Celebrating a Community Teacher and Volunteer-Fiona’s Story

In this blog I continue my series of celebrating some of the inspiring women I know. I am pleased to introduce you to Fiona whom I first met on Easter Sunday 2004 during a church service. Our friendship has grown over the years as we have laughed and cried together. My oldest daughter Kirsty and Fiona’s twin sons, William and Edward grew up together since they were 2 years old. Fiona is one of the kindest people I know and is always looking at ways to help others no matter how busy her life could be. Her generosity and care towards others has not been compromised by the pandemic. If at all she has stretched herself more now than ever before reaching out to others.

  1. Please tell us about yourself, your work and interests.

I’m an everyday Mum to teenage sons who are twins, early years teacher and friend of Janet. Janet and I have known one another for almost 20 years but l can count on one hand the times I’ve seen Janet and family for real in the past twelve months! l love seeing friends and family so like the rest of the world I’ve really missed the contact that until March 2020 we all took for granted.

I moved from Cumbria to Sheffield in 1990, leaving behind a much loved job in a tiny village school, a wonderful set of friends and a terrific area. Having met my husband John, who is a Yorkshire lad and vet, it seemed right to join him and 30 years later it still seems to have been a good decision! l missed Cumbria such a lot at first but Sheffield is a super city and in a way we have the best of both with city delights (though sadly no more John Lewis!) and wonderful countryside too. Local walks have meant such a lot to us in the last year.

I am almost retired now but l still do a morning each week at an Infant school, sharing music with four to seven year olds. My husband works long hours, so l have time to enjoy dog walks with friends, helping out at church, swimming and cinema, trips to the Yorkshire coast (when it’s allowed!) and just being around for my friends. A favourite assembly saying of mine is, “If you want a friend, be a friend,” and although l might share that sentiment with very young children it’s my mantra too and my friends mean everything to me.

We love Cain, our RSPCA rescue cat and when I’m at home Radio 4 is generally on in the background-‘Desert Island Discs’ and ‘I’m Sorry l haven’t a Clue’ being particular favourites.

Something not many people know is that l love doing jigsaw puzzles, sad or what! Finding a good puzzle in a charity shop is a secret pleasure of mine!

2. We have just experienced a new date to add in our Calendars for years to come, the 23rd of March, Reflection Day. A year since the UK went into lockdown.How did you mark this day?

It was a pretty regular day for us.We listened to the Today programme as we got ready for work and then l was at school and John was at work.I finished at lunchtime and met two friends.We had a take away coffee together and as they both work for the NHS we reflected on the current climate and how Covid is affecting hospital life.

Added to this one friend had been to a close family funeral the day before, a very old, much loved person and she had come back from his very special service and green burial feeling uplifted.That means a lot at anytime but when so many people have had to grieve in very difficult circumstances, it was great to hear of their meaningful farewell.

After that l went home. As John was still at work at 8.00pm, I’m afraid we didn’t do the actual candle ceremony. However, l hope that as time goes on, as a world, we will remember and learn from all that has happened and find a meaningful way to reflect.To me, the best way we can honour our lovely dead is to continue to live properly in all that we do.

3. I know you have kept busy throughout lockdown. Please fill us in about your lockdown time and volunteering?

My work is part-time these days so l am not in school very much but l see the hard work going on in my school and as a Mum of boys in year 13, l saw the Secondary schools swing into action to support their pupils.

Church services came to a standstill so my ‘baby’ service for Mums and their little ones, had to stop although we have kept in touch through texting. Our church, with some support from Sheffield City Council, became a support hub.That meant that every morning two volunteers would go to church and be there to answer the phone, anybody needing anything could ring in. l did every Wednesday with a friend.We enjoyed the chance to meet up and sat at a distance in the church office fielding calls and doing whatever we could to help.This could range from doing a bit of shopping for an older person, collecting prescriptions, supporting people shielding and generally trying to point people in the right direction if they needed anything. Also, as a church we support an inner city food bank. Occasionally I’ve helped out and goodness me that has underlined how disproportionately Covid has hit the community. It’s been a real pleasure delivering food to households needing that little extra that can make all the difference.One day l struggled to locate an address, when l eventually found the home l was greeted by four generations crowding the doorway, all pleased to see me. A little girl spotted sweeties in the food bags, she was thrilled to bits.

