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Coronavirus lockdown keep-in-touch scheme ‘was a form of respite’

Written by on 28 September 2020

Justina Kusanja spent nearly five months of this year shielding at home, juggling home schooling her two young daughters on the family’s single iPad.

“It was very depressing. I’m a single mother with my two children, they’re just five and seven,” the customer services representative at Southeastern Railway said.

“It was scary to go outside because you don’t know what could happen to you, especially the children, and being at home was also like a torment because no one could come to you, and you couldn’t go anywhere, though you could speak to people, it was a nightmare,” Justina said.

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Justina said the chats had a positive impact on her mental health

With her family in Ghana, there was no support nearby. But when a colleague started checking up on her wellbeing through a work keep-in-touch scheme, it made her feel less alone.

“It was a form of respite for me to have an adult conversation and to be able to open up and share stuff, personal stuff.”

She had never met her colleague Raz Sagoo in person, but the weekly contact helped both women battle the isolation of working from home.

“I’m so used to working in a busy office, constantly having human interaction with colleagues. I was suddenly on my own at home as well, really missing it,” Raz, inclusion and diversity partner at Southeastern Railway, said.

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“So when I started making weekly phone calls to Justina and other colleagues I just really enjoyed having light-hearted lovely conversation.”

The pair are sharing their experience to highlight the start of National Inclusion Week, an initiative to create more inclusive workplaces which 5,000 companies across the UK have signed up to.

Making sure employees don’t feel isolated also makes good business sense, Southeastern Railway managing director David Statham said.

“We know that if you feel included at work, if you feel a part of a community you’re going to perform better, you’re going to stay for longer, you and your colleagues are going to be happier in your work,” he said.

Raz Sagoo
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Raz would make weekly calls to Justina and other colleagues

In her weekly phone calls Raz would check if Justina had access to medication and if she managed to get a food delivery slot.

She also organised for a company iPad to be delivered so that each of her children would have a device for schoolwork.

The two women met for the first time on Friday, at a rail platform in southeast London. They were wearing masks, but the joy of meeting in person after talking for five months was palpable.

“We had massive grins on our faces. I’m looking forward to keeping our friendship,” Raz said.

“It’s had a positive impact in terms of my mental health,” said Justina.

“We had that connection that we talked about everything in life – she’s a lady like me, same age and so we talked about everything, our past, our present and our future.”

They both agree that as hard as lockdown was, one silver lining was that it reinforced the value of human connections.