Take time to unplug

This time last year, I dug out my sleeping bag and headed, via Leamington Spa, to an event called Comms Unplugged.

A striking image captured with my good, good friend Leri Salter.

I knew little of what I was in for. But what I did know was that the event came highly recommended by my good friend, trusted advisor and former mentor, Darren Caveney.

Darren is a bit of a communications ‘god’ and his advice and guidance has been invaluable throughout my career.

Darren is one of the organisers of Unplugged, and he felt confident in recommending the event to me. He was right to do so.

Comms Unplugged is an event for communications professionals to gather together for some informal learning, relaxed networking and escapism from the always-on, digital-first world we live in.

Phones and laptops are left outside the field, and participants instead focus on the tried and tested communications methods of speaking and listening.

Across the three days in a beautiful field in Dorset, I learned new skills, made new friends and developed a connection to a more simplistic way of working – without thinking of likes, kudos, shares and other digital popularity contests.

Darren is one of the three event organisers, along with Georgia Turner and Sally Northeast. Together they make a truly formidable trio, who are committed to the wellbeing and development of their communications family.

A year later and lots had changed. Sadly, Comms Unplugged isn’t taking place. Covid put paid to that. But that doesn’t mean that people can’t take the time to unplug in their own way.

In fact, I’d encourage it.

Every communications professional I know is working tirelessly at the moment. I regularly receive emails and messages from friends and colleagues who are working long into the night.

This isn’t sustainable. We all need downtime. The irony of today being not only the planned start of Unplugged but also World Suicide Prevention Day isn’t lost on me.

Comms Unplugged will be back next year, but in the meantime, please do take some time off this weekend. Take some time away from your work emails, your communications plans, and monitoring social media. Even if you can only do this for an hour, use this time to reflect. Use it to do something that gives you peace. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Fell walking has proved a great act of escapism for me.

I end this blog with a special thank you to the good friends I made last year, the Comms Unplugged community and our special WhatsApp network. They are a group of people who will offer advice and support for any and all situations. With the year we’re having, this has never been more important.

You can find out more about Comms Unplugged on their website. Alternatively, a lot of the great discussion and creativity takes place on Twitter. But probably not this weekend!

Staycation selections

Lots of people have been unwilling or unable to take foreign summer holidays this year. If you’re wondering where everyone has gone instead, you need to look very far to find out.

A quick scan of accommodation booking sites shows that people have headed to the honeypots of the Lake District, Devon and Cornwall, as well as once-famous seaside resort towns.

This provides a much-needed economic lifeline to these places.

However, the coronavirus world we live in means things are very different to normal, as businesses try to balance serving the crowds and making a profit, while ensuring their operations are safe.

Some places manage this better than others.

Chesters

One place that is doing a great job is the Lakeland favourite, Chesters by the River. Located by the Brathay at Skelwith Bridge, it’s only a few minutes’ drive from Ambleside. It’s been a favourite for years and has only grown in popularity since it embraces a fully vegetarian menu a few years’ back.

Chesters has always been busy, even in winter, even when it’s raining, even when you’d rather be anywhere than the Lake District.
Summer sees queues, and this summer means they’re even bigger than normal.

But a reworking of their operations has meant that this works well. There are now entirely separate entrances (and queues) for the café, shop and takeaway. This means people can quickly and easily be channelled, depending on what they’re looking for.

The takeaway was expanded a couple of years back, and it’s clear that this was a brilliant move. Even though the café is large, it is never going to be without queues at this time of year.

The takeaway gives people a speedier option, with a fab, streamlined range of options. When we visited, there were a couple of homemade savoury pastry options, four fresh homemade salads (though this really is doing a disservice to the creative choices available), a dozen cakes, breads, scones and hot and cold drinks.

Everything has been designed for quick service, and to be eaten on the move.

We chose a couple of pasties (curried veg and leek and cheese), a salad (biriyani rice with roasted aubergine and coriander) and a cake (a wedge of Victoria sponge fit for a queen) along with a competitive flat white.

If you’re going to head somewhere busy, you could do a lot worse than Chesters. The food is always a cut above, and the safety measures they’ve put in place mean you’ll feel as safe as possible too.

The Swan and Tweedies, Grasmere

Having driven through the Lakes a few times recently, we’ve been able to spot the places to visit and those to avoid.