Since January, the church has been a vaccination hub for local GP surgeries.Our church warden is a retired practice nurse, her husband is a retired surgeon so knowing the medical world she has worked tirelessly to get things going. Welcoming NHS staff and volunteers alike to roll out vaccinations across the community.Church resembles a field hospital but it has been wonderful to see thousands of local people receiving their jabs.I volunteer when l can,(welcoming, wiping chairs etc NOT vaccinating l hasten to add!) It was fantastic to welcome the oldest members of the community in the first wave. Snow and ice stopped nobody and they were so thrilled to venture out and receive their jabs.For all the ups and downs of dealing with Covid that we have seen, I think we can be proud of the vaccination roll out. But, let’s hope that roll out can be equally effective world wide so that all people everywhere can enjoy the protection and security that it offers.

I’m not very techy so I still do my shopping in person. ( Thank you wonderful supermarket staff and delivery drivers.) An older friend is having to shield as she’s having a run-in with breast cancer. l do her shopping every other week. She’s an absolute joy and actually as all our parents have now died having an older friend has become really special to our boys who no longer have grandparents.They like her very much. As l said at the start of my ramblings, ”If you want a friend, be a friend.”

I often ponder just what our four parents would have made of the last twelve months.

4.You had the added stress of your sons not sitting A Level exams as planned, waiting on their results and hearing about University placements. What was this experience like?

Back in February 2020 life was busy, life was good, and although we were aware of the news in China we never dreamt that it would permeate our comfy lives. We had enjoyed a lovely February holiday in the Lakes and early March was  busy, busy with University visits, Will’s music and cross country, not to mention a brass band pea and pie supper, looking back a plethora of super spreader events! And then it happened…..the boys came home from school, never to return!

I felt sure that it would just be a temporary measure. They would soon be back at school working towards their A levels, but NO, ”Schools out”and it wasn’t just for summer! It was a strange time but the boys handled it really well.They had their University offers in place, they just needed to find out how A levels would be awarded and offers met.Their school was kind and supportive but with all the younger pupils to be looked after it soon became apparent that school was well and truly over.

To their credit the boys kept themselves busy, Ed got involved with a school initiative to make hospital scrubs and then from Easter onwards he became a lockdown entrepreneur. He loves baking and he established ‘Ted’s Teas’, a little business making and delivering yummy afternoon teas. It kept him busy until he went off to University and he made a lovely profit to add to his University funds. He even received a call asking if he delivered up to Bradford!

Will is a keen runner and he ran miles getting to know the paths on the western edges of Sheffield like the back of his hand. Will also loves playing his tuba and he played alone (hour after hour!) and with others via Zoom.They both also did a little bit of Zoom tutoring to support two younger boys from school.

Like everybody else they have learned new ways of doing familiar things. Attending 18th birthday parties via Zoom. Having on-line games evenings and quiz nights and making fabulous brass band videos with everybody playing in their own homes. Yet not quite the rites of passage that 18 year olds expect and enjoy so much. School kept in touch with them but just how A levels would be awarded remained a mystery, not just to us but to Gavin Williamson too it would appear!

Despite not being in school since March nerves built up big time for results day. Phew, all went well and they made it to their 1st choice offers. I felt so proud on the morning because being twins they were both waiting for their results to ping in.They sat upstairs at their computers, John had to go off to work and l was waiting downstairs. One heard ahead of the other but sat quietly until he heard that  his brother was successful too before declaring his hand! That act of kindness really touched me.They came downstairs thrilled to bits and l literally felt the wait and worry lifted from their shoulders

Fortunately, the boys were in a good place with an exciting future ahead of them but my heart goes out to students who had their plans turned upside down by the results algorithm and had to face further uncertainty at an already uncertain time. If only the government could have recognised that skilled, informed teachers know just where their pupils are and would have graded them professionally and accurately without some quirky government led formula. For some youngsters and their families results day was a tough day.

We had waited until results day for our holiday so with a spring in our step and Rishi’s mantra,”let’s all eat out to help out,” we set off for a glorious holiday, a week out at Filey then a week up in Scotland staying at a lovely lighthouse cottage on the Mull of Galloway.

5. Are you able to comment on any significant changes you have noticed when schools returned? How do you think it has impacted kids socially, emotionally and in their education?

It’s great to welcome everybody back to school, Covid precautions remain in place especially for Secondary children but the risks are manageable and children are generally happy to be back. Although there are learning gaps to be bridged, l think there are much deeper issues to be tackled.

Most parents have done a great job, they’ve worked in tandem with schools and with a hybrid approach children have continued to learn. For some children, this has been a very wobbly time and we must acknowledge this and put strategies in place to help them face the future. Not just learning strategies but wellbeing strategies, we mustn’t forget some children have faced issues such as financial insecurity, abuse, lack of IT equipment in the home, hunger, anxiety, deprivation, eating disorders, bereavement, alcohol issues….the list is endless. Not all, but for a fair number of children some of these worries are very real and if not faced sooner rather than later they will fester and worsen.

