Two years on: Mancunians whose lives were transformed dramatically by lockdown

This month marks two years since the first Covid-19 lockdown forced people to give up their regular routines and stay indoors.

Alongside the trauma of sickness, loss, uncertainty and hardship, it was the catalyst for significant changes to people’s lives all over Manchester. From being inspired to join the NHS to having to close the door on the outside world for the full two years – people tell of very different experiences.

Here, MEN reporter Louisa Gregson speaks to Mancunians about just what changes the last two years have brought into their lives.

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“I found it scary but once I got used to it I felt like I was living again” – Inspired by the NHS, single, stay at home mum Aroob Iqbal trained to be a paramedic

Aroob Iqbal is a single mum who decided to follow her dream of becoming an NHS paramedic during lockdown. Aroob, 27, from Rochdale has two young daughters, aged five and three.

She says she first started thinking about becoming a paramedic in 2018 when her eldest daughter suffered breathing problems. She called an ambulance and was impressed and inspired by the paramedics who attended her.

“The way they were with my child it pulled me to a career,” she explains. Aroob, who was a full-time, stay at home mom, was further inspired during the pandemic by the hard work of the NHS.

She says: “I felt like it was my opportunity, I wanted to do something for me. The pandemic just hit during that time and I felt like it was a motivation. I saw how hard the NHS staff worked and what they were doing. “

Aroob Iqbal

Aroob applied for a postgraduate degree in Paramedic Science, and now in her second year, she has worked on a placement with North West ambulance – working with Covid patients. “I found it scary but once I got used to it I felt like I was living again,” she says, adding that her new vocation has given her a purpose.

“Lockdown actually helped me a lot, as it made me focus on becoming an NHS paramedic and it gave me life. I feel like I am living – and it is such an achievement.”

Nicky Cameron

“I was in the middle of building a house and had to mothball everything” – Nicki Cameron’s business came to a halt – so she set up another

Nicki Cameron, who lives in Heaton Moor in Stockport was working as a property developer and had been a dog walker for 20 years when the pandemic hit. She jokes that she was a dog walker by day and a property developer by night, doing three dog walks in the morning and working on the property business later in the day.

But the lockdown meant her clients no longer needed her as they were at home and could walk their own pets. At the same time, she says, she could no longer get supplies and builders had to stop work.

She says: “I was in the middle of building a house and had to mothball everything. I didn’t have any key workers in my customers and so everyone was at home and could walk their own dogs.

So Nicki, who says she enjoyed having a full house again during lockdown when her two daughters aged 23 and 25 moved back in – decided to set up her own dog photography business from home. She says: “Photography was a real passion and hobby. I have always loved dogs – it seemed a great thing to do to combine my hobby with my love of dogs.

“It was a learning curve learning all the social media, I did an Instagram course and I learned so much. It was wonderful combining dogs and photography.

Nicki Cameron’s photography

Maintaining a social distance, Nicky approached people in the park and asked if she could practice by snapping their dogs and asked friends to let her take pictures of their dogs too.

She properly launched her business, DogArt as lockdown came to an end. “I didn’t want to just be a dog photographer,” she says, “I wanted to create dog wall art in offices and workplaces. It brightens up the workplace to have a lovely dog ​​picture.

“I recently had a huge client and had to photograph 14 dogs – everyone brought their dogs in to their office and I took the pictures. I love working with dogs, seeing the results and seeing the owners faces when I show them the pictures -it’s trying to nail that perfect shot and when you do it is such a thrill.”

Nicki says she owes the business to lockdown, saying: “I would not have done it otherwise, I would have been doing exactly what I was doing before as I probably wouldn’t have thought of it. It is exciting and new and I love Item.”

Sam Robson with her painting of the Roberts Bakery cooling towers

“Even though things kept closing down for me, I found new ways of doing things” – cancer survivor Sam Robson had to shield for two years, but found a way to thrive

Sam Robson, 56, is a survivor of cancer Hodgkin lymphoma, which meant she has had to shield and stay inside for a full two years.

Sam was diagnosed with the cancer in 2015 after she kept fainting at her new job as a systems accountant in Knutsford.

