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Breamish Hall and the Global Pandemic 2020

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Impact of global pandemic

Compulsory closure

On 11 March 202, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak to be a global pandemic. By July 2022, 182,000 people in England and Wales had died owing to the outbreak. A series of three ‘lockdowns’ (stay-at-home orders) beginning 23 March 2020 forced the closure of many businesses, schools and meeting place. While Village Halls are expected to respond to crises (e.g. WWI Intelligence Station and 1980 Bus Crash) they were similarly required to close for all but essential services.

First cancellation

charity quiz evening header

A Charity Quiz Evening planned for Saturday 28 March 2020 was cancelled on 16 March 2020 – just five days after the global pandemic was declared.

Breamish Hall closed

And one day later, on 17 March 2020, the Breamish Hall closed. This also meant that the monthly Warm Hub lunches could no longer be served.

Impact 1: Social

The lockdowns resulted in a loss of companionship, as all social activities in the Breamish Hall were put on hold. Many elderly people, and people living alone, were particularly affected. It was plausibly thought that ‘stay at home’ orders would have a detrimental effect on people’s mental health. Consequently, the Breamish Hall Committee worked behind the scenes to find ways of lessening the potential impact of lockdowns on residents’ sense of well-being [Note 1].

Behind the scenes

During the series of three lockdowns, the Breamish Hall Committee never stopped working: they were constantly looking for grants and to join with local projects that would improve the well-being of the people they served. So, while activities couldn’t take place within the hall, the outreach programme was extended to include some of the following.

June 2020: Delivering plants

‘Grow Your Own Starter Packs’ containing a range of vegetable and flowering plants were delivered to Warm Hubs in Northumberland. These were provided by Wylam Nurseries and the project was funded by Northern Gas Networks and the Community Foundation. The project aimed to support general well-being and help both older people and young families cope better with lockdown. May Wilson and Noreen Birnie collected the packs from the Breamish Hall and delivered them to local people.

Montage photo of three people receiving 'Grow Your Own Starter Kits'
Some of the recipients of the ‘Grow Your Own Starter Packs’ 2020 [Ref: BVPC0472]

November 2020: Supplying free computer tablets

Six regular attendees of the Powburn Warm Hub were given free tablets. This was part of Community Action Northumberland‘s (CAN) programme to help keep vulnerable and/or isolated people connected with family and friends during lockdown. It also provided the stimulus of learning new skills.

Just a quick message to say thank you very much for my tablet. I have never used anything like this before, so was very apprehensive about it. My daughter has shown me how to send and receive emails, attach photos, and how to save attachments I receive. I’m getting there and will progress onto other things soon. I can now keep in touch with my relatives and see photos of them and their families. Next step is a few games to keep my brain active, then video calling!

Recipient of computer tablet (Nov 2020)

Christmas 2020: Delivering Christmas hampers

Photo of Christmas hampers laid out on long table
Preparing Christmas hampers in Breamish Hall 2020 [Ref: BVPC0470]

Food hampers were prepared and delivered to potentially vulnerable local people who would benefit from support over the Christmas period and during the winter lockdown. The hampers were funded in part by the Rural Food Kitchen Project and partnered by Community Action Northumberland and Northern Gas Networks. The Warm Hub at the Breamish Hall received £2,000.00 to buy bulk food and packaging to make up the Christmas hampers. In all, around 50 households benefited from this outreach programme.

Photo of elderly woman receiving a Christmas hamper on her doorstep
Delivering Christmas hamper 2020 [Ref: BVPC0468]

December 2020: Delivering ‘goodie bags’

Alongside the Christmas hampers, some free goodie bags supplied by Age UK were also handed out. The bags contained useful leaflets and information about keeping active, along with pens, key rings, a hand exercise ball, a Christmas activity pack, and a tin of shortbread biscuits.

Young male 'Age UK' delivery driver with boxes inside Breamish Hall
Age UK delivery of ‘goodie bags’ to Breamish Hall 2020 [Ref: BVPC0471]

2021: Book box

A community sharing book box was gifted by Glendale Connect and installed outside the Breamish Hall. There was uncertainty at the time about whether or not the virus that caused covid-19 could be passed on through touching ‘contaminated’ surfaces. Consequently, the book box carried the warning, “You should quarantine your book in line with Government guidelines before reading it.”

Photo of book box mounted on a wood post
Breamish Hall book box 2021 [Ref: BVPC0519]

Impact 2: Financial

Closure of the Breamish Hall resulted in a loss of income that threatened the sustainability of the Hall – bills still had to be paid.

