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“Mental health is the most important thing” – Manchester teaching assistant Rachel tells her story

Rachel Lavin, teaching assistant in Manchester 

With the Covid-10 crisis upending the lives of children around the UK, an often-forgotten group of key workers doing vital work during the pandemic is teaching staff. Rachel Lavin (43) is one of those caring for the children of key workers as well as kids classed as vulnerable while schools have been closed. 

Rachel was a social worker before becoming a teaching assistant four years ago. Her usual role is to support a 7-year-old boy with autism as well as providing general assistance to teachers.  During the pandemic, her role has shifted from focusing on education to supporting kids’ mental health. 

She said: “We have fifteen to twenty children coming to school each day. We do lessons in the morning and in the afternoon we do arts and crafts. We can’t do proper full days of school. Education is not the priority right now, mental health is the most important thing.”

Older children in particular can have trouble grappling with their ‘new normal’, but the teachers have worked hard to support them. 

Rachel said: “It’s a hard time for children, but coming into school helps maintain some normality for them.”  

Extra hygiene measures are in place at the school, but the two metre rule has proved difficult to enforce, especially with younger children. “We try, but they tend to migrate towards each other and end up playing together.” 

As well as continuing to work, Rachel has been juggling the needs of her own children as well as financial concerns – her husband’s job has also been impacted by outbreak. 

She said: “It’s hard work and exhausting but it’s wonderful to be with the kids and it’s very rewarding.” 

The last time the family went on holiday overseas was four years ago. She said: “A holiday after this is over would be a dream for us, so any help with that would mean a lot.” 

If you'd like to help key workers like Rachel have a well earned break, please donate to our Give Them a Break fund


“It was mayhem” – Supermarket worker Christine on keeping the nation fed

Christine O’Neill, supermarket worker in London 

It’s been anything but business as usual for the supermarket staff across the country working flat out to meet surging demand during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Christine O’Neill (49), who has worked at a large London supermarket for three years, said a combination of fast-changing new safety measures, stressed-out customers and huge demand was putting significant pressure on the workers. 

She described the period in March when people began stockpiling food as ‘mayhem’. 

“There was panic buying like I’ve never seen in my life. People came in with three trollies and filled them to the brim. We were open 24 hours and it went on all night.” 

Since concerns about food shortages have abated, things have been calmer in the store. However, implementing social distancing measures has also been a challenge. 

“Some people think they don’t need to comply with the government rules any more. When cashiers ask them to stand back (to maintain the 2 metre rule), customers become hostile towards them.”

As Checkout Team Support, Christine then steps in to help resolve the situation. Despite the daily pressure, Christie said many people have a new respect for the supermarket key workers helping to keep the country fed. 

“We also get a lot of people saying you’re doing a good job, keep it up and that keeps our spirits high. More than ever, we’re working as a team.”

Having had to cancel her holiday to Spain this summer, Christine is looking forward to the day when she can have a family holiday again. “I’ve been missing my four year granddaughter desperately, so it will be wonderful for us to have some time away together as a family.” 

If you'd like to help key workers like Christine have a well earned break, please donate to our Give Them a Break fund.