OKAY, so it’s been a really worrying, stressful time.
We’ve all done brilliantly to keep ourselves and others safe, and it’s good to see things starting to return to a ‘new normal’.
But, can I tell you a wee secret? I’ve actually loved lockdown - and I’ll tell you why.
Like most women, I’ve been on the treadmill of work/life balance for a long time. I’ve promised myself on so many occasions that I’ll ‘get around to’ various things ‘when I have time’.
Well, lockdown certainly provided that time, didn’t it?
Once lockdown was announced, I made myself a ‘lockdown list’.
Everything went onto it. From baking banana bread, to learning Spanish, to clearing out cupboards that I hadn’t seen the back of since who knows when, my list meant that I was never stuck for something to do.
I walked for hours, I exercised, I read, I ticked things religiously off my list.
For the first time in a long time, I actually felt on top of things.
I switched my tutoring from travelling to see kids to chatting to them on Zoom (which was handy enough considering two of them are in Hong Kong!) and I absolutely loved this new way of working.
Now, as lockdown ends, all I’m left with on my ‘to do’ list is to finish my 1000-piece jigsaw (hillside in Sorrento, hundreds of houses…don’t even go there!) and learn Spanish and we’re good to go!
And, as I discovered this week, I wasn’t alone in loving lockdown.
As owner of the busy Beauty Corner salon, Donna Foster is used to regularly working late nights and at weekends.
As with most other business owners, Donna was initially concerned about the effect lockdown would have on her business, but then took the decision to look on this period as an opportunity to do all of the things that she hadn’t had time to get round to recently.
“I really love what I do,” she said, “but since we had no choice in this matter, it was simply a case of making the best of a bad situation and turning it into a positive experience.
“I have to say, I absolutely loved it!
“For a start, I got to spend a lot of time at home with my family. We’re all so busy these days that it’s getting more and more difficult to just sit and enjoy a chat with the kids or with my hubby, so I love the fact that I had so much precious time with them.
“I got to take long walks in the evening with my daughter Danielle and we really appreciated what was around us.
“It was also great cooking new dishes for the family without a time limit.
“We were actually able to sit around the table for hours on end, eating and sharing stories. No one was running out or rushing about.
“I think we were very lucky with the weather too and it was great to be able to sit out in the sunshine with my husband, Hudson, and a lovely gin and tonic.
“During lockdown, I also made regular phone calls to my mum and dad and was able to take the time to really listen to them.
“We also took the opportunity to get a lot of work done around the house. All of those wee jobs that you never seem to get around to were all done, as was a great deal of painting and decorating.
“Lockdown also gave me time to think about what I needed to change in my business with a clear mindset.
“One of the things that I really loved was that I started doing online facials with my clients through Zoom and I absolutely loved it – and so did they! We had great fun.
“Although lockdown was initially scary and alarming, I appreciated the fact that there were no demands on my time.
“It also made me realise that I have all that need on my own doorstep and for that I will be eternally grateful!”
Another local business woman not only capitalised on the opportunity that lockdown provided to spend more time with her family, but also found that she had more time to think about where life was to take her next.
“Even though I was working probably more than ever as our clients were making use of our WST Online mentoring service,” said Sonya McAllister, who set up the WST Community classes just over eight years ago, “I really enjoyed it because I was able to be at home with my family. I was far less stressed than I have been for a long time and I feel so much stronger mentally than I was prior to lockdown.
“They say that every cloud has a silver lining and, while lockdown was a time of anxiety and alarm, it definitely gave many of us the opportunity to step out of the constant grind and take stock.
“Lockdown gave me much more time to think and I loved the fact that my work practice changed and took me in new directions.
“Since my groups couldn’t meet up, we, like many others, created online membership groups.
“In addition to mentoring group members throughout Northern Ireland and even some in the United State, I was able to hold cooking demos.
“I loved the fact that I – and everybody else – was able to see friends online. I think we needed that interaction for the sake of our mental health.”
Lockdown also provided Sonya with the opportunity to launch a business idea that she had previously toyed with doing in the future.
“I think we all became more aware of people, who may have needed food brought to them by others,” she said.
“I’m well aware through the groups that people struggle to prepare healthy, tasty meals and so, as lockdown went on, I decided to bring forward my business idea and meet the needs of the community.”
As a result, Sonya has – in the space of just six weeks – created the Good Food Yard.
Based in Main Street in Randalstown, she and her team will deliver home-cooked, healthy meals initially to homes in Antrim, Ballymena, Randalstown and North Belfast, before rolling the service out across Northern Ireland.
“It doesn’t matter which eating plan a person is following,” she explained.
“Whether it’s a calorie-controlled diet, or someone who just likes to enjoy healthy, balanced meals with confidence because every ingredient is listed on the packaging so that the customer knows exactly what they’re getting.
“The fact that the food is delivered also means that in the event of lockdown recurring, people will be guaranteed healthy food that is brought straight to their door.
“I’m not saying that I’m glad lockdown happened – because it has been horrific for many – but I have enjoyed the time that it has given me to revisit my work/life balance and to be more creative with the space it has afforded me.
“I feel better for the ‘break’ albeit I’ve never been busier!”
Jane McTaggart, from Blonds Salon, has also received some insights from the experience.
“Lockdown certainly gave me an insight into what retirement will be like!” she laughed.
“I certainly couldn’t say that there was a moment that I was bored or that I didn’t enjoy.
“My time was my own and I wasn’t constantly working to my ‘to do’ list.
“I love my work, don’t get me wrong, but this period gave me the chance to plan my day around myself.
“I was able to experiment with baking and followed the Isolated Chef lessons online. My hubby loved the new, creative dishes that he was getting and I loved working with ingredients that I’d never used before, such as new spices.
“I also spent a lot of time in the garden, planting out. The weather certainly helped in that respect.
“Having said that, like most people, I think I’ve reached a point now where I can’t wait to get back to work.
“It’s like I had a period of ‘me time’ when I could indulge my own interests and get caught up on things, but I certainly missed the interaction with the clients.
“Neither I nor my staff are worried about going back in the slightest.
“We’ve got our personal protection equipment and are all geared up to go.
“If Facebook is anything to go by, we’ll have plenty of clients at the doors!
“I actually think my business will run in a more controlled manner than before since there will be less pressure to fit everybody in.
“I know that everybody is going to need a bit of a ‘pick-up’ after all of this so we are going to do ‘before and after lockdown’ packages where we will supply the client with photos of themselves to compare with how they looked before lockdown.
“These are new times, so it’s time for new ideas!”