Well, no one saw that one coming did they, certainly not either Sharon or myself who were both on a weeks holiday which should have taken place from the 21st of March this year; respectively our first breaks since the Christmas holiday. Naturally we both had to abandon our plans on the Monday and head back to LionMouth to assess the situation and put social isolation measures in place. Most of the day Care Service Users, who are our main priority and concern did not turn in from that Tuesday, and quite understandably so. Those in care homes needed to keep themselves and the other residents safe, and those living with their parents generally had vulnerable family members to protect. All staff apart from Sharon and myself were advised to stay at home and we shut the site to the public. This way we could keep the site clean and a free as possible from infection being invited onto the site.
It just happened to be the busiest time of the year in the garden didn't it, so we were both madly sowing seeds, taking cuttings, pricking out and potting on. The lawns and meadows needed mowing on a weekly basis and the 'bits in between' strimming. The vegetable terraces had to be leveled, raked and planted up; all the routine work that would normally have been done by twenty to thirty people on a daily basis. On top of that we had fallen trees that needed to be chain-sawed up, fences erected to keep opportunist quad bikers, dog walkers and bored gangs of youths from tearing up the woodlands. We even had to put the shutters in the fish pass to get the water to flow over the weir as families were picnicking on the dam wall. We just desperately wanted to keep the site isolated, free of people and away from any potential viral vectors.
Luckily the weather was in our favour. The sun seemed to shine for months and we undertook most of the work outside. The bench overlooking the terraces became the potting bench and Flynn took the opportunity to sit and watch the gates, waiting for everyone to come back. He also got through two paddling pools, biting out the bottom of his first one, and spent many hours chasing sticks in the river to keep cool. Unfortunately the good weather also meant that watering was a mammoth daily task. Some of the staff did volunteer to carry this out over the weekends though which did mean that we got Saturday and Sunday off..phew!
With no income coming in from tea rooms, plant nursery or day care service users (at that time) we explored all our options. We quickly discovered that we fell between the stools when it came to any of the government grants (no surprise there), so were fast on the keyboard to get some funding applications in. Fortunately we were quite successful with several applications and were soon able to set too in buying arts and craft supplies and everything that we needed to be able to send out practical activity packs to all of our service users, and remain in weekly phone contact.
Just to up our work load we decided to start up a plant delivery service. Well, it was no good just creating all these lovely plants for them just to sit on the nursery benches. This would bring some of the staff back into action. None of them had been idle either during this time. They had all been improving their work related learning, gaining meaningful qualifications on line; first aid, infection control, PPE, drug and alcohol abuse (how to spot and assist, not carry out!), pest control and food hygiene to name but a few. Sharon and myself took all the orders and made them up then carried them down to the bottom car park where two staff members would pick them up and go out on their delivery rounds. This worked a treat and suddenly we saw our beloved plants marching out the gates to their new homes. Herbs in particular were very popular this spring. Then we had demands for 'gate pick ups', which again proved popular. Not being particularly brilliant with technology, websites and social media, plus the added hassle that our phone line reach was limited and any mobile signal abysmal we think we managed rather well. Yes, we missed a few calls; maybe we were working down on the veg terraces, in the woods or on the meadow, and there were times when we had to constantly ring people back up as the handset had wandered just too far out of reach, but the orders have been consistent and encouragingly numerous.
Now we have reached the calmer times in the garden. The veg are steadily growing, requiring just a tickling weed and hoe about. Yes, the grass still continues to grow, and cutting-taking is a year round job but there is an easement in haste. Rewards are forthcoming in the way of produce. Broad beans, peas, broccoli, sweet tangy tomatoes, the first of an inundation of courgettes and squash, berries and even honey. There may be light on the horizon as to when the service users may be able to come back. There are discussions with the powers that be as to how this may happen, who it might involve and for how many days. We have put our measures in place. We have moved their tables apart, bought the hand sanitizers and floor markers. The guys have all done their part though. They have all stayed in, stayed safe and stayed clean. Hopefully LionMouth will soon once again be filled with the sounds, sights and smells of fun-filled activity. Until then Sharon and myself shall relish and make the most of the peaceful sounds of nature that has prospered in their absence. It has been weird, it has been tough, it has been challenging but it has also been restorative and rejuvenating in many ways, and I have re bonded with the wild spirit of LionMouth.