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From volunteering to building a memorial garden: how we are making lockdown work for us | All together



Photo of a young woman taking care of her rooftop garden on the balcony over the city, on a beautiful, sunny, autumn day

Many people have discovered a love for gardening since the start of the pandemic.
Photograph: AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

When the UK was first plunged into lockdown in March 2020, many who weren’t key workers or overnight home school teachers were left with an unprecedented amount of free time on their hands – and just when they really needed the distractions of everyday life the most. With restrictions in place once more, we meet people across the four nations of the UK who have managed to find the positives of life being on pause.

‘I’ve been working on helping others’
Aqeel Ahmed, 22, is a civil servant from Glasgow

I work in social policy for the Scottish government, and during lockdown, I started a postgrad course in community learning at the University of Dundee. It focuses on how we ensure there’s parity of access to services and learning, and opportunities to gain new skills, and both the course and lockdown have made me more aware of what goes on in the community.

Among other things, I’ve been helping to tidy neglected community spaces, and working with a local organisation called the Village Storytelling Centre to help them set up a telephone befriending service that will connect with isolated and older people. I’ve also been working with a charity I helped to start called What About Me?, which helps tackle bullying within schools across Scotland. With young people learning at home, there’s a lot of cyberbullying going on that schools can’t tackle, so I’ve set up a Youth Advisory Group that’s looking at supporting people in lockdown.

On a personal level, I’ve connected with volunteers and seen more of my friends, albeit virtually. There’s a lot more openness to virtual meetings now, which means we can meet up more regularly. Because one of the only things we’ve been allowed to do is exercise outdoors, I’ve also taken up walking every day. I think for me, walking is going to be the personal legacy that comes out of lockdown – it’s a great chance to get away from a screen.

My heart goes out to those finding lockdown incredibly difficult, but better times are ahead. My advice would be to cherish the good things, stick to a routine, keep in touch with people, and reach out if you need help. We’ll get there.

‘I built a memorial garden for my dad’
Sharon Hughes, 51, is an on-set tutor from Penymynydd, Flintshire

Renovating the garden over lockdown came about by accident. My business, Tutors on Location, teaches child actors while they’re working in TV and film, so when filming stopped due to Covid-19, work stopped too. Although I used the time to work out how to teach remotely via Zoom, I still had some free time.

My husband, Pete, and I were sitting in the garden reading when we started looking around, thinking about what needed doing. We didn’t have a grand plan – it just started with painting the fence. But then I began working on one little section that evolved into a memorial to my dad.

Dad died suddenly in 2015, when he and mum were on holiday, and we went into autopilot organising everything. I put my feelings in a box and pushed it to one side, which meant five years on, his death was still having a huge impact on my life.

He was a very proud Welshman, so I found a local stonemason who creates signs out of Welsh slate. He made a marker with a heart carved through it, inscribed with “Dad” and I added it to the garden along with lights and hanging CDs – when the sun hits them it sends rainbows twinkling across his patch, which looks beautiful.

My son Kristian got involved, too. Dad was always doing things like dismantling and restoring old tractors, and Kristian loved joining in. So when he decided the garden paving looked a mess, he took it all up, cleaned the slabs, hired a cement mixer and relaid it. That’s definitely Dad’s influence.

This lockdown, I’m going to create some animated videos for my business that will help children learn maths. Without lockdown, I wouldn’t have had time to get to grips with the software, but surprisingly, I’ve found I quite enjoy being creative. Finding something, however small, to focus on is the best way to get through this.

Teenager, Video Conference, Romance, Afro

Online platforms have helped people stay connected during periods of isolation. Photograph: Pollyana Ventura/Getty Images

‘I took up a host of new hobbies’
Janet Mullender, 67, is a retired nurse from Billericay, Essex

When my husband John and I got married 46 years ago, we were living with my mum. Then we had our two children, and were both working – as a nurse I worked weekends, nights and most Christmases – so we’ve never had any time just for us. It was only when the first lockdown hit that John finally retired, at 68. Before, I’d be on my own all week, so I’d meet friends, visit museums, and volunteer in a charity shop. But when everything stopped, I had John at home with me instead – and it has been a revelation.

