Gemma Morris

Manager, LEYF Mark's Gate Nursery

What was a typical work day like before the corona crisis?
Everyday is busy and fun. Each morning  I welcome the staff, children and parents, find out what the children will be learning today and what exciting activities the teachers have planned. I talk to parents, current and new, host show-arounds, answer emails and phone calls, help cover lunch breaks, talk to people in our community, offering our foodbank services to those who need it. Being with the children is the best part, and normally I would go and spend some time in the rooms just to have a break from the office. Every day is different and hosts a new challenge or excitement.

When the outbreak started, what was your initial reaction?
It was a very worrying time of the unknown. Not knowing how far and wide the outbreak would reach and what it would mean for life as we know it. It was devastating hearing how many people were affected and lost their lives, and the numbers kept rising. It was inevitable that it was going to hit the UK, then the worry is for your loved ones and how to keep everyone safe.

What impact did this have on your day job and how did you adapt?
There were lots of concerns from parents. The main thing was to reassure them and keep them updated as much as possible. Updating staff on what was happening and what we needed to do to keep everyone safe. The children were oblivious to what was going on around them and the worry adults had about what was happening to the world –  but this just goes to show how resilient children are. The whole team adapted to welcoming children at the front door, a more rigorous cleaning schedule and more regular hand washing, trying to keep everything else as normal as possible for the children.

What are the big challenges you have faced /  are facing as the pandemic continues?
The biggest challenge and concern was with our food bank. As panic buying set in at the shops,  and donations drying up naturally, our stock went down to basically nothing, with many vulnerable people in our community in need. It was hard having to turn people away because we had nothing to offer, just advice, an ear and to help sign-post them somewhere else that might be able to help. After applying to the Martin Lewis Corona Fund we were fortunate to be given a grant of £5,000 which enabled up to quickly restock the food bank and continue to help those in need.

How have you kept going through the tough times?
I am very fortunate to have an amazing team. Even through all the changes and challenges we have faced, they have carried on with a smile and no fuss. They have kept their spirits high and checked in with each other, welcomed other staff members who joined us as a hub nursery, and cared for children who joined us from a sister nursery with open arms. Even when I was furloughed – which I found difficult being away from the nursery – I had an amazing deputy that stepped up and kept in contact with me every day. Also being able to Facetime my family and keep in touch was very important when not being able to visit for weeks on end.

What acts of kindness have you seen or shown that have made you smile recently?
The generous donations of food we have received for the food bank from businesses that have had to close. For example McDonald’s donated countless frozen burgers and buns, which went down a treat with those that collected.

Personally, the thing that has made me smile was setting my 87 year old Nan up with a phone and Facebook so that she could still see and talk to her daughters and grandchildren. Especially as one of my Aunts lives in Spain and it was the only way they could talk. It was brilliant to see my Nan so happy that she could see everyone and not be so lonely.

What has this crisis taught you – both professionally and on a personal level?
Mainly it has highlighted more so what I already know. Professionally that I am lucky to have an amazing team and families that attend the nursery, and that I work for an amazing organisation where everyone has pulled together, kept in touch and looked after all the staff. Personally, it has highlighted how important family and friends are, to check in on each other often and not to take things for granted.

How are you trying to stay happy and healthy?
When lock down began I was 11 weeks pregnant, I am now 21 weeks. so it’s even more important now for me to look after myself and stay healthy. I keep in contact with family every day through Facetime to help with my mental health and am taking walks with our dog to get out for an hour and not get cabin fever. Zoom “pub” quizzes with friends once a week has been a great way to have fun and stay in touch.