Fortunately, the Breamish Hall Committee was able to successfully apply to the Government’s Leisure, Hospitality and Retail Grant Fund – being awarded £31,970.71.

How the grant money was used

Initially, the money was spent on fixed costs (such as recurring insurance and utility bill payments) and direct covid-related costs. The covid-related costs included the necessary preparations for re-opening the Breamish Hall, e.g., signs, cleaning materials, personal protective equipment (PPE), and similar. As the UK Government rolled out its ‘roadmap’ to ease lockdown in England from 4 July 2020, the Breamish Hall Committee considered the implications of re-opening its doors. The committee contacted all regular user groups to determine their views about returning to regular activities in the Hall. Understandably, several groups were cautious about returning. May Wilson (Chair, Breamish Hall Committee) had this to say:

The Breamish Hall committee held a meeting to discuss if the hall could safely reopen after 4th July. Studying the guidelines, the committee considered the measures which would need to be in place if the hall was to re-open. Prior to the meeting our booking clerk consulted with all our user groups asking when they planned to return. Only one group wanted to return straight away, all the others were not intending to return until September at the earliest. After weighing up the balance of people’s health as opposed to their mental well being, the consensus was to err on the side of caution and remain closed. The committee agreed to review the situation again in August with the view to fully re-open in September, provided Government guidelines allow it.

May Wilson (1 July 2020)

The Breamish Hall Committee felt fortunate to having received grant funding to keep the Hall viable. There was also clearly a need to encourage existing, and new, groups to use the facilities. Consequently, it was decided to support the existing groups, and encourage new users, by offering six weeks free hire [Note 2].

Reopening 2021

After various adjustments to the UK Government’s ‘roadmap’ and ongoing discussion with Breamish Hall user groups, the Breamish Hall eventually opened with a regular timetable of activities on 26 May 2021 (with certain restrictions in place, e.g., wearing face masks, keeping 2m apart, hand sanitising stations).

Graphic with the words 'Breamish Hall Powburn - yes, we're open!'
Breamish Hall Reopens May 2021

In time, Breamish Hall has once more able to return to doing what it does best – being the Centre of Community Life!


Notes

  1. It was reasonably thought at the start of the pandemic, that lockdowns would have a detrimental psychological effect on people whose daily lives, leisure activities, livelihoods and in-person social interactions were substantially affected (Prati and Mancini, 2021). While it might be assumed that older people living alone would experience larger detrimental effects, it was also acknowledged that young people could be adversely affected and similarly demonstrate worry surrounding contracting COVID-19 (Evans et al., 2021). While the exact effects on mental health (e.g., loneliness, general distress, worry, suicide risk) were unknown, it was, nevertheless, rational that the Breamish Hall Committee would look towards means of assisting as many residents as possible during the three main lockdowns. Hence: delivering plants, supplying free computer tablets, delivering Christmas hampers and ‘goodie bags’, etc. Interestingly, since the termination of lockdowns, and the roll out of vaccines that has helped us move towards viewing the virus as a now potentially seasonal virus, it appears that “lockdowns do not have uniformly detrimental effects on mental health and that most people are psychologically resilient to their effects” (Prati and Mancini, 2021:201).
  2. The remaining funds are being used carefully, to manage and maintain the building [September 2022].

References

  • Evans S, Alkan E, Bhangoo JK, Tenenbaum H, Ng-Knight T. Effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on mental health, wellbeing, sleep, and alcohol use in a UK student sample. Psychiatry Res. 2021 Apr;298:113819. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2021.113819. Epub 2021 Feb 23. PMID: 33640864.
  • Prati, G., & Mancini, A. (2021). The psychological impact of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns: A review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies and natural experiments. Psychological Medicine, 51(2), 201-211. doi:10.1017/S0033291721000015

Credits

NB: Dates in (brackets) indicate the year when the images were first shared with either the Breamish Valley Photographic Collection or the Breamish Hall Heritage Project and, therefore, the date when permission to use the images was granted.

  • Header image: BVPC0511 Graham Williamson personal collection (2019)
  • BVPC0472: May Wilson personal collection (2022)
  • BVPC0470: May Wilson personal collection (2022)
  • BVPC0468: May Wilson personal collection (2022)
  • BVPC0471: May Wilson personal collection (2022)
  • BVPC0519: May Wilson personal collection (2021)

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