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Living apart during lockdown

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, one family shares their story of how they are supporting each other during the lockdown. Amy Horsfield hears from two generations of a family about the sacrifices they have made to get through the crisis.

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the country would be going into lockdown on March 23, the lives of everyone across the nation changed overnight.

Some families were forced to make difficults decisions to protect the ones they love – even if it meant being apart.

Dave and Liz Voyce, from Windsor, were used to sharing childcare responsibilities with their daughters, who are both key workers, but at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak they began to fear contamination.

Dave, 58, suffers from leukaemia and was told to self-isolate for 12 weeks, sleeping in a separate room each night and eating alone.

“I didn’t want it (the virus) to be brought here,” said Dave’s wife Liz, 57.

The couple were used to their four grandchildren stopping by the home as they helped with the school run, but as the risk of infection increased they ‘didn’t want them to come and go.’

But, given the key roles their parents were playing, it was decided that Miles, nine, Heidi, seven, Noah, seven, and Lottie, four, would live their grandparents during lockdown.

For their mothers Harriet Simkins, 32, and Charlotte Elliot, 35, the decision to leave their children in the permanent care of their parents during the worst of the pandemic was heart-breaking.

“It’s been really hard,” said Harriet, who works as a trainee midwife at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough.

“I miss them like mad.”

Charlotte, who is an officer with the Metropolitan Police and lives in Maidenhead, said: “I didn’t want them to put my dad at risk.

“With my dad’s health, I think it’s worth it as I constantly come into contact with the public.

“It was a better choice to put them with my mum and dad.

“They’d be crawling the walls at home.”

Charlotte’s partner is also a member of the Metropolitan Police and Harriet’s husband is in the army.

Although schools have remained open for children whose parents are key workers, Charlotte and Harriet’s unsociable working hours mean they would still need to rely on their parents to do the school run.

While working at Wexham Park Hospital, Harriet has come into contact with suspected COVID-19 cases and Charlotte is unable to maintain the two-metre social distancing guidelines when apprehending people.

When it came to putting their children in the care of their parents for the foreseeable future, Liz remembered there were ‘a lot of tears.’

Speaking of how the children have been coping without their mums, Liz said: “They cry when they do facetime but their mums cry more.”

She said her grandchildren ‘understand the illness,’ and the reasons for the lockdown but four-year-old Lottie sometimes asks for her mum and ‘we have to distract her.’

“I fit in calls around work,” said Harriet.

“I do it daily, sometimes a few times a day.”

The separation was especially difficult when Harriet’s children Noah and Lottie both celebrated birthdays while in lockdown with their grandparents.

“It was absolutely heart-breaking to not be there to blow out the candles,” Harriet said.

Harriet and her husband dropped off a cake at the doorstep and waited at a safe distance so they could say happy birthday to their children.

When it comes to teaching their four grandchildren, Liz admits it is a challenge.

“I hate home school,” she said.

“I really take my hat off to teachers.”

With all the children at very different stages in their education, they need one-to-one tuition.

“The school has been very good,” she added.

Outside of schoolwork, Liz and Dave have found ways to keep their grandchildren entertained.

They have a large paddling pool, fort, slide and playhouse in the garden and have been getting their daily exercise by riding around the block on their bikes.

Since the beginning of lockdown, the children have also been creating a time capsule filled with newspapers, drawings and other memorabilia.

“They will have a book of their time during this period to show their children and grandchildren,” Charlotte said.

“I think more people should do scrapbooks.”

The children have also been planting beans, lettuce, spring onions and sunflowers.

“They can see whose sunflower has grown the largest,” Liz added.

Over the holidays Harriet and Charlotte dropped off Easter eggs for their children.

Despite the difficulties of the separation, the sisters never forgot the importance of it when they put themselves at risk to serve the public.

Harriet said it has been an ‘eye-opener’ working for the NHS during the pandemic.

“I am glad to be part of the experience and work with amazing midwifes.

“They are so strong-willed.”

Working for the police in London, Charlotte has also been experiencing life on the frontline.

“The public have been fantastic in sticking to Government guidelines,” she said.

“I love being a police officer and I’m very proud of what I do.”

Despite certain lockdown measures being eased, Dave is still at high risk of infection so the families’ living arrangements have not been altered.

Charlotte also wanted to praise the ‘true heroes’ of the pandemic.

She said: “My sister and I have been praised by friends, family and the very grateful public yet I believe my parents are the true heroes as they are being their grandparents, parents, nurse, teacher, support, cooker and cleaner 24/7 – the only contact we are able to have is a few stolen moments on facetime.

“I wanted to say a big public thank you to my mum and dad because I think what they have done is incredibly selfless.”

Harriet added: “I can’t thank them enough.

“Without them we couldn’t do our jobs.”

Speaking about caring for her grandchildren, Liz said: “It’s been full on but it’s been enjoyable.”

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