Here at Sparkle Up North, we want to showcase the amazing work northern female entrepreneurs have been doing, despite the effects of Covid on their businesses and their own health.
As Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, ‘The Truth About Long Covid’ looks at the impact of the illness on our society, our own feature article looks at the affect on one of our members, Carol Barwick, in a little more detail.
It’s been a difficult year for us all, balancing home-schooling with working from home, adapting to remote working and being prevented from seeing our loved ones.
Of course, amongst all that there have been millions of people suffering with Covid themselves and there is some evidence to suggest that here in the north we were hit the hardest by its affects.
But, as a business owner, how does having the illness affect your work? Carol Barwick, the Founder of Raise: Raising Confidence, Inspiring Creativity has kindly shared her story with Sparkle Up North.
‘I got the COVID symptoms in March, but at the time there were no tests because it was completely brand new. I’ve never had a sense of smell, but my taste was definitely different, and I had a cough. For about eight weeks it was pretty much just a cough and feeling a little bit tired.’
Because of how early Carol caught the illness, there wasn’t much support available to her. Doctors were, at that point, unsure of the best ways for her to be treated and simply advised her to ‘rest’.
Carol was even invited to take part in a feature by the BBC, which highlighted the lack of help she had been given compared to those who were being treated by the specialist units that were popping up around the country.
She is now part of the Leeds Covid rehab clinic where she has been having physio and occupational therapy for the last four months, in the hope of getting back to full fitness – which she still has not reached one year later.
‘Finally, one doctor said, ‘this sounds absolutely dreadful, I can’t believe what’s happening to you’. The fact that he listened to me was a bit like a cure in itself, just to hear someone say, ‘ I believe you, let’s try and do something about it’.’
Working through the illness
Like many people who run their own business, Carol continued working as best she could and ‘did what everyone else did’ by taking her services online. She was carrying out weekly interactive story sessions, as well as Facebook Lives for her choir.
‘I genuinely didn’t think I needed to stop, because it didn’t feel that bad. As a choir lady, I always get coughs and even chest infections, I’m just used to them. So, I didn’t realise what was coming at all.’
‘Then all I remember was I did a Zoom with my choir and the day afterwards I was completely out of it. For the next two weeks, I was just in and out of bed. And, then the other symptoms started follow on from that.’
I asked Carol how long Covid had kept her out of action and she replied: ‘I don’t know if I’m in again yet, Amy.’
12 months since her symptoms first occurred, Carol is still battling constant pain, nausea and fatigue: ‘My goal is to be able to take and pick up my son from school every day’. She adds, ‘it has been totally life changing.’
Of course, not all of this story is about the negative effects the illness has had, there have been some positives to take from this situation.
‘I’m a Christian and my faith is really important to me. I felt for a long time that God was saying that I needed to rest, but I really wasn’t doing that.’
‘So, suddenly this enforced time of rest meant that I did really have to look at my business. I needed to rethink everything I needed to make it manageable because I never know how I’m going to be feeling.’
‘Although it’s so hard, long COVID has given me a bit of a platform to do the next bit of what I want to do, it’s very bizarre.’
Singing lessons have been shown to help Covid sufferers
Interestingly, Carol’s singing lessons became something that helped her recovery rather than hinder it, she tells me that her doctors actually encouraged her to continue with them:
‘I was really worried, from a COVID point of view, that it might affect my lungs. But I’ve heard several people from different sources say that singing is really, really good. I actually have a couple of COVID sufferers that I do lessons with now and it’s helping them, which is really cool.’
Carol is hoping to one day seek official endorsement for her singing lessons as a good way of recovering and rehabilitating after suffering from Covid. She also discusses the impact the singing lessons have had on her mental health, as well as those who she teaches:
‘When I do singing lessons, I’m giving myself a bit of therapy at the same time. It’s the same in the Raise group as well, in that it raises self-esteem and confidence as much for me as it does for everybody else.’
Online community provides mental health support at a time when it is most needed
Prior to Covid, Carol was running Raise, a community and youth choir in Pudsey, an intergenerational choir in Batley and two or three interactive story sessions a week.
When she was hit by Covid, she wanted to carry on because she was missing the community feel and human interaction – and she knew her members would be missing that too. So, she continued offering her services but moved them online.
‘I’m quite used to doing Facebook Lives, so I decided to do that for the choir. At the beginning it was all singing or dancing, then I introduced pom poms and puppets, followed by other props.’
In October, Carol arranged for the group to record a song which she had written herself to help others with their mental health. And she later released another song, a parody of Alanis Morisette’s ‘Hand in my pocket’, about the how it felt to have Covid.
She also began and grew a Facebook group, as a way of keeping in touch with everyone during lockdown.
‘The group came about from wanting to keep contacting all the people that I normally saw physically. Then I’ve got a lot of my friends in there, old school friends and people that I might not have had so much of a relationship with.’
Carol says that running the group has helped her develop strong relationships that she might not otherwise have had, it provides a large mix of people with a community to come for help with their confidence, creativity and general wellbeing.
Launching a podcast
In fact, the group has been such a success that Carol has decided to now develop the content into the Raise Podcast – helping her reach even more people whilst still battling the effects of Covid.
‘The idea of a podcast, as crazy as it seems, just seemed really manageable. It meant that I’d be able to carry on sharing my songs, the choir could access it and other people that used to come to Raise could access it.’
She’s hoping to launch podcast in April and the goal is that it will follow the same format as the Raise Group: They have a word of the week which they have discussions around and posts getting them to think more about their wellbeing, their life and their work in relation to that word.
‘I remember ages ago the word was restoration. So, for that episode I might invite a guest who restores furniture to talk about how and why they restore it, but also link that to what it means to be restored as a human being kind.’
‘And then, at the end, I’m going to write a little poem for every guest that comes on! It’s a bit scary, but the creativity really gives me energy, the singing lessons give me energy, anything that feels like I’m giving to somebody or creating something gives me energy.’
You can find out more about Carol’s business, group and upcoming podcast by signing up to her mailing list, here
We’d like to say a huge thank you to Carol for sharing her story with Sparkle Up North and wish her the very best of luck in 2021.