Spending nearly nine months of the year living on remote Skomer Island, National Lottery-funded wildlife wardens Nathan Wilkie and Sylwia Zbijewska, both 29, are used to life “off the grid”.
But when the coronavirus crisis struck, the two of them were plunged into compulsory lockdown on the beautiful 720-acre isle off the Pembrokeshire coast.
With only seabirds for company, the situation has left them even more isolated than usual.
Sylwia, who is using her spare time to learn the ukulele, says: “Every few weeks we take our boat to collect our online supermarket order from friends, and we alternate cooking duties.
“You need to be OK with being in isolation, and not being able to just pop to the shops. You have to plan ahead and be able to enjoy the changes in the weather.”
In normal times, Skomer attracts up to 250 visitors a day, drawn by the chance to see the island’s wildlife – but coronavirus cut this off virtually overnight, and the Wildlife Trusts was faced with having to withdraw the wardens.
However, thanks to a grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund – part of a wider £600m National Lottery allocation to help good causes affected by the pandemic’s impact – Nathan and Sylwia can continue protecting Skomer’s unique bird habitats.
While living on the island, Nathan initially came down with symptoms of the coronavirus and had to self-isolate for two weeks, then the pair struggled to get food deliveries But now they’re embracing the situation.
Their work involves collecting data on breeding seabirds, including puffins and Manx shearwaters, and helping to protect them from other species – humans among them.
“The island is really fragile,” says Nathan. “Puffins and shearwaters nest in burrows, so the ground is like a honeycomb. It’s important that people stay on the paths.”
Both are missing their families on the mainland, though. Nathan is also craving ice cream, while Sylwia pines for fresh strawberries.
Meanwhile they, and two other wardens, have been sharing their work online via video blogs.
And despite the crisis, the pair are counting their blessings.
“We know how lucky we are to have a job on a remote island,” says Nathan. “We appreciate all the support from The National Lottery and the people who play it.”
“It’s a very special place to work in and it’s definitely a privilege,” Sylwia adds
Next we hear from another duo who have been separated from their loved ones in lockdown in Slough and find out how they’ve been making the most of it too…
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Pensioners transform lounge into yoga studio
Like many loving grandparents, Rajinder and Usha Mehta have found being separated from their family in lockdown a challenge.
But the couple have made the most of their time by turning their lounge into a yoga and dance studio, thanks to online classes run by a local National Lottery-funded community group.
Rajinder, 75, and Usha, 68, live in Slough. While they’ve at least been able to see their son and two-year-old youngest granddaughter from a distance, they have also managed to stay close to their wide circle of friends through shared virtual exercise classes, WhatsApp groups, regular phone calls and even cooking challenges.
The couple have been active members of the National Lottery-funded Apna Virsa voluntary community organisation for four years. It was co-founded by friends Seema Kamboj and Bobbi Johal in 2007, with the aim of bringing together members of the vibrant South Asian community in the Slough area.
Since then it has grown to have hundreds of members, and works in close partnership with other community groups, running yoga, pilates, wellbeing and bhangra dance classes, alongside community meet-ups and other services catering for a broad age range and uniting people from many different cultures.
“Social isolation is a big issue, particularly among older members of the community, and early on we also recognised a need around people’s health,” says Seema. “We’ve always consulted with the local community about the kind of services they want, and the classes we run have proved really popular.
“When lockdown hit, we knew we had to keep bringing people together, so we ran with the challenge and moved our classes online. It’s been amazingly successful, and our reach has risen from a maximum of 35 people in a class pre-lockdown, to as many as 10,000 views for one of our Facebook Live dance sessions. We even had the charity Shelter ask us to share our social media tips!”
Apna Virsa was awarded National Lottery funding for its Wellbeing Matters project, launched in March 2019, and some of that money has now supported it going virtual.
“People have been sharing videos and photos, we’ve had weekly highlights on Facebook and a recipe of the week shared via WhatsApp,” says Seema. “It’s all these little things in lockdown that keep people positive and motivated.”
Usha adds: “We look forward to getting sent the links for our online yoga and bhangra classes, and we cast them to the TV set – with a little help from our son!
“The classes keep our bodies active and our minds occupied, and help to reduce anxiety in what has been a tough few months. I’ve also shared recipes with friends and speak to them on the phone. Staying in touch with people has never been more important.
“I normally play The National Lottery with some former work colleagues. I think it’s great that people who play are helping others to do good work.”