screen showing online meeting for flexible workingHow beneficiaries and volunteers have connected during the Covid-19 pandemic

Beneficiary volunteers have worked hard to create opportunities for the thalidomide beneficiary community to connect during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read about the activities that have been taking place and how you can get involved.

The beginning of lockdown

On the 23rd March 2020 Boris Johnson told us all ‘You Must Stay at home’ with the exception of shopping for necessities, one form of exercise per day and travelling to and from work if it was not possible to work from home. And so, for the most part, we did.

To some people this meant a complete change in how they live their lives. It has not been an easy experience with everyone having their fair share of frustration, boredom and lethargy at being in the same surroundings every day.  Individuals have coped with the change by adjusting their perspectives, tending their mental health by focusing on little things that give them pleasure, and re-evaluating and reflecting on their busy lifestyles. Lockdown ensured a limit to usual social contact to restrict the spread of the virus.

The pandemic's impact has been felt less acutely by others, because of their individual circumstances, as opportunities to leave home and socialise were already reduced. However, the effect is the same. Less social contact can lead to loneliness and a sense of isolation. Whereas connection and social interaction can lift our mood and make our own ‘world’ brighter.

Social distancing brings about a new way of life

‘Normal life’, pre March 2020, is no longer possible with social distancing measures in place. Dining out, drinking at a pub, going to the cinema / museum / theatre, or just having a coffee with a friend involves new rules and protocols. It’s hard when we focus on what we can no longer do with ease especially without knowing what the future holds and if this is indeed the ‘new normal’.

At a meeting earlier this year we spoke with the volunteers about setting up opportunities for the beneficiary community to meet up in person to enjoy an informal coffee and to instigate informal social gatherings. This of course has all had to be put on hold due to the pandemic.

However, the need and drive to connect from the community was strong. Beneficiaries couldn’t meet in person but what about via the video conferencing platforms that suddenly worldwide work communities were having to utilise in order to communicate?

Volunteers created opportunities to connect the thalidomide beneficiary community

Beneficiary Volunteers, as ever, grasped the new concept and the Virtual Coffee Events were launched in April 2020. These have been popular giving beneficiaries the chance to connect with others, make new friends and reconnect with old acquaintances. New beneficiaries have met others for the first time.

This is what Karen had to say about joining the Virtual Coffee Breaks -
Zoom coffee break“The Coffee Breaks have been one of the few positive things to come from the current emergency. Living by myself and only becoming part of the Trust family in late 2018 our recent gatherings have opened new doors for me. For the first time in my 60 years I have met women, in our all-female group, who have experienced similar things to me during their lives. Things that most non-disabled people know nothing about or understand. I just didn’t realise how emotional, yet supportive, this could be. It’s really good to be part of such a welcoming, inspiring and lively group of women.”

Other coffee events have a balance of men and women, overseas and UK beneficiaries – an eclectic mix!

Broadening the focus of the events

The concept of coffee events has started to grow with a Men’s Health Forum being hosted by a volunteer at which Dr Susan Brennan, one of the Trust’s medical advisors, presented on a range of issues that can affect men as they age. This was followed by the opportunity for beneficiaries to ask questions and lively discussion.

If you would like to join one of these events we can help you get connected. We’ll carry out a trial meeting with you beforehand to make sure you feel confident getting online and the Virtual Coffee Event host will be made aware that you will be attending so they can welcome you and introduce the other people taking part.

Get involved and take part

Please get in touch with Annabelle Blackham on 01480 474074 or email [email protected] to get involved.

There are lots of plans to develop and diversify these encounters in the future which we are really excited about. Watch out for an email in early September about more ways you can take part.