Old Princethorpian Interview

Old Princethorpian Interview - COVID 19 Special

This term's newsletter includes a bumper crop of three Old Princethorpian interviews, giving an insight into some of the many different ways that OPs are supporting us all, as key workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis.

They include the stories of a paramedic, an ordinand and a teacher. Each article, in its own way, makes for interesting and compelling reading.

Thank you to Ashley, Nick and David for sharing their very different experiences.  And thank you to all OPs working on the frontline wherever you are, whatever you are doing.

Ashley Dodds - Paramedic - Shares Her Frontline COVID-19 Story

Old Princethorpian Ashley Dodds left the college in 2013 to study for a degree in Paramedic Science at St.George’s, University of London. She qualified as a paramedic in 2015 and has worked in central London ever since. So far 2020 has been the most challenging time of her career.  She took time out from her very busy life to share her COVID-19 story: 

I work from St. John’s Wood Ambulance Station as a solo responder, and I generally cover the Westminster borough but can be sent anywhere across North London. I work alone in a fast response car, I carry all of the equipment and drugs that are found on an ambulance but I am only sent to Category 1 calls. These include: cardiac arrests, unconscious post trauma, stabbings, ineffective breathing, massive haemorrhage and anaphylaxis, with the intention of being first on scene to quickly assess the patient and begin treatment.

Being on the front line during the Covid-19 pandemic presented a myriad of difficulties, from the dangers of being exposed to Covid patients during and prior to the official lockdown, without sufficient PPE, as well as handling delays to patients presenting with non Covid type illnesses such as heart attacks that would normally have been seen far quicker.

It was also a personally tricky time as isolation measures were initiated, flights and trips were cancelled or postponed and friends and family were being furloughed. However, I was grateful to be able to leave the house to work and my commute across London was suddenly so much quicker and quieter! I was also looking forward to providing the medical cover for the Princethorpe trip to Malawi in June and that has sadly been postponed.

Before Covid 19 was identified as a pandemic I felt we were blindsided by the enormity of the problem and, as a pre-hospital team, we saw a huge call volume increase and personal exposure before any of the government measures were put in place. I felt the service was inundated and struggled with a daily call volume of over 8000, when our normal level would be around 4,500. This combined with high staff sickness or staff isolating meant we were on the back foot with very limited resources.

At the beginning of the pandemic, due to reduced opening hours and hoarding by individuals, it was a bit of a struggle. By the time I got to the shops on my day off there was not enough food left to buy to get me through my next stretch of four, twelve hour shifts, but having members of the public support us has made a world of difference. There has been a sense of unity across London, and throughout the emergency services, health care professionals and key workers. Restaurants and companies in London have been making and delivering us lunches, sending hand creams and providing food and drinks to our stations. This has created a positive working environment and meant we can continue to work.

Once the disease was better understood, life became less stressful. There were more consistent guidelines regarding patient assessment, and discharging on scene, guidelines for use of PPE and sufficient supplies. The service also began new partnerships with the fire brigade and The AA, pairing up a member of the fire brigade to drive the ambulance alongside an attending paramedic. This created a huge increase in cover and resources as well as an increase in fleet because of The AA fixing more of the ambulances in the workshops.

London traffic is now building back up, but we are well resourced, well fed and well staffed. Morale is high and it feels like normality will return soon.

I hope everyone in the Princethorpe community is staying safe.

Thank you Ashley for sharing your COVID-19 story with us and thank you to you and your colleagues for all that you continue to do.

Nick Baker - Ordinand - Reflects On Preparing For The Ministry Under COVID-19

I cannot believe that it has been three years since I left Princethorpe College, where I had been its Archivist. Since then, I have been training for ordained ministry in the Church of England. Unlike younger ordinands, my training path has not been a residential one, rather it has followed a ‘contextual’ pattern. Therefore, I go to college every Monday in Sheffield, attend various residential weekends at Mirfield throughout the year, and work for twenty or so hours in a parish. I describe it as a ‘youth training scheme’ for the church, except that my youth has long since departed.

I describe the time spent in my context as a ‘curacy before my curacy.’ Basically, I do all those things I can do without wearing a dog-collar, or invoking some sort of disciplinary process under canon law. So I preach sermons and arrange services, lead prayer meetings and confirmation classes, teach on some adult-education theology courses, take home communions, conduct collective worship in schools, amongst lots of other things. I assist at weddings, funerals, both in crematoria and church, and participate in burials and the interment of ashes. It has been a busy three years.

There is no typical day. If you ask most priests, they will say exactly the same thing. That is not to say that there is no routine, such as daily prayer and communion services. You have to be adaptable, though. You might for example be parading around a school hall dressed as a camel in the morning, and then help serve food at a luncheon club in the afternoon.

Mind you, this has all changed considerably since the arrival of Covid-19. Modern technology has certainly come to the aid of the church, now that buildings are shut, and so Eucharists and prayer meetings are spread far and wide via ‘Zoom’. This has meant that we are now reaching more people than we ever did before shutdown. There are of course those in the parish without the tech. In such cases, telephone calls are made to those who want a chat, and paper copies of the parish magazine are posted through letter boxes. We send out regular reflections, or ‘Thoughts for the Day’, by e-mail, along with other material. I was leading a Lent course based on the writings of C.S. Lewis until it was rudely interrupted by the pandemic, and so I wrote the course in a new format and sent it out to people to follow at home.

