‘It’s been a big learning curve’ – Furloughed workers on life in lockdown as restrictions ease
- Credit: KEITH GRINSTED
Suffolk workers have shared their experiences of the furlough scheme as more businesses start to welcome back staff.
More than a quarter of a million people across both counties have been furloughed during the lockdown, according to latest figures out at the end of June.
Since the government’s Job Retention Scheme (JRS) was introduced, 85,700 people have been registered in Suffolk compared with 175,000 in Essex.
MORE: Revealed – How many people in Suffolk and Essex are on furloughLast week, hundreds of people returned to work after more than 15 weeks on the furlough scheme.
Others are reflecting on their time on furlough ahead of their return to work.
‘I need to get out and see people again...instead of avoiding them’
Keith Grinsted, from Sudbury, hit national headlines recently when he reunited with his daughters after 15 weeks apart.
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The 67-year-old, who was shielding due to having type 2 diabetes, said his furlough experience has been full of ups and downs – and at times, he has felt “very excluded” from the rest of the world.
“Personally I’ve had some real flat spots, on the edge of depression, living on my own in a first-floor flat and not going out to exercise.
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“I haven’t got as much done as I had hoped to.
“In the last few weeks, I’ve managed to start moving a few projects forward – but irregular sleep patterns have been disruptive.
“The company that I’d been working for have been absolutely first class – they kept in touch with everybody through a WhatsApp group, and also through a Facebook page where they’ve been having competitions, regular theme days, video calls, all sorts of things – which has kept everybody engaged.”
MORE: Lost in lockdown – the Suffolk businesses which have closed due to coronavirusMr Grinsted, who works for a John Lewis store in Chelmsford, is expecting to go back to work on July 13.
“I have a little bit of trepidation because I’ve been shielding for 15 weeks – I’ve got type 2 diabetes – but I also feel that my health and fitness has gone downhill and I need to get out and start engaging with people again, rather than avoiding them.
“Overall (furlough) has been a very big learning curve for me.”
‘I have had time to look after myself’
Meanwhile, for mum-of-two Claire Caley, from Felixstowe, furlough has been a mixed bag.
“There are two sides to this for me,” she said.
“I am self-employed, running an eBay business selling gymnastics leotards, and business is in the toilet.
“I did get the first grant, and am likely to get the second.
“This has helped but doesn’t cover all the bills for the business, let alone pay a wage. I am also on furlough from a part-time job at McDonalds.
MORE: ‘They need help now’ – £131k in Covid-19 recovery cash set aside for struggling voluntary groups“Although money is an issue as it is for many, I have had time to look after myself for a change.
“My children are both teenagers so are relatively self sufficient, so I’ve managed to take the extra time I have to concentrate on getting fit and losing weight, both of which have given me a new lease of life and a new me to look at too.
“It’s time to get back to work soon, and hopefully my business will recover with the return of indoor sport.
“In all, I’ve found it a positive experience – but wouldn’t like it to stay permanently.”
‘Knowing I am going to be paid makes a difference’
Wendie Hales is on furlough from her job at an engineering firm in Claydon.
She said she has found the whole experience relaxing.
“I have had the time to do odd jobs around the house and in the garden,” she said.
“I go for a walk most days, along the seafront.
“It has been stress free – knowing that I am still going to get paid each month as well makes a difference.
“The weather has mainly been lovely, if it had been winter I think the experience would be different.”
John Dugmore, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, previously praised the national business community for ensuring the Job Retention Scheme’s success.
The furlough scheme is currently due to end in October.
When outlining the extension, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has protected millions of jobs and businesses across the UK during the outbreak – and I’ve been clear that I want to avoid a cliff edge and get people back to work in a measured way.
“This extension and the changes we are making to the scheme will give flexibility to businesses while protecting the livelihoods of the British people and our future economic prospects.”
• Share your experiences of the furlough scheme with us here.