While businesses are having to adapt, new outdoor seating areas in car parks or in alleyways are not going to be a draw, if we can find something better.

The Swan has just that – with a beautiful, socially distanced beer garden. It has views in all directions and has lots of green space.

The picturesque Swan beer garden and real ale looking resplendent in the late summer sun.

Real ale and a strong selection of soft and alcoholic drinks are available.

They’re running a simple one-way system, with track and trace taking place as part of your welcome.

Food is available – inside the pub, which has recently changed hands, is a full bar menu. If you’re dining outside, you’re restricted to pizzas.

These are fresh, light and clearly homemade, so it’s a good option.
The real ale was a touch pricey but was worth it for a couple of hours in a relaxing, spot with such outstanding views.

On our last visit, we also walked to Tweedies in the centre of Grasmere. It’s a busy pub at the best of times, but is even more so now.

The good news is that they have a huge garden and a brilliant system for getting served. This means you’ll not be waiting long at all for your food or drink.

If you’re organised and book a table inside you’ll find that it’s a safe, spacious place in which to spend a pleasant few hours.

If you are not, expect to sit outside. But fear not, the marquee will protect you from the worst of the weather. And the full range of amazing cask and key craft beer is available outside.

Tweedies doesn’t really do quiet, so even though the summer is about beyond us, it’s still worth booking – or donning your big coat if you want to sit outside!

The spacious garden at Tweedies. Including the marquee for wet moments and track and trace.

Where else?

Have you got any recommendations for good places in the Lakes that you’re prepared to share? Let us all know!

Review: The Black Bull, Sedbergh

Dining in lockdown can be a stressful affair. Dining in lockdown in the staycation-packed Lake District is even more so.

Which is why Charlotte and I drove the of the iconic A591 through the Lake District to head for a magical Sunday lunch in the Yorkshire Dales instead.

As we passed abandoned cars, queues outside average eateries, and crowds taking every square foot of pavement, we knew we’d made the right decision.

Our destination was the Black Bull in Sedbergh, and as we entered the town and then the pub, we knew we’d made the right decision.

Sedbergh is small enough and remote enough to still have a bit of an undiscovered gem vibe, and this is especially the case on a Sunday, when most of the town is closed.

Thankfully, the Black Bull was open and expecting us, and it put on a bit of a show too.

It was clear as soon as we entered that we were going to have an enjoyable and relaxed meal.

The whole hotel was laid out spaciously, so that people could come and go without interrupting others.

We’d informed them we’d be bringing Teddy in a pram, so we could be given a suitable space, but in reality they could have sat us at any of the tables, such was the spacious layout.

As we were presented with the menus, we knew we were in for a treat. After all, not nearly enough places have a pre-starter course (crispy guinea fowl croquettes, at £3.50 for two. How could we not?).

The menu was as good a Sunday lunch offering as I’ve seen in sometime. Some places chop their menu right down to offering you a roast or something simple as an alternative. This isn’t the case as the Bull. The menu included a few roast options, along with their trademark pie, fish and other inventive options.

I plumped for the wild rabbit starter, while Charlotte chose the slow cooked beef brisket. Both starters were an ideal size – especially after a croquette – of beautifully presented food. My rabbit was served with middle eastern accompaniments, all of which were perfectly balanced.

Delicate, maybe; but full flavour.

After two light starters, we were presented with hearty mains. I couldn’t resist the pie, and my good decision making continued. Tender chunks of beef were served in a tasty gravy. The pie came with silky mash and the richest of red wine gravies and seasonal greens. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Not just any pie

Charlotte chose the roast lamb and she was rewarded with a plate full of tasty treats. The local lamb belly was moist and tender. The crispy roast potato boulders and intense, decadent cauliflower cheese were highlights.

I swerved the desserts, having filled myself up. But I can confirm the choices were as interesting as the rest of the menu. The egg custard with gooseberries was good as you’d want it to be.

The service throughout was impeccable, and the staff were welcoming. They accommodated us and our young child perfectly.

Following lunch, we explored the town further, before heading in the sun through beautiful Dentdale, for a pint in the cobbled village of Dent.

Again, social distancing was strong and the service and the pint were perfect.