However, there is a difficult aspect to my role at present. As a number of clergy in the parish have to remain shielded, I am now taking many of the funerals, chiefly at the local crematorium. This is very hard because you try to do the best for the family at a difficult time. Sadly, I cannot visit the families to arrange the funeral; it has to sorted out over the phone. Then on the day itself, the family have to observe social distancing, and the number of mourners are limited. Moreover, the family are not allowed to touch the coffin or assist as pallbearers, or even sing hymns. You are bearing their grief, too.
I always make sure that I go for a brief walk after the service to clear my head and reflect upon it. You cannot but be affected by it, and I would not be human if I was not. Every funeral is an absolute privilege. I always make sure that I send a copy of the service, including the eulogy, to the family so that they can send it to those who were unable to attend.

What does the future hold? I do not think I can make a guess but things will be very different: life will not be normal, but a new normal. Church will undergo a transformation and this is suggested by the current use of digital media. However, I do not think that church buildings will go completely, nor the various meetings that take place in them. The ‘physicality’ of church is an important part of it, which is evident in the taking of bread and the drinking of wine from the communion cup. I have no idea when my ordination will take place. It is in God’s hands.

In a funny way, my time spent at Princethorpe has contributed greatly to my thinking at present. First, you must always be prepared for the unexpected. As Archivist, you never knew what was going to turn up. You could be talking to pupils at Crackley Hall in a morning, and the Bursar might nab you in the afternoon for a vital financial document! Our God is a God of surprises after all. Secondly, community takes many different forms. Princethorpe is a community, not just on the site of the Benedictine monastery, but in Kenilworth and Bilton, linked together by phone and e-mail (and the VLE!) The Princethorpe community is even wider than that: there are the St Mary Priory’s nuns in their various convents, the MSCs scattered around the world, and former pupils and staff all over the place. Just as today, my church is scattered but is united. The same thing goes for the Foundation, united by love and an ethos that is hard to beat. Community is very important at this time.

Mel asked me what message I would leave for the community. Well, I keep thinking of those disciples, huddled together in the locked room following the crucifixion, not knowing what to do or what would happen next. We are in a similar situation. We are ‘locked’ indoors, fearful perhaps and worrying about the future. The gospel teaches us not to be afraid and, through Christ’s resurrection, there will be a new and exciting time ahead. Stay positive! Keep that thought in mind as we move forward.

David Terron - Teacher - In COVID-19 Lockdown

OP David Terron (1972-1976) shares his reflections on life as a teacher in the COVID-19 lockdown.

What an interesting few weeks it has been as a teacher in lockdown here in the far North of Scotland! Although I was already regarded as an ‘innovative’ (Dundee Uni) and ‘inspiring’ (National Library of Scotland) teacher by National organisations, having been deeply involved in ICT/Teaching with the national network (Glow), and ‘a nice boy’ (my Mum!), the move online was for many students (and staff!) a culture shock, despite them supposed to be ‘digital natives’.

A week before half term we moved onto MS Teams and OneNote Class Notebooks for everything and we are now fully in the swing of weekly check-ins, resources being uploaded daily, assignments being set and feed-back given. So much so that the kids are somewhat overwhelmed. My Seniors thought they would have been on Study Leave aka four weeks off (with SOME study amongst the beach BBQs) but it was not to be. Slowly but surely we move forward towards the day when we will see faces for real rather than via webcams with exotic or weird background that imply that teachers come from other planets or live in a Hobbit house in the Maldives. Never has my classroom been so clean, so fresh and so lacking in mountainous piles of paper we never use. Weeding? I’m been exterminating those unused Units of Work, those textbooks we never open and the strange objects that we’ve forgotten we had in the darkest recesses of our storage cupboards. I open a cupboard nowadays with pleasure rather than a fear of things falling out to bury me forever.

It is worth saying that this virus IS bringing out the best of my students and their families.

At home, my wife works in a RED Ward at the local hospital and has to be tested daily. I’ve been tested a couple of times with, Praise the Lord, negative results thus far.

Overall it has been an interesting experience. I’m used to living in a small box for months on end in places such as West Belfast, Crossmaglen and the Sinai Desert during the Gulf War. At least at home we don’t have two foot Camel spiders hanging from the roof or mortars coming through the back gate from the Falls Road! My wife and I have discovered we have some really weird habits we did not realise we had, despite 40 years together. Personally, as a family we have become much closer albeit that we can’t wait to go on holiday. I said to the wife “Jamaica or Maldives?” And it’s sorted - she’s going to Jamaica, I’m off to the Maldives.

Hope all at Princethorpe are staying safe. I’ll come along one day soon and stroke the walls of the old Sixth Form Common Room where so many secrets are held and walk up to Little Switzerland just to sit and stop and reflect under the trees. It will be bliss.