Capturing social work and social care memories from Covid-19

Social workers and care staff are being encouraged to share their reflections on the pandemic through time capsules, designed to provide a lasting legacy and learning for future generations

Moment in Time Covid-19 remembrance campaign time box
A Moment in Time memory box

By Denise Turner

Whatever the consequences of the lifting of restrictions, there is little doubt that 19 July marked a significant moment in the pandemic in England. However, whilst the ‘Thank You Day’ for NHS staff and ‘Clap for Heroes’ (formerly ‘Clap for Our Carers’) have provided moments of collective gratitude, and deaths from Covid have been recognised by events including Stars in Memory and Marie Curie’s National Day of Reflection, there has been less focus on capturing memories from the pandemic for posterity.

Memory work has been shown to be very helpful within bereavement processes (Turner, 2014; Denis and Makiwane, 2003), and memory boxes are also commonly used in dementia work. With children, the use of memory boxes can provide an important means of speaking about bereavement and loss, (Denis and Makiwane, 2003; Thomson and Holland, 2005), whilst in fostering and adoption, the use of life story books is now well established (Rose, 2017).

#Momentintime21

To help capture memories from this significant moment, the National Care Forum (NCF) and the National Activity Providers Association (NAPA), with my support, have partnered to create #Momentintime21. This national project aims to capture stories from the social care and social work sectors, as well as the wider community, through the creation of ‘time capsules’, which will be sealed and then opened collectively on 19 July  2022.

Resources and ideas for making and filling a ‘Moment in Time 21’ memory box can be found, until late September, on the NAPA and NCF websites, alongside artwork and template ‘seals’ for the boxes.

Those boxes that have already been filled and sealed have included papier mâché self-portraits of care home staff, memories of Euro 2020, and poems and letters written by care home residents, the contents of which are unknown until the ‘unboxing’ in July 2022.

Capturing memories

The emphasis on memorialising throughout the pandemic has been on much needed recognition of the death toll and disruption to people’s lives. However, feedback from those that have already made ‘Moment in Time’ boxes has demonstrated the equal importance of capturing memories.

As one activity co-ordinator commented: “In 12 months’ time, people will have forgotten them feelings.”

In one care home, residents had previously planted a memorial garden with daffodils and forget-me-nots that would flower every year at the time of the first lockdown, and they chose to cover their ‘Moment in Time’ box with pictures of the flowers. Although some of the memories were challenging, as people remembered those that had died, there was also a lot of laughter.

As one participant shared: “We were laughing about the days that people were buying toilet roll like it was going out of fashion.”

Mix of laughter and sadness

Other participants in care homes found that the making of the boxes provided an opportunity to pause and gather previously unsought feedback from residents, carers and visitors. For others, one box was not enough, and they had to create two for everything that they wanted to remember. For everyone that has taken part so far, there has been a bittersweet mix of laughter and sadness, but the focus throughout has been on sharing and finding spaces to communicate previously untold stories.

This project has been kindly supported by the British Association of Social Workers and we encourage you to join in, sharing photos etc of your ‘Moment in Time’ boxes on Twitter under the hash tag #Momentintime21. If you need advice, call the NAPA helpline on freephone 0800 1585503 or email helpline@napa-activities.co.uk.

We hope you will also join us in opening these boxes on 19 July 2022. Following that, the boxes can be maintained as significant archival and educational resources for future generations when learning about this pandemic.

Denise Turner is a senior lecturer in social work whose research interests include loss, bereavement and death. 

5 Responses to Capturing social work and social care memories from Covid-19

  1. Olu August 13, 2021 at 11:17 am #

    There is no distance from what is our reality for it to become a memory already.This is our history: Having to go to work with next to no PPE. Being advised to carry tissues and a flask of hot water to wash. Petrified of an infection and petrified if I got ill how I would pay bills as no sick pay from my employer. This is too soon. Don’t whitewash our experiences as if they are a distant memory. We are the history of this pandemic. We suffered and our residents suffered and dreadful experiences were visited on relatives too. Put in that box that we were on zero hours contracts and doing multiple jobs to put food on our tables and pay our bills. Put in that even after all we endured, our bossess still begrudge us proper pay and secure employment. Hashtags are the feel good conscience salve of the privileged protected from the insecurities of zero hours employment. If you want to affirm us get us decent pay and conditions. If you can’t then put in your box that in the 21st Century care workers lived in caravans and ante- rooms because we were petrified of passing on a deadly disease to our families. On less than the minimum wage once our employers deducted payment for our “uniforms”. Put in your box that while we were treated like this ADASS begged the government to give hedge funds extra money so they could “afford” to buy disinfectant and mops and sponges. Put in your box that this was our reality while the companies paid out dividends and bonuses. This is our lived reality. Memories are for novelists.

    • Me August 23, 2021 at 1:06 pm #

      Hi Olu. Yes. I totally agree with you. Not all of us need or want to even entertain the memories of our lockdown experiences from year 2020. Some of us really did have such a traumatising time last year, and I don’t wish to recall any of those bad times from last year. It really affected my mental health being locked down for a whole year. I nearly got booked into a psychiatric hospital, because I was crying down the phone to the receptionist who works at my gp practice. The only things that stopped me from going into the psychiatric hospital was having some sort of hope for my future, but doing that in itself was a huge strain on my mental health, and I got so fed up of those patronising tv adverts about Coronavirus. So yes, you’re right. Not all of us want to bother remembering such a horrible time in life.

  2. Adrian August 14, 2021 at 11:03 am #

    Olu made me cry. Memorialise that.

  3. Kellie August 14, 2021 at 12:05 pm #

    “Hashtags are the feel good conscience salve of the privileged protected from the insecurities of zero hours employment”.

  4. Jane August 19, 2021 at 10:08 am #

    Hear hear Olu