As we drove back through the Lakes and saw the chaos of crowds, we knew we’d made the right decision.

My tip for anyone looking for a good food experience during these uncharted times is to find somewhere off the beaten track. There are some amazing places out there, and if they’re not as busy with crowds, your experience is likely to be better.

If you are in the Lakes, then book well in advance. If you can’t, then turn up early and expect to wait.

Hello from your dad

Inspired by an idea that was once on a TV advert, I’ve set up an email account for Teddy and will occasionally send him thoughts and pictures.

Here’s my first message, sent earlier today.

Teddy after a bath

Hello Teddy

This is your first email from your dad.

We’ve set up this account so that we can send you little updates on life for you to look at when you get older. I set up your bank account earlier today and we registered your birth yesterday.

Right now I am working from home – in our little terraced house in Egremont. It’s quite small for me to work, with you sleeping or crying for food or cuddles. But we’re renovating our new house, so hopefully we’ll be there soon, and it’ll be the first place you remember living.

I am working at home because of coronavirus. That has been really weird. Earlier this year, I’d not have imagined working from home all the time and not going into the office. Lots of people have caught the virus because it’s really contagious. Sadly lots of people have died from it too. So we still need to keep safe. That means not that many people have been to see you yet, but they’re all looking forward to doing so soon!

In fact, you’ve been sent so many lovely presents from our friends and your family. People are really pleased you made it here safely, after a bit of scary start. You’ve been a lucky boy.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say for now.

Dad x

Supporting the hospitality industry – AKA dining out

You won’t be surprised to learn that I love dining out. I wouldn’t write this blog if I didn’t.

I think it’s one of life’s simple, great pleasures. One that starts from the moment you contemplate going out – where you consider your options, from the location, to the type of dining experience, cuisine and even the time you want to eat.

Each of these options, leads you to a different set of possible venues and menus to consult. That’s before you arrive at the destination and welcome the warm welcome, delight at the drink selection, marvel at the menu and salivate over your selection.

Lockdown has been tough. I’ve missed dining out.

A selection of lockdown food choices.

But if I think it has been tough, I can only imagine what it’s like for those who work in the sector and who own hospitality businesses. Since lockdown hit, we’ve seen plenty of announcements of chains closing sites or completely.

What we don’t hear so much of is the independents, and their struggles. Where they haven’t unlocked the doors post-lockdown, this hasn’t made the broadcast news. However, that’s the reality.

The hospitality industry has always operated with razor-thin profit margins. This means that so many places need to be full or have a high turnover of customers to stay afloat. Where they have managed to survive a period of low to no income, it’s by being innovative – offering takeaways or selling gift vouchers or future experiences like tasting and theme nights.

Even then, reopening with a fraction of the space you previously had and with fewer people willing to risk going out, it’s still going to be hard.

How can we help?

Dine out

The best option of all is to go out and have a meal. I understand there are reasons why you might not want or be able to do this, but if you can, please do.

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme will encourage people, but restaurants will still need support on weekend nights and Sunday lunches.

If you do dine out, think about where you want to go. If there is a little restaurant local to you that you love and would hate to see disappear, then go there. If you can’t imagine the village without the pub, you need to get there and get spending.

And if you can, try and make the meal a good one. With fewer covers, it is going to be hard for places to survive if you only have a main course and tap water.

I appreciate this option is essentially asking you to spend money, and this might be money you don’t have. It’s likely I’ll be going out less than I used to, but I’ll probably spend more on a meal than in the past.

As I was lucky enough to continue working through lockdown, I can also justify spending a little of the money I didn’t spend when I couldn’t go out.

Invisible chips

Ordering sides always helps a hospitality business. But if you see them on the menu, invisible chips are a particularly helpful thing to order.

Ordering this side means that you are directly helping people in the hospitality industry, through a light-hearted gesture with a serious impact.

You can find out more, here.

If it’s not an option on the menu, you could always leave a more generous tip (especially if your meal is discounted through the government promotion), or offer to buy the chef/waiter/barman a drink.

Turn up

Imagine you run a small bistro. You’ve been closed for months, and finally, you’re allowed to reopen.

You spend all your time making your business safe – removing tables and adding in additional safety measures.

All the time you’re doing this, you’re taking pre-bookings. You quickly become full.

