Zoe Portlock

Co-founder and chair at Bikeworks - Freelance Charity & Social Enterprise Consultant

What was a typical work day like before the corona crisis?
I left a senior role in a charity last year to take time out with my Dad who sadly passed of cancer, so I started to freelance as a Social Enterprise and Charity Consultant, meaning that my typical work day is pretty varied owing to the different clients I work with, but typically it’s a packed diary of meetings and events while trying to get the attention of busy people and juggling deadlines.

When the outbreak started, what was your initial reaction?
Having worked in the charity/social enterprise sector in community settings in London for over 20 years, I’ve seen first-hand the damage of over a decade of austerity and its effects on people and their families – the inequality that exists in the UK and particularly in places like London is extreme, so my initial reaction was “how on earth will people cope?” The system is already broken and if we follow the reaction of self-isolation as other parts of the world had implemented, what kind of place would we come out to after lock-down is lifted?

What impact did this have on your day job and how did you adapt?
The impact of the outbreak was to move into action. What can I do? What can support the efforts of others? The inevitable crisis produced extraordinary amounts of adrenaline and clarity. As co-founder of Bikeworks all energy went in that direction as we were faced with being hit by the unknown, after 14 years of the usual ups-and-downs of running a social business. We moved the whole operation into our home and started to go on-line (lots of swearing happened at this point). All the planning for 2020 went to one side and our focus became all about how do we use a cycling social enterprise to meet the needs of people during the outbreak of CV-19, and what do we need to do to make that happen? It became all about the relationships held, reaching out to people that make stuff happen and joining up the dots during a really chaotic time.

What are the big challenges you have faced / are facing as the pandemic continues?
Exhaustion, the adrenaline that provides the energy you need is part of a fight or flight instinct, its only meant to keep us charged up over the short-term. It does take its toll as the weeks go by, especially if you add on top of this the limitations to our movement and not being able to see loved ones, particularly those who rely on your support. Mobilising a whole business operation and transforming it into start-up mode of a cycle delivery service has been exhilarating, but you’re living it 24-hrs/7-days-a-week while making sure the staff team are all coping and feeling supported too. I’m a Trustee at a Carers charity and a volunteer advisor to another, seeing how everyone has been adapting and supporting those conversations has also been challenging, there is no doubt that the sector will shrink and evolve.

How have you kept going through the tough times?
Keeping focus on the “doing”, picking up the phone, reaching out to people – good people, people who hold your values and get what you’re up to. Remembering to say thank you – there are great people out there making a difference in their own ways, letting them know that you recognise it and showing gratitude is linked to our own happiness too, it’s a win-win no-brainer!

What acts of kindness have you seen or shown that have made you smile recently?
There have been so many during this time, one that sticks out is a young woman who is struggling financially and with her own living situation, who doesn’t know what on earth her life will be over these next months, last week she donated £5 to a crowd funder for a local charity that supports young under-served people from working class backgrounds, because she felt they needed it more than her. That’s the equivalent of thousands of pounds for someone with an average London wage. Incredible kindness.

What has this crisis taught you – both professionally and on a personal level? You never know what is possible until you’re faced with impossible

How are you trying to stay happy and healthy?
Cleaning – I’m a fanatical cleaner, it helps me think. Monitoring the amount of news, including social media, that I’m absorbing – getting the balance right is crucial. Walking the dogs every day, although the lurcher is sulking because he’s not allowed off the lead!

To find out more about what Bikeworks are doing, visit their website or check them out on Twitter