Georgina in Lockdown

The AWUK Board in Lockdown

We recently reached out to some of our Board members to see how they were coping since lockdown began in March. How has COVID affected them specifically? How did they manage to find a balance between work and family life when they were both almost inseparable? How has working remotely affected their current positions? And what are their thoughts on the future of the animation and VFX industries?

This month we will be featuring the stories of Anna Gregory, Val Cazalat and Georgina Hurcombe. They each share their own struggles with lockdown from a dear parent’s death to managing work-life and parenting; we hope you can relate to their stories and find comfort in the time of COVID.

Anna Gregory 

In the Time of COVID – The Lockdown Days

At the start of lockdown, I realised this was going to be a real challenge for me, as well as for so many others. Not because I would have to work remotely, which I love, but because I was obligated by law to stay at my home until further notice. Why was that so unusual? Well, for me it was because for many years I had lived in three locations every week. I would spend a couple of those nights with my partner and for the rest of the week, I would be at my ageing parent’s home, helping care for them. 

I couldn’t help but keep asking myself, how would I feel about spending all my time at my own house for a change? What am I going to do? It did not take me long to sort out my first month, including enrolling in online courses, cleaning and clearing the house, and having the luxury of learning all that software I never had time to play with before. It all sounded good to me. 

Then I thought about my lovely Mum’s 95th birthday at the beginning of April and how we wouldn’t be able to spend the day with her. That was a blow. So, I decided to set up a Zoom birthday meeting.   

I must admit that a break from all that personal care was a real relief, but it did not take long for me to find I missed caring for my parents even though it could sometimes be a challenge. We were all being exceptionally good obeying the lockdown rules: Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save lives. No travelling unless necessary.

The birthday Zoom meeting turned out to be a great success! My parents really got behind it. My Dad was constantly fascinated by technology and always an early accepter of it. We even set up indispensable weekly Zoom meetings. It was a little compensation for the lack of physical contact with my family.

And I was getting on well with all my plans. I relished the weekly Zoom meeting together with regular phone calls. And on one particular call with my Dad, it was heartening to hear him chatty and sounding happy. I thought he would be missing us more. You can imagine how I felt when my brother called me the next day with the news that my Dad unexpectedly died that night. I was in complete shock. 

As a family, we worked tirelessly to keep my parents away from care homes and oh my goodness, did that pay off! When the paramedics came to check my Dad, they told my brother there was no COVID involved and the family could come to the house. We did almost immediately, as Mum really needed our support. 

And with that, it did not take long for my routine to get back to normal. I discovered I was classed as a key worker since I am registered with the local council as a carer. Which meant I could now spend all the time I wanted to with my Mum without breaking lockdown rules. The biggest issue for me after finding that out was I could’ve been there for my parents the whole time; I could’ve been there for my Mum when she needed me most and I could’ve said goodbye to my Dad. Instead of getting upset, I spared a thought for all those grieving families who couldn’t even see their loved ones in hospitals or care homes. 

This sad and tragic episode is bearable because my lovely Dad died peacefully in his bed next to my Mum, the love of his life for 67 beautiful years. This fact alone gives me great comfort in the time of COVID.

Val Cazalat

Life in Lockdown — The Accountants Perspective

On the 16th of March we were all asked to work from home until advised otherwise. The move was surprisingly easy; we already had IT systems in place enabling remote working and had carried out a test the week before to see if the system could take all 600 of us working from home at the same time. We left that evening fully expecting to be back in in a month or so. Five months on and it is we’re only just planning a return to the office.

The first month was frantically busy; long hours with phone calls as clients both in the UK and overseas wanted help with cashflow projections, loan applications, help with understanding how the furlough process worked, and access to the various government assistance programs. I was never one for video calls before lockdown, but they are now an everyday part of my life. So much so that a normal phone call is a rarity! We have settled down into our new way of working and are making sure we keep in daily contact with all staff (especially with the trainees). Generally, everything works well but my stress levels seem to be inversely proportional to the strength of my broadband. It was at an all-time high when Virgin Media went down for 6-hours just as I was about to host a client webinar. My stress levels returned to normal only after the aid of a large gin and tonic that evening.

A well-deserved gin and tonic

We have even managed to host lots of team socials for the office: quizzes, drinks (BYO obviously), bingo, yoga (thank heavens I didn’t put my camera on!) and online poker (surprisingly loads of fun). I still miss the buzz of being in the office and am looking forward to going back in for at least some of the time when we can.

Georgina Hurcombe

Reflecting on Lockdown

Many of us never saw this pandemic coming. If you had told me a year ago that a phrase I would use almost daily would be “turn your microphone on I can’t hear you”, or that I wouldn’t see some of my team members for months, and some of my proudest moments would be baking bread; I would have laughed! 

In February, I travelled to Miami for Kidscreen. Having heard limited stories of the virus, I was the only person in the airport wearing a mask (looking quite strange, I imagine). Who would have thought that months later, this look would be an everyday staple? 

I must say, I have been so touched to see how people have really come together and the efforts of frontline workers within our society. From the doctors and nurses of the NHS to the Amazon delivery workers, they have all been inspiring. It’s amazing how so many people have put their lives at risk to keep our society going.

Like many, I’ve gone through stages of fear, frustration and loneliness at not seeing friends and family members, but I’ve also grown and adapted in so many ways, as I’m sure we all have had to do. 

Home schooling has been challenging, especially with a 6 and 9-year-old in my household.  I’m lucky the children have been incredible and adapted to lockdown very well, but it’s certainly been tricky trying to carry on “normal” routines while juggling schoolwork. On one occasion, I had a very important Zoom conversation about a fund I wanted to apply for, and I had implicitly explained to the 6-year-old not to come in unless there was an emergency. Of course, he knocked on the door throughout the call, popped his head around the door and even danced on the spot until finally announcing his “big” emergency was that he didn’t know how to spell the word “boat!” 

Georgina in Lockdown

Sharing a workspace at home can be interesting…

It’s also great to hear so many positive stories about our industry, and how many studios have been able to adjust to working remotely in such an adaptive manner. I’m incredibly proud of my own team and how well they’ve adapted to the challenging situations COVID-19 has presented us with. I’ve got to know many people on a much deeper level with Zoom being such a normal part of life; I’ve met people’s family members, their children and their pets online! I’ve even pitched virtually at MIPTV kids series pitch.

Despite all the challenges, I do think the future is bright. We are hopefully going to be recruiting for Pop Paper City soon, hiring animators and production team members alike. I’m still nervous about what the future holds with the pandemic still ongoing and the potential of a second wave, but I’m also confident that our industry, country, and the world can rise to the challenges we face together.

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