Ahead of a seminar on the lives and experiences of Forces partners, taking place on 8th July, Alison Baverstock, Reading Force founder and military wife for 30 years reflects on lockdown and deploymets.
Talking to a young friend over the weekend, her experience of returning to work after self-isolating at home really chimed with me. At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on why. Later I realised she had been describing how I always felt at the end of a deployment. All of a sudden your world changes, and things are back to normal – except they are not.
The end-date of an unaccompanied tour is never set in stone. During the pandemic – the latest deployment for many Forces families – many Forces personnel found new commitments were added to existing separations. The unexpected can often happen. At the end of my husband’s last tour in Afghanistan, I was about to drive to the airport when he rang to say he was back in Kabul. The condition of an injured soldier on his flight had suddenly worsened, so of course they detoured to the nearest military hospital (Afghanistan).
My young friend was finding her post-pandemic return disorientating. First she was furloughed, then worked from home, she and her boyfriend navigating around each-other in their tiny flat. So suddenly returning to a five-day week was a shock to her system. Once there, management actively discouraged talking about their experience. It was as if all that time at home, trying to keep her motivation going, was suddenly discounted; as if it had never taken place. She also found she had forgotten some of her previous routines – especially Travelcard-management.
It’s the same after a deployment. Bedtimes and pocket money may have been renegotiated, food preferences evolved (‘You never ate that before!’), new routines established, babies now toddlers. Both the Service person, and the family they return to, need to get used to living together again.
At Reading Force we’ve had our own strong experiences during lockdown. We’ve been busier than we thought possible. Demand for our materials increased by over 900% and now the scrapbooks families compiled are coming in for feedback. It is wonderful to see the immense creativity and thought that has been put into them. We return them to families with special certificates and the prize of a book, by recorded delivery.
Opportunities to share Reading Force have also emerged throughout lockdown. Giving presentations on zoom enabled us to reach many more than we could have done in person – and we gave materials to other charities who used them with Forces families they were supporting.
Lockdown tested our systems – our communications, website and delivery processes – and they worked brilliantly. We had the satisfaction of being really useful. We provided a valuable link between Service people, their children and wider families – offering common ground at a time when it could be difficult to know what on earth to talk about.
As others pick up their jobs and go back to work, we are so mindful that many Forces families still don’t know when they can be together again. Or what life will be like from now on. Whatever your particular circumstances, we remain here for you.
Alison Baverstock, founder and Director of Reading Force.
Alison is taking part in a free seminar on the life of the Forces partner on 8th July. Do join us.