But when the night comes, 6 of your 20 covers don’t show up. You previously served 40 people, but tonight you’ve only had 14 people in.

Frustrating wouldn’t be the word. It is the reality for so many restaurants. In the past, this might have been off-set by walk-in customers, but not now.

If you book a table, turn up. If you can’t make it, cancel. As early as possible.

Some places might be taking deposits now. That makes some people irrationally angry. I can’t help thinking that if you’re the type of person who books and does turn up, it won’t be a problem.

Tell people

Have you been somewhere amazing? Then tell people!

People are venturing out, and they want to know where to go. Recommendations are always well received, so why not inspire other people.

Here in West Cumbria, there are a few places on social media where you can share, or you could do it on Trip Advisor or other review sites. But please try to be fair.

Why not follow some local food bloggers and follow and share their recommendations? I’ll be sharing more reviews of places I’ve loved.

Say it with ice cream – from the Milking Parlour at Kirkby Lonsdale.

Be reasonable

If you’ve not had a great experience, why not speak to your server or the owner, to give feedback. A negative review right now can really damage a place that might already be struggling. Times truly are hard.

On the same note, try to be reasonable. Kindness is appreciated and means a better experience for everyone.

Prices

Despite having fewer tables, a restaurant’s costs won’t be reduced by anywhere near the same amount – the rent or mortgage won’t be halved, nor will heating or staffing costs.

On top of that, wholesale prices have also increased, as suppliers look to ensure they’re covering their costs.

That means that the prices in your favourite establishment might have increased. I think that’s fair enough, you might not. If that’s the case, then make a note and move on to somewhere else.

But you probably don’t need to share it with the whole world.

Try other things

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic has proved that. Businesses near and far have launched delivery services, restaurants have launched cook at home options, and new businesses have sprung up to address gaps in the market.

Here in West Cumbria, the takeaway options available have never been better. We’ve feasted on ramen and sushi, dumplings; grazed on boxes of cheeses, charcuterie and other delights; and gorged on pizza from more locations than I care to count.

Amazing sushi from Wabi Sabi in Ambleside.

Any ideas?

Have you got any other suggestions on how you could support the industry? Or any places you’d like to recommend. Let me know in the comments or on social media.

Paternity leave – a brother for Tilly

A little over two years after my daughter Tilly was born prematurely and didn’t survive, I am about to start paternity leave.

When Tilly was born, it was hard to imagine I’d ever reach this point. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to, and I wasn’t sure we’d even want to.

Precious Tilly

But as time has moved on, so have Charlotte and I, and we now can’t wait to bring our son into the world.

As I write this, I still have a couple of days to go until Charlotte is booked in for her caesarean section which will introduce us to him, and him to us. I’m still nervous. Things could still go wrong. But I’m hopeful they won’t.

Having a baby during lockdown feels weird, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. On the negative side, we’ve spent more of this pregnancy ‘going it alone’ than we might have imagined. We’ve had to manage with online antenatal classes and text message tips from friends.

At every point where Charlotte has had to visit hospital, we’ve been a bit scared of the coronavirus risk.

However, Charlotte has been able to work from home, which has made life much easier. We’ve also had plenty of time to prepare for the birth – to do things like make our small home baby-proof and to create a welcoming nursery.

The lockdown is being eased at exactly the right time for us. We’re pleased, but not half as pleased as the grandparents.

As I now work from home, I also know that when I return to work following a few weeks off, I won’t miss our child growing up (though that also means I won’t be able to escape his needs at any point!).

Despite having plenty of time to prepare, the relentless nature of our current working environment, busy jobs, and getting used to strange, not-quite-normal lives means that I am not sure it’s hit me fully yet.

I am sure it quickly will, and like everyone tells me, life will then never be the same again.

So, if you see me anytime soon and I look dazed and confused, you know why. Do feel free to say hello – I might just need it.

For now, I will finish clearing out my inbox and making sure the work I’ve been doing is not neglected. And then?

Well, I’ll see you on the other side. As a father. Bringing up a son.

Information overload

For the most part I have enjoyed working from home. It’s great to be able to get up a little later each day, and to have the full kitchen’s worth of food to consider whenever you fancy a snack. I can have the radio on to give me some background noise and can immediately dive out of the door for a walk once work is done.

