Lir Graduate Joins Frontline Workers at St Mary's Nursing Home

Lir Graduate Sarah Jane Williams has been working as a cleaner at St Mary's Nursing Home and has written about her experience, from losing work in theatre to finding a way to help in these times of crisis alongside porters, nurses and other front line staff.

My name is SJ. Last year in November, I graduated from The Lir Academy as a Lighting Technician and Production Manager. I had a Trinity Degree, a job that was bringing me all over the world, I was beginning to find my place in the industry and I was working with people I love and admire. My career had finally begun.

Now it is April and things are very different for me. I imagine they are very different for you too. On the 12th of March this year Ireland changed, one of the first of the measures put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 was to close all cultural institutions, this meant theatres, it meant festivals, it meant concerts, it meant my job and many other jobs too.

That day was a blur of phone calls and emails. One by one every gig, tour and festival I had booked in the coming weeks was cancelled. All at once I was unemployed, wondering how I would pay rent, feeling like my world was unravelling around me. The first thing I did, being the independent, mature, level-headed woman that I am, was call my Father sobbing.

So, I went home to Wexford for a few days to breathe and regroup. It felt awful, even though thousands of people were now in the same position, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had somehow failed, that I somehow should have been more secure or more established or had more savings, maybe if I had a 9 to 5 I could have still worked from home. That wasn't that case though, so I needed to make a plan.

In my week at home I began applying for every job available that I could find. I knew the emergency payment would be available to me but I felt I needed a short term plan that could become a slightly longer term plan if necessary. So I applied for everything, grocery store jobs, food production jobs in factories, and cleaning jobs.

The first job to get back to me was a grocery store back in Dublin. They wanted me to start right away and so I did, I went back to Dublin and started working on a checkout in the midst of panic buying, hour long queues and toilet roll shortages. Initially, I was relieved to have money coming in again, but then I became so happy just to be working and busy again.

Soon after I started there I got a call from a cleaning company I had applied to, they desperately needed cleaners in healthcare facilities and needed full time staff immediately. I already had a job that I liked but something about the job struck a chord with me. I wanted to help, I felt I was more needed there and so I went.

I’m now working full time as a cleaner at St Mary’s Nursing Home. The people living there are some of our country’s most vulnerable and it seems that the Virus is now in power. Everyone in there is fighting a constant battle against it. The Patients, Doctors, Nurses, Carers, Caterers, Porters, and Cleaners are all fighting and we’re all in it together.

Things can feel a little hopeless when you're watching it from this close, but it's not hopeless, as long as people are complying with the measures in place, this battle will be won.

I'm unsure when I will be able to return to working in theatre. I don't know if theatres will open in a few weeks or a few months or in a year from now. I don't know if when they reopen that I will no longer be needed at the hospital. I do know that when I return, I will be ready to pick up where I left off. I will be ready to retake the place I had begun to carve out for myself in the Industry. As an industry, we will be ready to begin again. We have not been cancelled, only interrupted.

I miss my friends and colleagues terribly. I’m looking forward to running away with the circus again. I’m really looking forward to Edinburgh Fringe next year. There is so much to look forward to after all this but what I most look forward to is a hug from my Mam, hugs in general, but mostly from my Mam.

Whatever you are looking forward to after all this is over, don't rush! Take this time you have for what it is, time you will never get back, use it wisely however you can. What comes after this time will come by itself. Until then, please stay home; you will be helping me. Stay strong, you will help yourself. And stay creative, we're all going to need that again soon.