So, when l hear the government talk about summer school and catch up lessons l feel we should offer much, much more-personal and social education, outdoor education, mindfulness, healthy living courses, happiness courses etc.

Obviously older children have a much tighter framework to follow but we know that children(and us adults too)can achieve so much more if we are happy and healthy and having a good time in life.

I really believe in Outdoor Education as a vessel for developing the sort of personal skills that will strengthen children to grow and blossom in life and l would much rather see youngsters enjoying a catch up summer of outdoor activities rather than battling with fronted adverbial, phonics, long division etc. Could you do a good day at work if you arrived tired and hungry, if you hadn’t been able to prepare your work at home, if you were worried about a family member poorly and isolated in hospital and if you’d had a fight with your brother? l know l couldn’t and yet we expect some of our little ones to do just that!

l realise we’ve got to arm our children with the skills they will need for life beyond the classroom but let’s lead them gently and let’s really believe in them.

6. What are your hopes for you, your family and the community in 2021?

As a family we are just fine, we’re both in work and University life is going well for our boys. But, l do worry about society and how we will shape up after all of this.The pandemic has hilighted some very big gaps in society and I’d like us all to work together as a people, UK wide and world wide to  refocus, to upskill and to bond in unity and positivity.

Some very big issues are out there and we seem to have become very polarised and wary of other people’s views.Let’s not be scared, let’s look at the big issues together, let’s honestly face up to them and build a world fit for future generations.

7. Has this pandemic changed you in anyway?

Ha, l don’t think so. I’d love to say, I’ve written my first novel, landscaped the garden, learned a new skill but in truth I’ve just muddled along being me. I’ve certainly watched a bit too much TV. In the early months we watched the news 24/7, done too many jigsaws and eaten too many sweeties!

Although l haven’t actually seen friends and family l know that friendships have grown and blossomed. Days go by without us seeing one another but the constant messages flying around on WhatsApp makes it feel as if I’m “chatting” with pals from early in the morning until late at night and those messages, photos, jokes and silly videos have meant such a lot. l still write cards and letters to my friends and that keeps me busy.

8. Do you wonder if University life for future generations will be very different to the experience earlier generations had?

I think every student will have a different view on this depending on their personal experience.l think although it was a very tricky start it was right that youngsters went ahead and started their courses. If they hadn’t the University system would have come under pressure and with no travel and precious few jobs available taking an exciting gap year was not really an option.

However, l think it’s been really hard especially for students who for whatever reason have had a tough start with having to learn on line, being in a flat with a new set of unknown others, maybe unsure of your new city and choice of course, maybe feeling very homesick, maybe hiding a hidden health worry, maybe feeling overwhelmed or underwhelmed by the work load-all these things have made it a bit of a roller coaster and we must be there to help students overcome any difficulties they have experienced.

9. Putting Covid aside, where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Well, l guess we’ll be retired and our boys will be through University. l love the idea of doing up an old farmhouse in the nearby countryside but whenever we think about it we get cold feet. National Trust visits and holidays exploring Yorkshire, Cumbria and Scotland make us happy. We love time spent out on the Scottish Islands, Islay and Jura are firm favourites. We had talked about getting a season ticket for The Light cinema as we enjoy movies on the big screen. For now it’s iPlayer and Netflix!

10. This might not be an easy question to answer but what have you enjoyed most in the last year?

What l have enjoyed most is just being me and bumbling along with my family and friends. Imagine a beach, we’re all just little pebbles doing our best in life and being inspired by some of the big rocks that we see out there. For example Captain Sir Tom and his fundraising, Billy Monger the young double amputee and his amazing fundraising triathlon, Chris Whitty and the NHS and many more.

As“pebbles”we may be Black, White, Male, Female, LGBTQ+, old, young, with or without any faith, Labour, Conservative, police, non-police, rich, poor, pro Europe, pro Brexit etc, but we’re all being washed over by the same sea or let’s call it life knocking us this way and that, giving us good days and bad days. Let’s together as a society do all that we can to make life as special as we can for all the pebbles out there on life’s beach not just the ones that are near to us and like us but every pebble. Or, in a nutshell, ”If you want a friend, be a friend!” Life whizzes by so very quickly, let’s try and enjoy every precious second of it.

Fiona and John enjoying a family holiday pre-Covid 19.

Thank you Fiona for all that you do as a Mum, wife, teacher, friend and community/church volunteer. You are truly an inspirational woman .

Happy Easter everyone!

Published by JH_blogger

British doctor, wife and Mum to 2 daughters, Kirsty and Melissa. I published my first book in 2020 'Our Family's Journey Through Disability and Cancer . Buy now. https://listentomythoughts.com/book/order/

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