Launched this week, the project shows Sheffield’s Covid-19 memorial tribute plans are underway and city residents are being invited to share stories via a website and on postcards which are in libraries, museums and community centres.
The aim is for contributions to form a lasting record of the pandemic’s impact from individuals and the communities they live in. This will help shape plans for activity in communities and a memorial statue in the city centre.
Delivered by social enterprise Opus Independents in partnership with Sheffield Council and Sheffield City Archives, the launch video is powerful. It was shot by filmmaker Tim Feben, who works for Opus, to showcase the first stories and he was moved by what he heard.
He says: “The people we talked to were brave, it was really touching, people being themselves which made it easy to put together.”
Carer Philippa told him: “I remember absolutely the first person who I went to see who I knew had Covid. And I remember putting on the PPE and going in there and I was absolutely terrified. I just thought, we don’t really know anything about this. We don’t really know. We’re being told it’s okay. But is it? I don’t know.
“But at the end of the day, this is my job. And she’s there and she needs to be seen and I walked in, I could feel my heart pounding and I just thought, oh my goodness me, what do I do here?
“She’d been told that she had Covid. But no one really actually said anything else to her at all. And as soon as I started talking to her, it was fine. Because she was just a very, very scared person in a bed who needed someone to look after her and talk to her.
“They were just people who had something that was really frightening. I was in the actually incredibly fortunate position of being able to do something about it.
“It wasn’t very much maybe there weren’t any magic wands that we could wave but we could comfort people and we could look after them and we could we could give of ourselves to them.”
Tim spoke to another woman called Philippa, from Netherthorpe, who he says is interested in politics and gave him a point of view which was a window into her world.
“She is disabled and when park benches were taped off she couldn’t go to the park because she needed the benches for regular breaks.”
It is stories like this that the team is looking for.
“There are lots of ways to get involved, by the websites, postcards, video – we want access for everyone,” says Tim. “What we’ve got so far is a flavour which we hope draws more people in.”
A contribution comes from Roshan Lal, from Heeley, who helped shape the project.
“He was keen that we should not rush into things,” says Tim. “We’d had this monumental experience and there then seemed a rush to get back to normality.
"He said we needed time to reflect on how much the pandemic had hurt and what we had learnt.”
He told Tim: “We are all living through a world-historical event. No community has been untouched by the pandemic.
“In a very real sense, we are finding our way through this together. But what the experience of living through such a global, universal event actually feels like is particular to every individual living it. We all stand witness to this event in our own discrete, specific ways.”
Henry works in Tony Butterworth Cycles in Hillsborough and suddenly found himself classed as a key worker as cycling became key to keeping people mobile.
Tim says: “The bike industry exploded and as business boomed he became a key worker. The shop did free bike stuff for NHS workers and staff were keen to get people involved because they are passionate about cycling.”
Lisa, of Parson Cross, worked in a car home and told Tim about how one of the residents broke her hip and was left stranded for hours.
"They couldn’t get an ambulance because the NHS was overwhelmed. This woman was lying on the floor for hours until eventually they managed to move her. She waited six hours. People were trying their hardest, but they were overrun, it was a difficult experience,” she recalled.
“They were working crazy shifts, having to isolate and work with people who had Covid. The commitment they showed was remarkable.”
Mum Elizabeth, also of Parson Cross, had children to home school while working in a care home.
Tim says: “Her first priority was her family but she couldn’t give up her commitment to the care home. It was such a conflict, trying to meet her challenges, particularly teaching.”
He adds similar experiences helped many parents feel a closer bond with their children.
Now the father-of-one from Meersbrook wants as many varied contributions as possible, so that the city’s memorial activity is ‘rooted in the experiences of its people and collectively owned’.
The 35-year-old said: “Other cities are trying things, but we are not saying here’s a statue or a monument, we are going back to the beginning and starting with people’s voices.
“We hope this will form a lasting testimony to the impact this pandemic has had on us all, and act as an important space for us to celebrate small acts of kindness, support positive change and remember those we have lost. Everybody has a story from the pandemic - we'd love to hear yours.
“Everybody’s experience is important and will help inform Sheffield’s story. It is an opportunity to learn about each other, if you spend five minutes listening to someone else you might think you can identify with them. We have a lot in common.”
Postcards will be distributed for people to leave physical contributions. They can be filled in at participating venues or posted for submission.
The postcards will also be made available to order for group sessions and discussions in communities and organisations. A list of venues where postcards can be submitted in person will be published on the website.
The project’s aim to create a lasting testimony from the city is supported by the partnership with Sheffield City Archives. Contributions will try to capture the human experience of what it was like to live through a monumental moment in our global history, in a way that wasn’t possible in previous pandemics.
Individual experiences will be presented back to the city as part of a process of collective reflection.
Stories will be collected until the end of August with the aim of making them available on the Stories From The Pandemic website as soon as possible.
Plans are also being developed to showcase entries in exhibitions across the city. Linked with the memorial activity is the work of the Compassionate Sheffield, which is connecting and supporting people, communities and organisations to harness the power of compassion.
Nick Deayton, from Compassionate Sheffield, said: “Communities within Sheffield have experienced huge loss and hardship during the pandemic, it is time to hear these stories and collectively heal as a city.
“Whether you are an individual, part of a community or an organisation, there are a variety of ways that you can help reach out and include those voices, and we’d encourage you to help share the word and share your stories.”
Pete Evans, of Sheffield City Archives, added: “As humans, we like to know about other people's lives and what they get up to.
“So whoever you are, whatever your background, whatever happened to you during the pandemic period, that is your individual story and together that makes up the story of Sheffield.”
Councillor Terry Fox, leader of Sheffield Council, said: “Over the past few months we’ve explored a range of ideas to make absolutely sure that the tributes we make reflect the needs of the city and that we pay our respects appropriately. The thoughtful approach we’re taking will stand the test of time and mean something, in different ways, to everyone now and in the future.
“The group has been mindful of the timing of any memorial activity given that the pandemic is still taking place. What I would love to see now is many more people coming forward to be a part of the activity as more details emerge on how they can get involved. We’ve all been affected by this terrible pandemic so being a part of how it should be remembered in the future needs to feel right for individuals and communities.”
Pam Daniel, equality and engagement lead for Voluntary Action Sheffield, added: “The importance of community engagement to ensure the project is truly representative of this great city is clear. It is only when we listen with an open heart and compassion that we will hear the pain and start to heal as a city.
“Hopefully bringing people together and learning from each other’s lived experiences will also bring us together as a city. Our different cultural insights, how we were affected, how we will remember those that were lost, could all be used as a learning legacy for the future.”
To contribute to Stories From The Pandemic, visit www.sheffieldstoriesfromthepandemic.com