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International Women's Day: The women in Kent helping to fight the Covid-19 pandemic

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The first International Women's Day was celebrated in 1975 after it was frequently used across Europe by women to protest wars and gender inequality.

In a year like no other, this International Woman's Day we're looking back at some of the women who have worked tirelessly to keep people in Kent safe and well during the pandemic.

Support for support workers

When the first lockdown began, Claire Goodwin-Fee from Greenhithe, co-founded Frontline19 as a free counselling service for struggling front line workers like nurses, care home staff, police and paramedics.

At first, she believed it would only last for a few months and help a few dozen workers. But by January this year, around 50,000 free sessions had been given to 5,000 people across the UK.

Claire said: "On a personal level, I found it really helpful to have something to keep me busy.

"It's been really empowering to help. Most of the people who come to us are women and by helping them they can keep going and keep looking after their kids and working and doing all the amazing things that they do."

She added: "The pandemic takes its toll on frontline workers.

"In normal circumstances, they thrive on their jobs and enjoy the things they do. In the pandemic, they're having to work in war like conditions."

At the beginning of the pandemic, she found many were extremely anxious about passing Covid onto their families and the danger of PPE shortages. Some lived in hotels or in their garage for a time.

But as the pandemic went on there were more cases of trauma, complex PTSD and burnout as workers lost patients, team members and loved ones to the virus.

Claire believes the effort to keep health care workers healthy will continue beyond the pandemic as many will need counselling for trauma - and she hopes to be a part of that effort.

The mum of two added: "I'm balancing looking after my kids, homeschooling and my husband and work - it is heavy at times.

"I sometimes feel a little bit overwhelmed at the scale of the problem. But I want to make a long lasting change.

"I want to empower other people. I want to help other women to find their voice and to be empowered to go and seek support.

Dolly is going to be adopted by Claire and trained as a therapy dog
Dolly is going to be adopted by Claire and trained as a therapy dog

"I feel very humbled and privileged to be able to help people and I feel really privileged to be able to work with some of the amazing women that come to us."

Frontline19 was named as one of the Prime Minister's Points of Light last year. The non-profit is drafting up a ten year plan and are looking forward to bringing therapy dogs into hospitals when safe to do so.

Inside the NHS

NHS staff continue to put their health on the line to fight coronavirus - and some, such as mum-of-three Aimee O'Rourke and 'much-loved' Hannah Jackson, sadly lost their lives.

A number of brave nurses have also caught Covid-19, survived and returned to work to tackle the virus, including Pat Johnson.

She left intensive care to a round of applause from her colleagues - a moment she called "overwhelming".

She said: “I still can’t watch the video, it is too emotional. I am so lucky to work with such lovely and caring people. I consider myself blessed."

Pat Johnson was applauded as she left hospital

Now the vaccine is being rolled out, there's some hope the virus will be less of a serious danger to front-line workers.

Rachel Nicholls was the operational lead at Sevenoaks Hospital, but was eager to move to support local vaccination centres and help her team.

She said: "I'm very keen that everyone has the opportunity to have a vaccine and to promote having the vaccine as well.

"We can all look back years from now and say, I was part of contributing to people getting the vaccines. It's very proud moment. It's been hard. But it's been also been very enjoyable and at the end of the day, you just feel that you've achieved quite a lot as well.

Rachel Nicholls
Rachel Nicholls

"Irrespective of who you are, everyone is hugely important in the team. Everyone contributes.

"International Women's Women's Day is a platform to tell future generations that you can do whatever you put your mind to. It's very empowering to be in a position that I'm in."

Team leader of Medway's food banks

Food banks have their own role in keeping the community safe during the pandemic as many families find themselves in financial strife.

When Medway's eight food banks closed to reduce contact, the service moved to deliveries only. Demand shot up from previous years as the 5,800 people in need of the service in 2018 rose to 12,100 in 2020.

Lorraine Schulze, Medway Foodbank manager, said: "We've had people who have never used a food bank before, they've never been out of work before. We encourage people to come to the food bank centre to really get the support they need."

However, this increase in demand has also placed increased pressure on the many volunteers who give up hours of their time.

Lorraine Schulze is the manager of Medway Foodbank
Lorraine Schulze is the manager of Medway Foodbank

Lorraine says of herself: "I think I'm fairly resilient person. If we don't look after ourselves then we can't look after other people.

"We've learned that kindness is one of the easiest and best things that as human beings we can do. As an organisation in Medway we're here to support everybody.

"I work with amazing teams of people - but they are men and women. It's just people working together in teams and supporting each other. Working with volunteers is particularly humbling and I'm so incredibly grateful to them."

A researcher who caught Covid-19 twice

Researchers are also working on the front lines of the pandemic.

Sharon Turney, part of the research team at East Kent Hospitals, caught Covid-19 twice - in April and November - so knows the dangers of the virus all too well.

She said: "Being told you have Covid-19 – whether the first or second time – is scary because you just don’t know how it will affect you or what damage it will do. I feel very lucky to have had it mild both times and to be able to get back to work.

"Even a year on from when the virus first appeared we still don’t know everything about it.

"The different variants make it more difficult to come up with effective treatments and we have to keep trying new things."

Sharon Turney got Covid twice and is now working on a study into the impacts of black elderberry juice
Sharon Turney got Covid twice and is now working on a study into the impacts of black elderberry juice

But now Sharon is back on the job recruiting people for a trial to test whether elderberry juice has an affect on the virus and how long symptoms last.

She said: "I feel so privileged to be able to work with the team on this trial.

"We hope it will show that elderberry juice can help alleviate symptoms so people recover faster. It could help keep people out of hospital.

"Everything we do is for our patients and it’s so exciting to be involved in this. I couldn’t work for a better team and I absolutely love the work I do."

And KMTV spoke to a leading Kent lawyer to discusses the importance of International Women's Day

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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