We’ve worked on projects together, from sorting out the garden to doing a daily weights workout, and have our own hobbies too. When we cleared out the loft, we found lots of old china, so I tried my hand at making mosaics. I didn’t care how they turned out, but I’ve made a birdhouse and edged the garden paths, and really enjoyed it.

I converted the spare room into a craft room, buying secondhand children’s books and turning them into cards and wrapping paper. I’ve also been writing my personal history, including details of my 30-year nursing career, for the family archive. Meanwhile, John has taken up sewing and makes face masks for the family. He’s also working on building a cigar-box guitar, learning to cook, and adding to his collection of musical instruments.

As well as trying new things, exercising is an important part of getting through lockdown. After our morning workout, we go for a half-hour walk, and although we don’t always feel like doing it, we feel much better afterwards – I’ve even lost half a stone.

Sewing machine standing in a room on the table, old jeans for patch. Repairing clothes during quarantine at home. Hobby concept

There are plenty of new hobbies, such as sewing, that can be taken up safely indoors. Photograph: Fiordaliso/Getty Images

‘I’ve had time to enjoy my first year of married life’
Eileen Donaghey, 32, is an afternoon tea expert from Belfast

I specialise in hosting luxury afternoon tea events and before lockdown, I’d travel from Belfast to London each week, where you’d find me on Park Lane with a cup of tea in hand, entertaining tourists. The business was really starting to take off in 2020, but then lockdown happened. I noticed afternoon tea deliveries were proving popular, and thought it would be useful to write a guide on how to prepare one at home, so I wrote an ebook, A Beginner’s Guide to Afternoon Tea at Home: Tips and Tricks to Teach You How to be the Host With the Most. I held a virtual book launch in December, and people attended from all over the world – people outside the UK are fascinated by all things afternoon tea. My husband, Peter, helped me test out my new sandwich recipes, too.

Peter and I were very lucky to have gotten married in November 2019, because otherwise we might not have had the wedding we wanted. We saw being able to spend more time together during our first year of marriage as a blessing. It was lovely to be able to take lots of walks and go hiking around Belfast.

Before Covid-19, I travelled a lot for work. I’d be away during the week and come back on a Thursday evening, so lockdown was a change of pace.

Obviously it’s disheartening that we’re in another lockdown, but I tell myself there are brighter days ahead. I recommend making a list of things you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for, and seeing which of them you can do at home. I never thought I’d write a book, but I surprised myself – I’m sure lots of other people have hidden talents they can uncover this time around, too.

There are things we can all do to look after our mental wellbeing at this time. Every Mind Matters can get you started with a free NHS online plan, showing you simple steps to help manage anxiety, sleep better, and boost your mood. For your mental health action plan, search Every Mind Matters today.

For NHS-approved free tools and support for getting active or losing weight visit:

For guidance on dealing with bullying and cyberbullying, go to:

For more information, visit:
England:; Scotland:; Wales:; Northern Ireland:

This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. All together (Stay at home) is a government-backed initiative tasked with informing the UK about the Covid-19 pandemic. For more information, visit

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My difficult son is using his new baby to manipulate me | Family




The dilemma My son, with whom I’ve had a very difficult relationship, recently had a baby. After a lovely and hopeful beginning where he seemed to be softening, he’s returned to his old habits of saying and doing deeply hurtful things with every visit or text.

His son is my first grandchild and, of course, such a joy, but it’s not possible to experience the happiness of the baby while receiving such abuse and hatred from him. He’s said in the past that he behaves this way because of his mental illness, which I understand to be anxiety, but I find it is a very selective illness that comes out only at me.

His father and I divorced recently and the family is fairly shredded. I’d hoped the baby would give us something loving to focus on, but my son’s behaviour is making things worse. I’ve done everything I can to be supportive in the midst of all my own life changes (new house, new city, new job, single after 30 years of marriage). I let them have a home birth in my house. I’ve visited with food, given them money, helped them move… all normal parent things. But neither has expressed any gratitude. I’m feeling they’re using the baby to manipulate me. I want to be a proper grandmother. It is heartbreaking.

