As with most organisations in the world, a global pandemic was not on London Vision’s risk register at the start of March. Well, it certainly is now, in fact it is the risk register. The severity of COVID-19’s impact on every aspect of life was unthinkable at the start of the year. The adaptions we have all had to make to stay safe and protect lives and the NHS have been awe inspiring and life changing. Dealing with the pandemic on a personal and professional level has been an emotional roller-coaster for us all. And it isn’t over yet.
“The new normal”
As CEO of London Vision, I, like many other CEOs in the sight loss sector (and probably every sector) have sometimes found “the new normal” bewildering and overwhelming. We have all had to re-design services and reassign staff. Many have had to take difficult decisions which may affect service users, organisations, and colleagues for many months to come. The constantly evolving nature of this situation means that we must constantly reassess. There is never much certainty in the third sector, but it is virtually non-existent now.
Like everybody else, we have also had to deal with the human cost of this terrible virus and the unintended consequences of the response to it. Who at the start of March would have foreseen that so many blind and partially sighted people, including ourselves, would have been so adversely affected by social distancing measures and the inability to do basic tasks, like shop independently for food and other essentials? The creation of a “new vulnerable” was certainly not on any of our radars a few weeks ago.
Things on the shopping front do, however, seem to be more under control (though if anyone is still experiencing difficulties, please do get in touch). Our partners, Thomas Pocklington Trust, in collaboration with Guide Dogs, RNIB, Visionary and nearly 23,000 signatories submitted a petition to Defra on 21 April, asking the government to work with supermarkets and ensure blind and partially sighted people have access to vital supplies. We are still waiting on an official Government response, but supermarkets have been putting measures in place to help blind and partially sighted people shop in their stores.
Good things can be found in crisis
A crisis like this does also bring out the best in humanity and it’s an ill wind that blows no good. Pollution levels in central London are down (equivalent apparently to rural Hampshire). The absence of the daily commute for most of us is giving us back hours of our lives. A walk outside has become something to look forward to. Some of us are physically spending more time with our families. We are connecting with others through virtual platforms and learning new skills. We are coming together as a community and a society to cheer for the NHS and key workers every week. Who would have envisaged that a few short weeks ago?
The trick when we eventually come out of lockdown will be to keep all the good things the pandemic has forced us to find.
For us at London Vision, this might include embracing remote working more. This altered way of working has certainly helped us bond as a team, finding new and innovative ways of reaching and supporting blind and partially sighted people in London through experimenting and developing new skills.
For me personally, the things which have helped so far are fairly straightforward. Developing a new work-life balance, exercise (particularly yoga – check out Andy Law’s blog), talking to lots of people, being organised and finding a structure have all helped me navigate this crisis and counteract the sense of bewilderment I felt at the start. The impact of change of this scale and nature cannot be under-estimated. We all need to find the balance in our “new normal”.
A sighted colleague talked to me recently about the difficulty of knowing when to speak and “speaking into nothing” when on a conference call. It actually sounded very familiar to me and probably to a lot of other blind and partially sighted people too. Likewise, a large proportion of the general population are beginning to understand what social isolation means – something that many older people, and people with disabilities experience day to day in their normal lives. A consequence of the pandemic may, ironically, be greater understanding of what it means to be blind or partially sighted in a sighted world.