“Now I’m on the bandwagon, I’m ready to make more banners.”

Piddlehinton Protest. Back row: Jai, Jess and Imani. Front row: Sarah and her boys

Activism

Sarah’s Story

“At the beginning of lockdown I felt the anxiety that I’m sure many of us did; but there have also been benefits. It brought us together more as a family and I’ve been able to connect with our community a lot more than before. It also gave me time; more flexibility through not being on a schedule. And even though we were trapped at home, there was still a lot we could do. 

We’d all go off for family picnics. It was so special; there was this unique sense of being free – mixed with anxiety. Lockdown meant that we literally all had to get to know each other – although I think a lot of couples would say that, for few of us are used to being in each other’s pockets, 24/7.

One strange thing was that, completely of my own volition, I became this 1950s housewife. No-one asked me to bake bread or make meals from scratch, but I did. I’m not saying I went so far as to dress up nicely for my husband every night. But yes, sometimes I would change – probably just to demarcate the day!

Now I’ve noticed, since school’s gone back, that I’m a lot more wound up. It’s also very disconcerting how there are elements of normal life returning but it’s all still totally weird. The social bubbles, the rules you worry you’re breaking. And it feels that there are a lot more cars on the road than before.

Over the sixteen weeks my highlight has been running with you (blog author puts her hand up). I’ve loved seeing you improve and it’s been great, sharing something I love. My lowest points have been when the children wake at six, and I’ve known I’ve got a whole rainy day ahead, which I’ve got to spend feeding and entertaining them. Worse still, I’d have completed every activity by nine am. 

The view from one of our Piddlehinton morning runs

One day I felt I had to get out and went on a bike ride. Passing the school, I burst into tears thinking, ‘Oh, they should be there, with their friends, having a nice time.’ Then, seeing the park, no-one on the swings, that was such a low. The kids are five and three, and I think there’s a real magic at that age, in terms of the excitement of going to playgroup or school. Covid’s tainted that; or taken it away. 

But it’s also made me stronger. I’ve always been a person who’d say yes to everything, but now I’ve learnt the benefits of saying no. Moreover, if I want to do something, I now believe I can do it; I’ll quash the doubts. Before I had the children I was quite a strong character but – and I’m not sure if this happens to everyone – once I became a mum I began doubting myself. Now I realise that going with my gut feeling is okay. Particularly when it comes to them going back to school. I feel that this time with the kids has given me the confidence to say that I know them more than anyone. I know what their needs are, their emotional intricacies. Which means I’ve found my voice again. 

I’m delighted that Covid has also been good for the environment, and that as a family our personal carbon footprint has considerably lowered. I’ve been doing much less driving, and fewer shopping trips mean we’ve considerably increased our recycling. One benefit of cooking from scratch means that these days we hardly have any general waste. Also, I think businesses will operate in a different way from now on. Lockdown has proved that people can do much more work on line, meaning the beneficial impact on the environment is potentially huge. 

Although, obviously I’m aware that on a global scale the negative impacts will still be enormous. I see how people living in, say, Indonesia, will be hit far worse than us. We have a welfare state, social security; whereas they have none and 57% of the women work in casual employment, paid cash in hand. So many people exist on less than $2 a day, and while governments may have done a good job of fending off Covid, much of the population there will still going to be going to bed hungry. When I hear people hear moaning about needing to get their hair cut, or their nails done, I think of things like that.

Of course, I realise that this inequality has always existed, but I feel that now is a good time for change as people are more focused on global events, as they do affect us. Covid has, in a strange and horrible way, made us all feel more interconnected.

At the beginning of lockdown I was following the news avidly, but by about Easter I’d begun to avoid it. What happened to George Floyd made me thoroughly engaged again, then, when you and I were running one day and you mentioned that because you have mixed-race children, you couldn’t say the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ out loud – before supressing your tears – I thought: I need to do something about this. So I did. 

I put a post on our Whatsapp group, suggesting the village did something in solidarity. I felt really positive about it until about an hour before it was scheduled to take place. Then I worried whether there might be people who might object to it. But if there’s one thing the last few weeks have taught me, it’s that it’s not enough not to be non-racist, you’ve got to be anti-racist; so I decided that others thinking negatively wasn’t my problem. Because I knew what I was doing was the right thing and if people disliked me trying to be an activist… well, whatever. Piddlehinton might just be one tiny village, but, actually, we are also part of this massive thing. 

I think that pre-lockdown I would have wanted to do something, but not known how to sort it. Having the Whatsapp group meant it was as easy as just posting a message. And then, when so many people turned up, I felt so proud. There might well have been some people who didn’t like it, but unlike in other villages – inspired by our demo to hold their own – no-one here said anything publicly. Although I’m not naïve enough to think that racism doesn’t exist. 

So in the future I’m determined to pull people up if they make racist comments, because they’re happening everywhere. I think we all have the tendency to hang out with people who are like-minded, so you don’t necessarily see it within your friendship groups. But you can within your acquaintances, or you might overhear things. And as good citizens, it’s the duty of everyone to start calling things out. 

One of the reasons for my new-found strength on this matter is our little village demonstration. It was actually the most profound moment of lockdown for me: the knowledge that I could send out my request for solidarity, knowing that it would be supported. Because that’s the great community we live in. And it’s so important, because individual actions create a groundswell that eventually create a tipping point. And I would love my children to live in a society where everybody is kind and has a heart. For everyone deserves the same: to be treated well and have a great quality of life. 

I still find the photos from the day so powerful. They are in rural Dorset, and I don’t think there are many images like that. And I love the fact that a tiny piece of history has come out of it. Following a request, our banners and posters are now in Dorset County Museum and will, in time, become a little display. It’s modern history, already made – even though it only happened a month ago.

Coming out of lockdown actually makes me feel quite bereft. We’ve been so tight as a community; it’s what’s kept us going. I think that in the future we need to carry on using the green by the bridge in the centre of the village as a meeting place. We need to have more events which aren’t necessarily fundraisers. We need to carry on really getting to know one another. And all of it makes me feel even more strongly that our village is somewhere that I’m so happy my children are growing up in. It’s also simply a place where I’m happy. 

Apart from the road. And now I’ve found my voice, I’m on the bandwagon. I’m ready to make my banners saying ‘Respect the residents; this is not a bypass.’ 

Because our voices need to be heard on that too. And I’ve seen that small things can still have a big impact.”

Piddlehinton Black Lives Matter demonstrators on the village green

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