Inspirational women of lockdown - shining a light for the community
- Credit: Ian Burt
It's International Women's Day on March 8 - a day which always brings a chance to celebrate remarkable and inspiring women.
But in 2021 the occasion is more important than ever, after so many in East Anglia have played a leading role in helping the community through a year unlike any other.
For some that has meant sewing scrubs and face masks, while for others it has meant involved volunteering at a vaccine centre, organising community volunteers or carrying out a host of other vital tasks.
Today we are looking at the role of just some of the women who have made it their business to light up lives in lockdown - but there are countless others in communities across the region.
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As coronavirus vaccines are rolled out across the area, both women and men have stepped up to volunteer at vaccine centres.
Abbie Panks has been volunteering at St James Medical Practice in King's Lynn. She said: "If it wasn't for the NHS, I wouldn't be here now. They've saved me in the past and they’ve been under so much pressure over the last year, supporting them feels like lifting a small bit of the weight from their shoulders, and it’s the least I could do.
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"Since December, I’ve been supporting the vaccination rollout and it’s been a fantastic experience. It's a happy environment to be in, and the patients are so appreciative.
"In addition to the clinical team, I work with a team of 80 volunteers. It's a two-way thing, you are helping deliver vaccinations to thousands of people which is incredible, but for volunteers, it also gives an enormous boost of wellbeing. I’d recommend it wholeheartedly!
Colette Burgess, a retired nurse, is one of the many retired NHS workers who have returned to work to help with coronavirus vaccinations.
The 60-year-old now works with the research and development team at West Suffolk Hospital on a Covid-19 study and also works with the vaccination team.
She has said: ""The West Suffolk Hospital is truly amazing and it is such a privilege to join them again and all work together to fight this terrible virus."
Channelling time into helping others
Lowestoft-based crafter Melanie Lord switched during lockdown from selling home décor gifts to producing free visual aids to help people with additional needs.
The creator of online shop Butterbean Bizarre, she won two regional awards last year, a joint Changing Lives Special Recognition Award in the Suffolk Business Awards and Community Hero of the Year Award by Stars of Norfolk and Waveney. She was also recently named as a named a Small Business of 2020 by Lloyds Bank.
The mum received the awards for her work creating a set of visual cards for her autistic son, to help him understand the coronavirus crisis. These were rolled out to doctor’s surgeries, hospitals and schools.
She said: ""I couldn’t find anything to explain to my son Harry, who has autism, what was happening, and I relied on making my own visual aids.
"I realised other people would be in the same position as I was, so I decided to channel my time into creating visual aids to help others, free of charge."
Making face masks and scrubs
Karen Fulcher from Norwich was crowned the overall star in the Stars of Norfolk and Waveney Awards 2020, after working tirelessly during the pandemic to create 164 sets of scrubs and, with some help, over 500 washbags and masks.
All of these were donated to various NHS organisations around Norfolk and London.
The judges said: "Her actions were over and above in a time of real crisis and made a tremendous difference for nurses and doctors, helping them to safely deliver patient care.”
Known as the "lady with the garden" in Cawston, Lyn Fairchild has been busy raising money and helping her community for decades, and had already made nearly 100 laundry bags for NHS workers before the first lockdown started.
And she has gone on to make hundreds of face masks, not only to help aid the efforts of those working during the pandemic, but also to raise funds for St Agnes’ Church. As another local resident, Patricia Santos, said: "She’s kind, thoughtful and truly an amazing lady."
Communities have also worked together to make scrubs. The group Sew Scrubs for Ipswich Hospital, set up by Adriana Watson, which includes both women and men, gathered hundreds of keen members.
As the Facebook group's name suggests, they started off by sewing scrubs for the hospital, but once this goal was reached they branched out to sewing scrubs for community care providers and making masks for people in the community who are in need. Member Bridget Arthey was in the news last year after making an amazing 60 sets of scrubs.
Norfolk Scrubs Volunteers were named as the overall team/community group of the year winner in the Stars of Norfolk and Waveney Awards, after their army of sewers made more than 4,000 sets of scrubs, thousands of scrub hats, laundry bags and masks.
Spreading hope and kindness
The rainbow has become a symbol of hope not just in East Anglia, but across the country, during the coronavirus pandemic - and it was all started by Ipswich mum Crystal Stanley.
She was the first to introduce the trend to the UK and created the Rainbow Trail Facebook page, after being inspired by a similar group in Italy.
The group, which will celebrate its first birthday this month, now has more than 191,000 members. Crystal paid tribute to all the members as she said on Facebook: "Who can believe what we have achieved, how many people we have helped get through the pandemic, creating a community of support and how much money we have raised for all different charities. How has it nearly been a year already?"
