“It feels really good to be supporting our incredible critical and frontline workers, but it is challenging at times”

Gemma King has swapped her usual job as project manager in the council’s Programme Management Office for a new role in our COVID Action Team. She provides support to our rapid testing centres, as well as leading on the borough’s distribution of PPE (personal protective equipment).

“When the pandemic started, I was on maternity leave with my 10-month old baby. I actually felt quite useless at the beginning as I wasn’t working, so couldn’t step up to help like my colleagues were.

“I returned to work as planned in April, and like most parents, I struggled with balancing work, home-schooling my four-year old, and caring for the baby. At one point, he crawled over to me during a work call and had what looked like a daddy-long-legs dangling from his mouth. That was probably one of the low points!

“Most of my family live in my hometown in North Yorkshire, so I’ve not been able to see them very much over the last year. We did manage to get up during the summer when the restrictions were lifted and it was so good to see them, but I miss them a lot. However I know I’m lucky to have been able to see them even once.

“Sometimes I feel quite down. I miss my friends and family. But in the grand scheme of things I recognise I’m incredibly lucky to have my kids and husband safe at home, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to continue working when so many are losing their jobs.

“During the first wave I didn’t know anyone who had COVID-19. But during this winter resurgence it has been a lot closer to home. Sadly I’ve lost a family member to the disease, and a number of people in my community have been really poorly. The impact of that has been really stark. My great-uncle, who died last week, had just had his letter inviting him for his vaccination, which is incredibly gutting.

“Since November I’ve been working for the COVID Action Team. It feels really good to be supporting our incredible critical and frontline workers, but it is challenging at times, especially as I’ve never worked on anything like this before. Since November, we’ve distributed almost 100,000 pieces of equipment, including boxes to all schools.

“It’s great seeing how dedicated my colleagues are, and the way people have stepped up and fundamentally changed their roles and the way they work, so that the council can support residents in the fight against COVID.

“I’ve learned a lot about something I’d never thought I’d need to know: the many levels of PPE you need for certain jobs! I’ve met some lovely people from across London to share information and best practices with. I’m now getting to grips with how to resource and run a testing centre.

“What’s got me through these difficult times is definitely my family and my colleagues. Everyone has been so supportive. I think because this is all so new and scary for everybody, we’re all in similar situations and at times it feels like we’re ‘winging it’ – but collectively! There are so many incredibly busy people across the council but everyone I work with is happy to be a sounding board for ideas, struggles or when you just need to have a cry!

“During the pandemic I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my family at home, even if it’s been frustrating at times! A slower pace of life has been good at times too – I don’t get ‘fear of missing out’ any more as no one is doing much.

“Looking forward, I have many worries – schools staying closed, my family getting ill, losing people I love, life never returning to normal - but positive news around vaccinations is giving me hope.

“I really hope that we are in a better place as a country by the end of this year and that we can begin to rebuild what we’ve lost.”

Gemma spoke to us in February 2021