Sam Tasker-Grindley and Karen Lewchenko describe the effects of being furloughed as a result of COVID-19, as well as how it actually ended up providing them with new opportunities.
Sam Tasker-Grindley: Associate Director, RSM (Leeds office)
“Looking back on it, there was something of an inevitability that when roles began to be furloughed at RSM, mine was going to be one of them. I joined in May last year, but I did so without an existing portfolio of clients – meaning my job was a business development one. Given the complete nature of the lockdown, it was becoming abundantly clear that looking for new business was an activity that was going to take second fiddle to the company maintaining existing work, and so I was furloughed on 1 April.
“At first it was great having so much freedom and extra time on my hands. I had visions of reading more, getting fitter, catching up on movies. But after a while the novelty of all this soon wore off. I craved having some routine, and wanting to feel like I was doing something useful with my time (and skills).
“I started doing some voluntary work for a local mental health charity, but it soon occurred to me that there must be millions of other people [there were 7.5 million furloughed staff by mid-May] that had skills they could lend to others while not being allowed to work for their actual employer.
“I couldn’t really shake the idea, and within days the concept of Furlonteer.co.uk was born – a sort of matchmaking service linking charities seeking skills with furloughed people with time on their hands and who were willing to help.
“Conceived over a lockdown curry on Zoom with some London friends, the site soon went live – launching on 21 April – and the concept was clearly one that resonated. We saw 1,000 people sign up to volunteer in the first 48 hours.
“As of mid-May we had more than 500 charities signed up with us, with volunteer numbers surpassing 4,000. More than a quarter of these have so far taken on some form of voluntary work.
“The sorts of work people do include lending their media skills, marketing nouse, PR, and IT know-how – you name it. We’ve had everyone signing up, from chefs, to IT professionals, public relations executives, to bar staff, doctors and teachers. Others include business owners and entrepreneurs whose work has simply dried up.
“There are already plans to continue the site beyond the time I’m furloughed. We’ve just launched a mentoring scheme, aimed specifically at students who were due to be doing work experience or apprenticeships, but have had these cancelled or stopped because businesses were shut down. The idea is that we’ll match a student with a furlonteer, and then have them both work with their matched charity. Not only will each student pick up skills, but their buddy will mentor them as well, doubling the benefit.
“My employer has been extremely supportive of me, with several partners promoting me on LinkedIn and other platforms. It’s been great to think that rather than sitting doing nothing, I’ve created something – and something that will continue long after this pandemic has passed.”
Karen Lewchenko: Auditor, Just Audit Ltd
“We started getting worried that COVID-19 was going to have a big impact on our Nottingham-based business when clients we had in other European countries started shutting shop, literally en masse. Our work also started to dry up. So when the boss called me in for a meeting, shorty after Easter, it wasn’t really a surprise when I was told I was going to be furloughed.
“But as well as working as a chartered accountant, I’m also a complementary and natural healthcare council-registered practitioner in hypnotherapy, aromatherapy and reflexology. So I decided that I needed to use this time more productively, to volunteer my skills to people who would really need them, such as front-line care workers, who were extremely likely to be suffering from high levels of stress and anxiety doing their jobs under very challenging times.
“I decided I would offer free Zoom call sessions to key workers, to be there for any mental and emotional needs they might have, to help them deal with the times we’re in. I’ve already conducted a number of chats to key workers – everyone from nurses to a long-distance truck driver.
“In my calls I try and bring people back into the present. At the moment people are exhibiting an awful lot of worry about what the future holds – when really no one can be sure of that. I aim to anchor them to the moment, and consider how they can make the immediate present better. To help, I’ve made some videos that I’ve put up on both my own website (serenity-therapies.com) and on YouTube.
“While COVID-19 has undeniably had a catastrophic impact, what I have learned is that there is a body of people out there, just willing to help, that I haven’t seen before. While the day job will come back, I’m determined to keep up the voluntary work I’ve been doing. It’s enabled me to take stock, slow down, and think about what matters.”
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