I have even been around for all my parcel deliveries – funnily enough.

But some parts are hard. I miss my colleagues. I miss wandering down to the coffee bar or catching up with a colleague who happens to be in the building or passing my desk. I miss our Friday ritual of a fish and chip lunch and the occasional pint in the fab local (Gin and Beer It) after work.

The other thing that’s really challenging is information overload. I am friendly, chatty guy (well I do work in communications) and I am also an early adopter when it comes to new tech. This is usually a positive, but has led to a situation, in lockdown, where I am utterly bombarded by notifications.

This week, while writing some content for Mental Health Awareness Week, I stepped away from my phone, and logged out of the network on my laptop. The first thing I noticed was just how peaceful I found being unplugged. I was more productive and I am sure the quality of my work was improved.

The second thing was that when I logged back on, I had countless emails and a number of other notifications.

When I picked up my phone, my heart sank. I had a hundred WhatsApp messages from a dozen chats, I had ten new notifications from our work planning app, and I had work messages in our Teams app.

I realised that had I been connected to my phone the whole time, I’d have been distracted by these messages throughout. It’s no wonder I thought my work had improved!

The trouble is, I think it is part of a communications professional’s job to be connected. If someone needs us, then they expect to be able to get us. And I want to stay connected to my colleagues and friends, whenever I can. After all, they’re not passing my desk anymore.

So where does this leave me?

I actually think the solution is quite simple. In fact, a word I used above sums it up.

I unplug.

This means:

  • I move my phone away when I am working on a specific task or piece of writing
  • I turn off notifications from applications I don’t need to see (the Strava kudos and Instagram likes are the worst culprits here)
  • I choose a time to respond to emails and messages
  • I ignore work notifications when I am not at work (turning Trello and Teams notifications off)
  • I accept I won’t see every message or read every notification (after all, I don’t try and read all of Twitter, do I?)

On top of this, I make sure to get my daily exercise. I have found that a long walk after work, with Craig Charles in the background, really does help me unwind.

I don’t think any of these things is rocket science. But it took me nine weeks of lockdown to realise and implement them. So, if you’re struggling, why not have a think about whether you’ve got information overload?

Another picture of Oscar, but his walks are the key to my wellbeing.

If you have, you could do worse than follow these tips and even connect with the Comms Unplugged community. Their annual festival promotes mental health and wellbeing by encouraging us all to unplug. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a network of like-minded, friendly and caring people who are keen to support each other.

The community has more than proven its worth over the last few weeks – with discussions, podcasts, and webinars covering every aspect of wellbeing and mindfulness.

Take a look at www.commsunplugged.co.uk or find them at @commsunplugged on Twitter.

Mental health matters

There are lots of awareness days, weeks and campaigns. In fact, there are even quite a few for mental health.

So, you’d be forgiven for thinking they might be unnecessary. Maybe you think they’re overkill? After all, everywhere you look, you see people talking about their mental health.

Oscar waiting for me to catch up on a recent walk at Uldale.

Sadly, this isn’t the case. Poor mental health continues to be a major problem that affects so many of us, in so many different ways. Sadly, it continues to ruin lives. It continues to kill people.

It’s become something of a cliché to talk about unprecedented times, or to start communications with ‘since the coronavirus pandemic hit and lockdown began’, but if that’s the case, it’s only because it’s true.

Every single person’s life has changed because of coronavirus. This might be because you’re working differently or it might be because you can’t see your friends or family.

Right now, I am sat at my patio furniture desk, surrounding by devices to keep me connected to colleagues in the office, but I can’t see them. At the same time, my partner is pregnant and will soon (touch wood and taking nothing for granted) give birth to my son.

As many of you will know, this is a nervous and testing time. It’s even harder when friends and family can’t be here to support us as they usually would. I’m nervous that we won’t have the physical support of family when we’ll need it the most.

Each and every one of us is having to adapt to a world that doesn’t feel quite normal. Where things are strange. Where your routine is new. Where even the simplest and most usual of tasks is harder than should be.

This means that even the most resilient of us will have off days. We will feel more stressful and we will feel more anxious. And that’s ok.

