inspired by the Pen Y Fan Stair Climb i’d done during Lockdown I decided I would actually climb Pen Y Fan. The training began, with many challenges ahead. But I tackled them all to the best of my ability.
During my training I walked a Half Marathon distance from Pitsea, around Canvey Island. Something that I never imagined possible when I was told 8 years ago that I was likely to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Whilst practicing hill climbing on Box Hill I injured my ankle and had to cease training for two weeks whilst it recovered. I was demoralised and concerned for my ability with so much time being taken out of my training. But I was inspired by Sally Orange, the ACF Ambassador and tales of her Pen Y Fan climb. This gave me hope and spurred me on through the final part of my training.
The day I have prepared for has now come. I have made it to Wales and it is the eve of my big challenge. I’m nervous and excited, but so proud of the achievements I have made already on my journey. Whatever happens tomorrow, I will be happy of all that I have already achieved and I never would have got this far without the Army Cadet Force.