This Is What Happens When A Global Pandemic Lands Just As Your Ambitions Are Taking Off

HuffPost UK spoke to five people who were on the cusp of realising long-awaited ambitions just as coronavirus hit.

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The global coronavirus pandemic has led to full or partial lockdowns in more than 100 countries worldwide, putting the lives of billions of people effectively on hold.

For thousands of people it has come with personal tragedy and irretrievable loss. For others, it has led to a revaluation of priorities and appreciation for social connections. For many, it has felt like being kept on hold with no end in sight.

But for some, it came just as they were about to embark on a transformative change – one that may have taken years or decades to build up to, only for the outbreak to bring their long-awaited ambitions to a screeching halt.

HuffPost UK spoke to five people who were on the cusp of embarking upon long-awaited ambitions just as the pandemic hit.

Carla Brown.
Carla Brown.
Carla Brown

The entrepreneur

Carla Brown, 31, left her job at a London agency in December to start her own fashion interior design company.

She had moved to the capital in 2015 to get enough experience to “be my own boss” and because she felt her home town, Belfast, had “no opportunities”.

“At the start I felt so optimistic and really passionate,” she told HuffPost UK. “I thought: ‘If I don’t do it now I’ll regret it.’”

When the country moved into lockdown, opportunities almost instantly dried up.

She said she was “scared” but recruiters reassured her that things would get better. They were wrong.

The outbreak has, in her words, “definitely f***ed” her ambitions.

Instead of devoting her time to exciting projects, she has been forced to claim Universal Credit while she scours job websites for basic freelance work “to just survive”.

“My main aim for now is money to pay rent instead of following my dreams,” she said. She worries small retailers will go bust as a result of the pandemic.

“It’s hard to be optimistic at a time like this,” she admitted. “Mentally it’s just a constant battle to keep positive, which is hard as you see what’s been going on with the economy.”

The musician

2019 was a good year for singer songwriter Roxanne de Bastion. “It was very exciting because I had the chance to work with Bernard Butler on my second album,” she told HuffPost UK.

“We finished recording the whole album just after Christmas and I had my release plan ready and then the global pandemic hit.”

A single release in May and a tour later in the year to accompany the album release had to be scrapped as the UK live entertainment industry ground to a complete standstill.

“It was devastating for so many reasons,” she said. “Firstly, you pour your entire heart and life into a project, writing the album then recording it and you’re so proud of the thing you’ve created.

“And it’s not just a huge emotional investment, it’s a huge financial one. And I do it for playing live.

“It’s about connecting with people, and meeting new people and the adrenaline of walking on stage. Having the show moved was one thing but the creeping realisation that this is going to last a while, that was quite difficult to come to terms with.”

Undeterred, de Bastion went on tour anyway – from her living room.

“I just had the idea to do a virtual tour and work together with independent venues and promoters that I’ve worked with before and take over their social media channels and that way I could play to my audience but also find a new one.”

So de Bastion played a seven-date, free-to-view UK tour, all without leaving the house. And for a musician who normally depends on gig ticket sales to make a living, it worked.

“I just decided to ask for donations for gig tickets and considering I didn’t have any travel expenses, I actually ended up pretty much the same as what I would have done if I’d gone on a solo tour.”

The playwright

Olivia Hannah, 41, started writing plays in 2017 and her first, Braids, was about to be shown at Live Theatre in Newcastle.

“And that would have been my full length professional debut,” she told HuffPost UK.

“It felt miraculous. I put everything into this play and it felt like everything had fallen into place.”

The competitiveness of the industry only added to the sense of accomplishment for Hannah. “It’s tough and it’s always really oversubscribed,” she said.

“I think Live Theatre, every submissions window, get hundreds and hundreds of submissions and it’s really hard to break through and get your work in front of an audience. It’s a massive deal.”

Olivia Hannah.
Olivia Hannah.
Olivia Hannah

Live Theatre, like all theatres across the UK, is now closed and reopening hinges entirely on how the pandemic pans out.

But there was consolation for Hannah. “We got an invitation to be on Radio 4, one of the productions they decided to pick up [for an arts feature] was our little play.

“There was a brief interview with me and we had a reading. Luckily, both the actors were available so we did a live reading via Skype. It was great.

“It was quite bittersweet because we had a Zoom rehearsal beforehand which was absolutely brilliant, getting to see the director and the actors dig into the scenes and talk about the characters and all the stuff I love about theatre.

“But of course it’s not the same as being in the room together.”

The designer

Brian Walker, 34, had also harboured dreams of starting his own company when he left his full-time job as a graphic designer in February. Returning to London after a year travelling across Southeast Asia, he felt stifled by the constraints of office politics and domineering bosses.

He had heard from friends who became self-employed last year and had loved it. “I couldn’t wait to get started. I could finally choose to work on design work I actually liked and cared about,” he said.

Barely a fortnight after his work leaving drinks, lockdown was announced. In the weeks that followed, Brian found recruiters more than eager to chat on the phone – but it was more out of boredom than because companies were hiring freelancers.

“The timing has just been terrible,” he told HuffPost UK. “If I hadn’t quit at that time and waited another month or two, I would still have money coming in. At worst I’d have been furloughed.”

After the initial panic, however, Brian claims things aren’t too bad. Being unemployed meant he had plenty of time for marathon-training and taking long bike rides across the almost dystopian landscape of central London.

“I was actually loving lockdown,” he said. “And work has started to pick up too, so I’m not too stressed about money.”

Ian Adams.
Ian Adams.
Ian Adams

The retiree

On March 23, 63-year-old Ian Adams was supposed to be newly-retired and jetting off on the “trip of a lifetime” to California with his partner.

Instead, he watched helplessly as Boris Johnson announced the coronavirus lockdown.

“It’s been a really rough and bumpy few months for me,” he told HuffPost UK.

After decades working in marketing, Adams had sat down with a financial advisor last September and was delighted to learn that after a new six-month contract expired in March, he would be set for retirement.

“I had enough to cover groceries, running the car, and other expenses, and my cash pot pensions would supplement holidays or buying a car or anything like that on an occasional basis,” he said.

“I moved in with a new partner in the autumn last year and I had a long list of projects and painting and decorating and I was going to find some kind of volunteering job.”

Then the global pandemic hit.

“The choice of retiring or not has been completely taken away from me. I’ve had to go back into the market, job-searching as best I can.”

But despite the drastic changes to his retirement plans, Adams is remarkably chipper.

“Maybe I’ve just reached that point in my age,” he said. “I’ve been made redundant before when I was in my 40s and you have family and the cost of living and mortgages to cover and it really put the pressure on.

“But I can get by now, it’s not the end of the world. I have a roof over my head and can afford food and drink and whatever else I need.”


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