Jackie Swanson
Photographed 6th May 2020 - 45 days into lockdown 

Profession: Trainee Gardener

In a way I had been in a version of the Lockdown for a few months previous to the virus arriving in the UK. I was made redundant in September 2019 and my life changed quite dramatically. No longer did I find myself commuting into London to work in a busy magazine office or meeting up with friends for a drink or to go shopping. Instead my days were spent sitting at my computer, job hunting online, writing applications, emailing contacts, worrying about finances, trying to find ways to fill my time and in truth, feeling rather fed up about life. The highlights of my days were going out for a run once a day and spending time in the garden.

After a couple of months I took the decision to make a complete change to my working life and retrain as a gardener. I’d applied for a scheme run by the WFGA and was really lucky to get a trainee gardener placement at The Swiss Garden in Old Warden, Biggleswade. My first day was March 17th.

The first day in a new workplace is always busy and exciting and I was introduced to lots of new and lovely people, but instead of shaking hands we simply waved at each other from a distance or giggled as we bumped elbows. At that point nobody seemed overly worried, but as the week went on there was more talk of the virus as the news became gloomier, in fact by the end of the week it was pretty much all that was being discussed. As I was getting ready to head in for week two of my new life, the phone rang. It was the head gardener telling me not to go in because the garden was closed until further notice.

This time the lockdown would affect everyone and we would all now be forced to navigate our way through this strange time. We’d all have to work out how to shop, what to do with all this spare time, how to spend time with those we live with and how to help those we could no longer visit.

As much as seeing the numbers of those succumbing to Covid-19 increasing day by day has been dreadful, the virus has highlighted how amazing and resilient people can be and how incredible our doctors, nurses, shop staff, couriers and all of those other folks who’ve worked tirelessly to keep the country moving are. I hope that that their recognition will continue beyond the current Thursday Evening Clap.

I’ve been very fortunate in that the Swiss Garden opened a week later for a few staff to go in and keep it ticking over, after all it’s not that hard to socially distance when there are just two of you working in a ten acre garden! It will be lovely to see the rest of the staff and the public come back and enjoy the garden but it won’t be the same. Working out what is the ‘new normal’ is going to be very challenging for everyone but it could also be an opportunity, a chance to think about how things might be done differently and for the better, not just in workplaces but in how we spend our time and what’s really important in our lives.

Written 16th May 2020

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