I was a couple of weeks away from completing my house sale when the Covid-19 situation escalated here in the UK. Suddenly, my house sale was looking uncertain and I could see myself being in limbo for some time. In anticipation of whatever drastic measures would be announced, I contemplated heading up to West Cumbria where I had lived for 13 months from 2018 to 2019. I was fairly certain I could find somewhere secluded to hide away for a while so I began preparing the motorhome so I could be self-sufficient for several weeks and not need to come into contact with anyone. It didn’t take long and I was almost ready to set off. I just had one or two minor things to sort in the morning and I would be able to head up after that.
That’s when the ‘lockdown’ was announced. I didn’t know what to do. I went to sleep that night with more thoughts flying around my head than usual.
In the morning I felt very different to how I had the day before. I felt like I was running away from a bully. I felt like I was turning down a challenge. I actually felt like a coward. I knew deep down that there was something useful I could and should be doing but wasn’t sure what. Then, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I realised that it had been staring at me in the face all the time. I had been so wrapped up in my own selfish thoughts that the light-bulb was very slow to switch on.
Caring in Bristol had been posting more and more frequently in relation to Covid-19. I had volunteered with them for the Caring at Christmas project. I can honestly say that It was one of the most amazing, humbling and rewarding experiences of my life. I had worked as a chef many years ago and didn’t realise how much I had missed that so getting to work side by side with some of Bristol’s best chefs helping to prepare food for the homeless was really exciting. Also, the whole experience was a real eye-opener. I had no idea the homeless situation here was so bad. It really put things into perspective for me.
I immediately sent an email offering whatever help I could give and I got the response I had hoped for. I then set to work re-configuring the motorhome from ‘rural wild-camping’ mode to ‘sub-urban survival’. It was quite a relief actually as it meant not carrying anywhere near as much stuff!
That was the Tuesday 24th March. I drove down late at night and on Wednesday 25th I presented myself at the night shelter on Little Bishop St ready to get stuck in. I’ve been here for nearly 3 weeks now. The situation is very fluid and I am amazed at how well organised this current project (Cheers Drive) is, given that unlike Caring at Christmas there hasn’t been nearly a year of planning behind it. Things can and do change very rapidly. It’s a matter of ‘adapt and overcome’ which has been almost an MO for me of late.
I should have been moving out of my house now and starting a new life but instead I am working in a team of 5 chefs doing 3 days on and 3 days off preparing breakfast and lunch for hundreds of homeless and vulnerable people being housed in isolation by the local council in a bid to prevent the rapid spread of a potentially deadly virus across the city. Yes, it sounds almost like a movie blurb and when I stop and think about what is happening, it feels somewhat surreal but not quite Hollywood though. I mean it’s not exactly Will Smith beavering away in the basement lab of his house-fortress trying to find a vaccine for a zombie virus. Our kitchen isn’t that high tech but I like to think that there’s less trial and error involved in what we do (or at least I hope there is!).
It’s not an easy job though to work in close quarters with so many others whilst maintaining social distancing and following all the required extra hygiene protocols. We can’t afford for the whole team to have to self-quarantine however as that would throw a huge spanner in the works and put a massive extra work-load on the other teams. And by other teams I mean so many other teams. We have the chefs preparing the dinners at several other kitchen locations. There are the delivery people that run the food from our kitchen to the dinner kitchens from where it is all then distributed by others to the various different accommodation sites. This all requires so much co-operation and almost precision timing which is all overseen and managed by the incredible and hard-working office staff of Caring in Bristol.
The other major challenge is that of living full-time in a motorhome. For those that have never had the experience, there are some things which can so easily be taken for granted when living in a property. For example, you have to frequently refill your fresh water tank, empty the waste water tank and the least pleasant job of emptying the toilet cassette. The risk of cabin-fever is greatly increased too so having some way of keeping yourself entertained is an absolute necessity. I have several ways I do that but on my days off I find resting and sleeping work well!