On an average Monday morning at Wallace Street, I start my working day greeted by Margaret with her little Chihuahua pup in arms. She tells me about her latest knitted dog coat purchase as other bodies start to shuffle through the narrow corridor. We settle in a semi-circle of kind faces and laughter, and I can hear the sound of mugs clinking and the smell of coffee brewing in the background.

Now, my morning begins with adjusting the volume of my laptop, fixing my fringe in the camera and making sure everyone can hear me ok.

As a support worker in the time of COVID, adapting to the new digital landscape felt like it was going against all natural instincts of being present and showing support. How do I show compassion that is genuine and feels honest? How do I lend a listening ear and create a safe environment for our community members through pixels on a screen? How do we break down digital exclusion barriers so everyone can take part? How do we continue to explore our creativity and challenge our perceptions of what it means to participate in cultural activity when we’re all stuck indoors with limited resources?

Luckily, we fully adapted our services to ensure that our community members could continue to benefit from the services at Star – running on the same days, at the same times – albeit taking a slightly different format. Like everyone’s lockdown experiencing of ‘pasta-gate’, toilet roll hoarding, the dreaded zoom quizzes, and Thursday night clapping, I was also fortunate enough to be a part in developing and delivering a digital adaptation of STAR’s cultural programme – which hosted some really special and unique moments. Here’s some of my highlights:

  • ‘Virtual Summer trips’: the community members visited Safari’s, Theme Parks, Beaches and the countryside – all from the safety of their homes and equipped with activity packs and lunches delivered by our wonderful volunteers!
  • DIY face masks/coverings from recycled t-shirts
  • A community-led recipe book with alternative COVID-19 options to reduce food waste
  • Lots of labyrinth making workshops
  • ‘Back to School Breakfast’ to chat out any anxieties around the return of schools
  • Challenge Poverty Week workshops – writing policies for change!
  • Created a safe space online to chat through issues surrounding Coercive control,
  • DIY Halloween costumes from recycled items at home to promote sustainability
  • Collaborating with Civil disobedience – where community members wrote their own songs, poems, monologues on the topic of Radicalism in Paisley.

As well as all the brilliant digital innovation from the team at STAR, we were also able to offer support in more traditional formats too. In my role, this has taken the form of offering 1:1 wellbeing phone calls with community members. Throughout these phone calls, the issue of isolation came to the forefront, and it was clear that many people were feeling detached from society as a result of lockdown. While there is an ongoing narrative around loneliness and the importance of social interaction in contributing to ‘good’ mental health, it became clear how real and raw the issue of ‘loneliness’ is in Paisley, and how vital projects like STAR are to our communities. Although some of the conversations were challenging, I have never felt a greater sense of gratitude for the privileges I experience in my own life. Being a support worker during a pandemic has been a truly eye opening experience.

Although there were some difficult times, there have been so many incredible moments shared by staff and community members. On days where it all just felt too much, our new digitised ‘Drop-In’ has really helped to lift spirits and to give our morning routines a sense of normality. We share the same chit-chat, laughter and supportive environment of the physical drop-in space but just through an online chat platform. We’re no longer in a semi-circle, but a beautiful patchwork of squares, knitted together on the screen. The Drop-In has been a really positive space. It’s a space where you can pop in to say ‘hello’, keep up to date on recent COVID developments, have a moan about the queues outside the supermarkets, and most importantly to share what you’re having for tea that night! While the dynamic atmosphere and snappy banter of the Drop-In is difficult to emulate online, the relationships, sense of togetherness, and peer-to-peer support has been inspiring to witness and be a part of. On a personal level, it has kept me going throughout my own lockdown experience, and having the means to wake up, log in and have instant access to social interaction is something that I no longer take for granted.

So what does the future hold? I have launched a block of creative workshops taking influence from ‘Hygge’ – The Danish way to Happy Living’. The essence of ‘Hygge’ is to seek happiness in the everyday – to enjoy the smaller things in life, to look after your wellbeing and make tiny changes to your environment to aid the feeling of cosiness and contentment. The idea of ‘self care’ can often feel exclusionary to those with limited income or those who are facing difficulty with their mental health. Adapting habits to compliment ‘good mental health’ is the last thing on the priority list when food insecurity, health risks and social isolation have only intensified during lockdown. This, with the mass marketing of product-associated self care, alludes to a belief that ‘positive wellbeing’ is something that only people with the financial means have access to. I hope to explore the accessibility of self care throughout the upcoming ‘Cosy Club’ workshops. Now – more than ever – we need to look after ourselves and each other – no matter what shape that takes for you. A cup of tea and a chat with someone you feel safe with is a good start, and that sense of safety is something that STAR continuously tries to ensure.

The positivity, resilience and togetherness the community members have expressed throughout the past few months has been incredible, and has helped with my own mental wellbeing throughout the complex challenges of working from home. With dark mornings and early sunsets starting to creep in, the light from the community members on a daily basis outweighs the dark days ahead.

Linzi Clark is a Support Worker at STAR Project, Paisley