She says:” I got chest pains in the middle of the night in June 2015 and I was taken by blue light to hospital but they could not find a cause.”

Sam, who lives in Cheshire, was sent home but her temperature kept spiking and she was regularly fainting, so two months later she was taken into a private hospital and had a CT scan, where she was told by doctors that they were 99 per cent sure she had cancer. It took another two months to locate the tumor, which was placed under her ribs.

She had to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy and lost her spleen – meaning she was clinically vulnerable when lockdown happened. She says: “When it came to lockdown I had different reasons for being vulnerable to Covid – the blood cancer, the chemotherapy I had to kill it had damaged my lungs, a rare tumor in my spleen and a rare ammonia in my lungs which is still sitting in there, dormant, ready to pounce again if you are weakened by something like Covid.

sam painting

Sam is not able to go into settings that are not well ventilated, such as shops, restaurants, theatre, cinemas or even crowded pub gardens. Fully shielded for two years, artist Sam, who, having given up accountancy, had sold her own art and costume jewelery on market stalls, says he had to think of another way to live and work.

“I used to sell art and jewelery at a market stall – it was always crowded, so I couldn’t go anymore,” she said. “I pivoted and found a print to order site and started loading all my art on it – and found I was selling to USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Ireland and the UK.

“Even though things kept closing down for me, I found new ways of doing things and I can now call myself an international selling artist because I kept looking for new ways to do things.”

Sam says there have been things she misses from her life before lockdown. “I miss the hustle and bustle of the stalls,” she says. “I have missed all kinds of PR opportunities and I miss my friends.

“I really miss two cancer support groups I used to help run – I can’t do that now as they meet in cafes. I lost a lot of opportunities but I found new ones as people went out of their way to include me, such as InchArt who made adjustments so I could be part of their exhibition by being outside.”

Mainly, Sam is counting her blessings and seeing the positives that the twist in her life has brought. “I am very grateful that I survived,” she says. ” Lymphoma gave me the freedom to do things. I was on the track to be an accountant – it chucked me off that track.

“It’s a big responsibility and a privilege to take a blank piece of paper and fill it with things that bring peace, joy, contentment and happy memories, such as my paintings of beach trips. I was brought up to be in the background, there is a lot of social pressure to not make a noise in life or stand up for anything but I am not having it.

“What I can do is help in creating lovely emotions. We all have 24 hours a day, we all have however long we have, we have to make the most of them.”

Rachel and Freddy

“Lockdown made me slow down and prioritize and I think I am a better parent and company leader because of it” – Rachel McCartan-Jones had a newborn baby as the pandemic hit.

Rachel McCartan-Jones, 37, is the Managing Director of Crate Communications – an award winning drinks PR agency based in Manchester. Her baby boy, Freddie, was just six weeks old when the first lockdown happened and her business was also in her infancy. She says the lockdown caused ‘two fundamental things’ to change.

Rachel, who is married and lives in Chorlton says: “I had just had my first baby – a little boy – and also had my fledgling business. So when the pandemic hit there were two areas of my life that were new to me. I I had envisioned a few months at home with my baby and then he would be in nursery and I would be back to work quickly.

“I wanted to scale to the size where we would require offices quickly, as I had a pre-conceived notion that that is what good looks like. So when the pandemic hit it was a scary, turbulent time to hold a newborn and have a new business.”

But Rachel says the lockdown came with benefits she hadn’t expected. “Essentially what happened was it really slowed me down as a mum,” she says.

“Instead of signing up to lots of clubs such as swimming, baby massage and so on – none of it was open to me and it gave me time to slow down. As a result I had an idyllic maternity leave.

Rachel and her baby boy, Freddie

“I did go back to work, but in a way that was never anticipated – instead of my baby going to nursery, my mum helped and I could work upstairs and nip down and be close to my baby. At work, we managed to scale working from home and flourish.

“Now everyone works from home and we never want to go back into a working model ever again. We work to live rather than live to work. There is no commute and we are not all gravitating towards one destination every day.

“This year we won a place in the top 50 drinks PR agencies in the UK. Lockdown made me slow down and prioritize and I think I am a better parent because of it and a better company leader for it.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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