Awareness weeks like this one are designed to get people talking about their mental health. They’re designed to help people realise that it’s ok to not feel ok. No one should worry that their poor mental concerns are theirs alone. So many of us are going through or have been through the same things.

Over the course of the week, you’re likely to see lots of hints and tips to enhance your mental health. I won’t create another list of my own. But what I will do is give you my number one tip, which is to talk to someone. Check in with your friends and see how they are. If there is a friend you’ve not seen or not talked to for a while, then reach out to them. They will appreciate it.

Take care and be kind.

Find your escapism

Social distancing, self-isolation and working from home all mean huge changes to our daily lives.
These can all have a negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing.

With this in mind, I asked some colleagues and my Twitter contacts to share their top tips for protecting their mental health.

I was overwhelmed with the volume and creativity of the responses. I’ve summarised some of these below.

Working from home: get match fit


I didn’t actually focus on working from home, but people did share some of their top tips. These mostly centred around ensuring you were able to work at your best from your home. Suggestions included:

• Sticking to a start and finish time
• Getting dressed as you would for work in the office
• Taking regular breaks
• Ensuring your home workspace is suitable (this is essential)
• Keeping in close contact with colleagues
• Find some suitable background noise if working alone (For me this is BBC 6Music. For others this was white noise, the sea or even chatter).

Find your escapism; keep it near

The first day I was working from home, I had BBC Five Live on constantly. I wanted the background noise and to keep abreast of the news. Taking a walk after work, I listened to a coronavirus podcast. This quickly started to overwhelm me.

The next day, I flicked back over to 6music and swerved current affairs.

When I finish work, I pick up a book instead. Others have recommended an audiobook. Other suggested getting creative.

There are lots of other ways to escape the craziness. My good friend Dan has come up with a brill list of diversions.

But whatever your escapism, find it and keep it near.

Turn off your tech

A few people mentioned the importance of taking a break from your tech. Our always-connected world can be overwhelming.

So, every now and then, make a point of moving away from your device.

This could mean a short break, having evenings off, or removing yourself from group conversations.
Whatever it is, take time to pause.

Exercise your body and mind

Unsurprisingly, people are keen to emphasise the value of exercise, and I really do agree.

From walking to running, to simply getting out in the fresh air, all will help you feel better and keep your brain fit. The links between physical activity and brain health are strong.

As well as keeping physically active, try to keep your mind active. People suggested meditation and practicing calming breathing techniques as ways to do just that.

Fresh Air Fridays have some brilliant tips around mindfulness, breathing, gratitude and connecting with others – however we can.

Sam Dyllon has been providing free guided mediation to Sellafield employees.

Healthy eating

In uncertain, chaotic times, it is easy to throw a balanced diet out of the window. While the hit of sugar or the hug of carbs might give us a short-term boost, we’re likely to feel sluggish in the long run.

I know that on my first day working from home, I snacked more than normal. I nipped that in the bud before that started to affect my mental health and feel better for it.

Learn a new skill or take up a new activity

It really is important to keep our minds active. Lots of people suggested that taking up a new skill could be the way to do just this.

Ideas included learning a new language and brushing up on a skill you’ve not used for a while (where did I put that recorder). Others suggested finding out more about a topic of interest. One of the contributors is an artist who will likely have more time to practise their brush strokes.

My partner has got the knitting needles out of the loft.

Whatever takes your fancy, now is probably the time to give it a go.

Planning

It’s inevitable that we feel anxious when so many parts of our lives are changing on a daily basis. Planning the things we can control, can help.

This could as simple writing a to do list, or meal planning. We use Gousto for meals during the week, and this has taken a lot of supermarket stress away

Don’t you forget about me

Self-isolation and social distancing can be lonely. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stay in contact with friends and colleagues.

If you’re working from home, book in telephone meetings with your team.

These don’t need to solely be used for work. Why not have a coffee break catch up with a colleague or friend or have a video chat with friends in the evening?

In fact, a colleague suggested that laughter with friends is the one thing that has been keeping her motivated.

Supporting others

The most positive thing I’ve seen since this situation developed is the number of people who are keen to help others.

This ranges from people checking in on vulnerable neighbours to one of my favourite café bars, providing free food to children who would ordinarily have a free school meal. (Well done to the Square Orange in Keswick).