Mariella replies Step back. I can feel the drama of your emotions from here and it’s not helpful. As you say, a first grandchild is a happy event and might seem an ideal opportunity to bring you closer together. But, just as having a baby won’t resolve long-term issues between parents, neither will it provide the reset button on your relationship with your son. A newborn should enter the world unencumbered by responsibilities, but so much of what goes wrong in early childhood is as a result of the expectations that are heaped on them.

We tend to see babies as any number of things aside from themselves: the offer of new beginnings, distractions from unfulfilled ambitions, bonding for bad relationships, opportunities to reinvent our own miserable childhoods or press repeat on happier adventures in youth. None of this is a fair or functional expectation from a new addition to the species whose only duty should be to make themselves priority number one and grow up to realise their full potential without the juggernaut of past family baggage.

I’m not unsympathetic to your desires, but it sounds as if you need to do a lot of work before unimpeded access to your grandchild becomes an earned right. You mention your son’s mental illness as though it were a side-show. But by neither sympathising nor trying to understand it you are ensuring nothing will change. Suggesting it’s less credible because you feel it’s entirely directed as you is a failure to understand what your son is struggling with. It’s those we rely on most or have the strongest connection to (no matter how dysfunctional) who often bear the brunt of our unhappiness. From one angle your son’s bad behaviour could signify how much emotional investment he has in your relationship and how frustrated he is that it seems unrequited or unavailable in a way he recognises.

The arrival of your grandson has been a catalyst that has revived old issues. Now it’s about how you handle things that will define your future relationship with your grandchild and also, importantly, with your adult child. My sense is that there’s a lot riding on your ability to press reset and change the dynamics of your mother-and-son relationship. That doesn’t mean you should put up with abuse and if you feel that his behaviour goes beyond what is acceptable you need to withdraw from his life and seek professional help – perhaps from an organisation such as Mind (

You mention you’ve also had a lot to deal with in your life and I can understand you may feel under emotional siege, but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to demand compassion, and let’s not forget that your son won’t be unscathed by his parents’ divorce. The position you find yourself in is down to the luxury of having choices; whether they’ve been good or bad is irrelevant. What matters is you are now at a watershed moment in your life and how you proceed will depend partly on leaving the past behind. As the brilliant author Shirley Hazzard observes in one of her searing short stories: “One doesn’t really profit from experience, one simply learns to predict the next mistake.”

You say that you feel your grandson is being used to manipulate you, but I have a niggling feeling it may be you placing over-onerous expectations on the child’s arrival. Your son has had a baby – now it’s up to you to ensure your relationship with him becomes one where your presence in their lives is a gift and not a chore. One of the few pleasures of increased maturity is the chance to precipitate change with the help of accrued wisdom. It’s takes two to tango I agree, but it’s also true that someone has to make the first move.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

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Period weight gain: Why it happens and why you must not worry about it




There is no need to worry about water weight gain during the period. It is quite normal. You just need to stay away from eating unhealthy, sugar and fat-laden food items. The weight gain caused due to overeating is permanent and you have to make extra effort to lose those extra kilos. Here are a few things that you can do during the period to stay healthy.

Drink more water: Drink enough water throughout the week. This will help to maintain the electrolyte level in the body and prevent your body from conserving fluids.

Eat fiber-rich foods: Eating fiber-rich foods can prevent constipation, which is common during this time. Fiber will help in easy movement of bowel and prevent you from overeating.

Reduce salt intake: Eating too much salt during this time can increase water retention and make you feel more bloated. So, avoid excessive salt intake as much as possible.

Exercises: It is absolutely alright to exercise during the period. Even if you choose to perform low-impact exercises, it is alright. Do not skip it.

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5 signs COVID-19 has impacted your heart




Chest pain, as a symptom is something associated both with declining lung function, shortness of breath as well as heart damage.

In the case of COVID-19, viral multiplication and spread can deprive the vital organs, such as the heart of healthy oxygenated blood, which can damage the heart muscles and result in chest pain, or angina.

Chest pain is also considered to be one of the first signs of a heart attack. It can be discomforting, feel like experiencing a squeezing or tugging pain around your chest and neck.

In some cases, extreme, pulsating chest pain and fluctuating heart rate can also result in fainting spells.

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