Others have also been spreading messages of hope and kindness.
Lily Lancaster-Burdett, of Attleborough, is only 13, but she has already spent several years helping others around her home town, and has set up the Acts of Kindness Facebook group to encourage others to do the same.
She has received a Norfolk Day Hero Award for her charity work and a letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk.
Lily said: “If I can make one person smile a day, then I’ll be happy.”
Supporting women's fitness and equality
'Choose to challenge' is the theme for this year's International Women's Day, which aims to help forge a gender equal world, celebrate women's achievement and take action for equality.
An important part of that is building female confidence, which the This Girl Can ambassadors strive to do.
This Girl Can is a national movement developed by Sport England, which aims to bridge the gap between the number of women participating in sport and physical activity compared to men.
It is active in Suffolk, where it recently held a week of free virtual activities to help women keep fit and support mental health during lockdown.
Charlotte Ditchburn, a This Girl Can ambassador from Debenham, was involved in the recent week, highlighting the importance of green spaces, and was earlier nominated for an Active Suffolk Lockdown Hero award.
One of the women who nominated her said: “Her efforts have hugely impacted my life. From feeling isolated and trapped within my own four walls, she inspired me and gave me the confidence to get active in my own way. I’ve even managed my first ever wild swim.
Many groups have been set up in towns and villages across the region to support vulnerable people, key workers and others. This is just a small selection, but many more groups and individuals, both male and female, have been highlighted via our Community Leaders Programme series of articles.
The Facebook group Angels of King's Lynn was set up by Jo Reynolds and Kerry Robinson at the start of the first lockdown, and quickly gained thousands of members.
It put together a directory listing for local services and deliveries in west Norfolk. Jo said: The Facebook group is to be a place where one can ask for help, however large or small."
Members also make a whole range of videos to keep people of all ages entertained.
In Ipswich, Funmi Akinriboya, who is originally from Nigeria but has been living in the town for the last four and a half years, runs the BME Suffolk Support Group.
The group works with minority ethnic groups in the community and supports them, with projects such as the African Food Pantry, which supplies traditional food to those struggling financially, as well as youth sessions.
In the Saxmundham area, Bryony Peall is the co-ordinator of IP17 GNS, which has been leading the community response to the pandemic, giving help to those who might need prescriptions collecting or just a friendly voice at the end of a phone. On a typical day, she looks after 100 volunteers.
As well as foodbanks and community hubs being a real lifeline during the pandemic, baby banks have also been playing a vital role, with women often volunteering and supporting their efforts. Women are often at the forefront in organising these.
Norwich-based charity Baby Bank Norfolk told last week how it has seen an increase in pandemic referrals. Baby Bank trustee Pippa Martin said: “We’ve definitely seen an increase in referrals this year so far. There are more people struggling given the extreme environment that the pandemic has brought about."
Another trustee, Vicky Brooke, told how people use baby banks for a number of reasons, saying: ""I think the reality is you just never know when your personal circumstances, or your wider environment - just look at what happened in 2020 - could take a serious turn."
Klaire Peck founded Suffolk Baby Bank, and told at Christmas how it has also seen a huge increase in the number of referrals it has been receiving during the pandemic.
Our Lord Lieutenants - encouraging others all the way
Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex's Lord Lieutenants are all the first women ever to hold their respective roles.
And, as the Queen's representatives in their counties, they have inspired and recognised others over the past year.
Norfolk's Lord Lieutenant, Lady Dannatt, has been a tower of strength for many, pulling people and groups together where needed, and sending out personal letters to people who she feel has contributed.
Since she took on the role in 2019, Lady Philippa Dannatt has championed volunteering and continued her focus on mental health, something she made her theme when she was High Sheriff of Norfolk.
Suffolk's Lord Lieutenant, Clare, Countess of Euston , took on the role in 2014, while Jennifer Tolhurst has been the Queen's representative in Essex since 2017.
All have headed and worked with many charitable organisations over the years, giving personal praise and encouragement to those who have made a difference.
Just before Christmas, after the Stars of Norfolk and Waveney 2020 awards, Lady Dannatt wrote a poignant piece paying tribute to all the winners, and saying: "We owe our winners, along with the thousands of individuals like them, all quietly reaching out across our communities... a profound debt of gratitude. It is they, each demonstrating such simple acts of human kindness, who are quietly transforming the lives of the individuals and families who need it most of all."
Those words perfectly sum up how grateful thousands of people across East Anglia feel to both the women and men who have served their community during the pandemic.