Things you can do from home include donating to charities, supporting businesses (lots of new takeaways are up and running). You could even support a community group. If one doesn’t exist where you are, you could form one.

Even just offering a listening ear to friends that might be struggling is so important.

Thanks and credits

Thanks very much to everyone who provided me with these tips: Alan Rankin, Sam Dyllon, Hilary Royston-Bishop, Lizzie Anderson, Neil Milligan, Claire James, Megan Lake, Claire Tandy, Terri Hargreaves, Sarah Cooper, Lisa Doran, Chris Wood, Tracy Jacklin, Cara Asquith, Emily Bell, Jatinder Sahota, Laura Johnson, Karl Connor, Fresh Air Fridays, Alison Wood, Dan Slee, Leanne Ehren, Sally Northeast and the brilliant Comms Unplugged Headspace group.

Anything else?

Have I missed anything? Drop me a line.

Coronavirus: this is different

I think it’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic is what most people would consider a crisis – for the country, for families and for our employers.

When we’re talking about the latter, we implement a series of formal measures to help us to manage the situation.

There are lots of different elements to this including a crisis management team and a support team – but in simple terms we dedicate resources to managing the situation.

This type of arrangement is well practiced, here and in most large organisations. However, I think coronavirus is different for three main reasons.

This is new

With the exception of Foot and Mouth disease, we’ve not really had to deal with widescale pandemics in this country. Swine flu and HN51 probably just about lurk in our memories, but in reality, they didn’t fundamentally change our lives. Coronavirus already is.

We don’t really know what self-isolation feels like. We’ve not had to practice any kind of social distancing.

We’re not used to closing-down offices nor ceasing services. We don’t want to think about cancelling weddings or even stopping going for a Friday night pint or Sunday lunch at a local restaurant.

I don’t feel ill

I think this is one of the most difficult things for us all to get our heads around. Ordinarily our messages are focused on ensuring people feel well. If people do feel well or at least well enough to work then we want them to show the British ‘stiff upper lip’ and keep things working.

I think we all get that, and people want to do all they can to help. People don’t like the idea of not working if they feel well enough. A cough wouldn’t normally stop people.

But coronavirus is different. We’re trying to prevent people getting ill and we’re trying to do that with a condition which is clearly very contagious.

That means that people do need to practice social distance and self isolation, even if they’re fighting fit. It’s great that people feel well, but we need to stop those people passing it on to people who might not be and who might – and lets be blunt about this – die. At the very least they’ll be an additional burden on a health service that is already nearing breaking point.

“I may be some time”

The other fundamentally different thing about this situation is that we’re not talking about a day or two or even a week or two before normal service resumes.

Some experts are predicting a year or eighteen months of disruption, and you could even foresee things never returning to how they were.

What that means is that our planning and any alternative arrangements we put in place need to go far beyond what we’d normally consider. We must plan for long-term staff sickness and that means doing things fundamentally differently.

Why communications matters

And that last sentence sums up why communications is so important at times like this. We know that in uncertain times, people have an increasing thirst for knowledge. People are nervous about the situation and want to know that it means for them.

It’s impossible for anyone to answer all the questions, but people look for answers wherever they can find them. Rumour and myth spread like wildfire.

So, it’s important that communications to your workforce (or your customers) is frequent, is honest and easy to understand.

At the same time, it’s important to give people the opportunity to ask questions or express frustrations – they will only be voicing what others are thinking.

In my team, we’re looking to make sure we get accurate information out to people quickly. We’re reviewing and enhancing how we do this. The new coronavirus wiki page is one such example.

We are also looking to make the most effective use of our communications channels. This means sharing information on our website and intranet and then spreading this quickly using our formal social media channels and informal routes like Whatsapp groups.

We need to make sure our communications are where our people are.

And finally…

I’m going to keep banging this drum, but please pay attention to mental health and wellbeing. This is applies not only to your people but also to yourself.

It is easy to ignore our own feelings of anxiety or stress in times of crisis. Adrenalin gets us through for so long. But it’s easy for us to become run down or for our stresses to overcome us.

If this is the case, take a break or a step back and speak to colleagues about this. It’s likely they’ll be feeling very similar. If so, think about ways you and your team can help each other to lighten the load and ease the burden.

Take care.