Millions now join me as a home-based worker during the lockdown. But could I have imagined providing board and shelter to another family at a time when housing providers have suspended new moves?
In mid-March, I reconnected with a friend who had been made homeless after fleeing an abusive partner. She had then received an offer of a two-bedroom house through social housing. However, she just needed a place to stay with her daughter for five nights before moving into her new home. As a single parent myself, this was a small gesture of kindness and one which didn’t require much pondering.
The next two weeks’ stories of Covid-19 dominated our news, although I generally tend to avoid the news because I believe that unless I’m really going to be able help someone, my opinion on famine, civil unrest or politics is meaningless. So I blithely continued to reorganise furniture in my daughter’s bedroom and added little touches such as cushions, throws and fairy lights in preparation for my guests who arrived on the weekend of the lockdown.
The next day, my friend received a video to accept the property, which she did and we’re thrilled that her housing provider is using technology to continue to work and the move will still go ahead.
We’re wrong… Less than 24 hours later, she receives an email saying that they can’t continue the move until further notice. She is devastated and I am left with disbelief and uncertainty.
I work for a software provider that provides IT systems to housing providers and our prime focus is supplying the software tools they need to run their day-to-day activities without the need for an office as well as tools for their tenants to ensure that they are not affected by situations such as Covid-19.
I log on to our systems while sipping my coffee at my now overcrowded dining-room table and I have a light-bulb moment. My work isn’t affected and our company has the tools to enable our staff to work from home so we don’t need to be furloughed. We are given flexible hours to work around our family life and also offer our customers more flexibility such as extended support hours and online training and meetings rather than onsite visits.
While providing one customer with their weekly update, we had a general catch up about family life and I told them about my new house guests. They said that if they’d had our software (Applicant Portal) six months ago, they could have been completing their sign-ups online and would have had the ability to move them in during the pandemic. They have now bought our Applicant Portal to sit alongside the self-service portal and mobile environment we already provide to them. This will let them fully digitalise their housing application process, right through to tenancy sign-up and managing their tenancies online.
The next few weeks are a blur: wake up, start a wash, make porridge, log onto my laptop in my bedroom rather than in the dining room because it’s mayhem with two teenagers and a two-year old. Prepare lunch, start a second wash, log back on, join a web call, tick through my to-do list, log off, prepare dinner, serve dinner, clean the kitchen, recycle, sweep floors, clean some more and so forth.
What have I learnt? I have a sense of fear for all essential workers and healthcare staff. My shopping trips are weighted with trepidation for staff and I thank them for their hard work as they serve the public, unprotected from the mass of shoppers passing through their shops each day. Taking off my mask and gloves in the car and disinfecting my hands provides some sense of security, with a change of clothes and washing of hands once I am home.
I am content with the chaos and the moments of panic while my appreciation of my children grows as they try to make sense of the situation while taking turns to help with my friend’s small daughter.
I adore sitting in the garden, enjoying meals outside and doing things together as a family. It’s a time to appreciate your health, think of others and give silently without hunger or thirst for praise or reward.
Shahina Ahmed is a project manager at Housing Insight.