In these unexpected times of crisis, Arnolfini’s Writer in Residence, Melissa Chemam’s latest episode is not be dedicated to art, but to our fellow Bristolians and the way they bravely care for each other.
There is a saying in French that states “loin des yeux, loin du coeur”. Far from sight, far from heart. My mother, who lived with us far away from her own family, often used to mentioned it when I was young; she longed for her siblings and her own mother, and she felt like they had been thinking about her less since she left… But deep down, she knew it wasn’t true. She was actually thinking about them constantly, and they had her in their heart every day, every hour…
It’s the same for us today, some of you may be away from your loved ones, or live alone, facing the most scary pandemic in your lifetime, isolated. But we are still in each other’s heart.
Around me, in the press, on television and on social media, I hear a lot of people complain about their situation in the current health crisis. Losing work, money, risking their life to keep on working when needed, worrying about getting food. But for the large majority of us in western countries and especially here in Britain, the biggest change in our daily life is simply isolation. Not so mainly people have been affected by the current coronavirus, thankfully, especially not in Bristol. But all of us have been asked to practice social distancing and to isolate at home, first to stop spreading the virus unknowingly, secondly to help and protect the health workers. It’s not easy and I know a lot of people suffer from this situation.
But one thing that Bristol manages to do once again is to spread the seeds of solidarity beyond this separation.
So many good hearts offered help; they make Bristol special
I’ve personally always felt this sense of community in the city, from the first week I came here in February 2015. It was a world away from my familiar surroundings, Paris and London.
Luckily, people and communities have organised again to support each other.
I want to send these few words, my gratitude and all the best wishes to them all, especially to the NHS staff, as my own and only sister is right now working in an intensive care unit in one of Paris’ busiest hospitals, and I think of her every minute.
Some of them are the Community Farm and Bristol Food Union, which started raising money last week to prepare meals for health practitioners but also to deliver food to rough sleepers and vulnerable people. Over the past 10 days, the group – headed up by the Food Union Media, the Pony & Trap group and Bristol Food Producers – created six production kitchens in restaurants around the city currently closed due to the pandemic. Some of the ones involved are Poco Tapas, the Gallimaufry, Box-E, Season & Taste Group and Bianchi’s Group.
The first campaign has raised more than £15,200, and the second one more than £6,525, starting with a donation of £5,000 by the leader of the Bristol band Massive Attack on Friday.
The initiative is supporting Caring in Bristol to feed 500 rough sleepers who have been moved into sheltered accommodation. This week, the charity launched a unique citywide campaign, in order to highlight the need of homeless people and ask for public support in helping them off the streets.
Caring in Bristol is directed by Ben Richardson. The last time I saw Ben was about a month ago, at the Arnolfini café… I stayed with him and his partner once years ago, when in need of a room, and was immediately struck by their kindness and wholeheartedness. Ben and Caring in Bristol represent everything that made me come and live in the city…
The number of rough sleepers in Bristol has reached its highest level in a decade, despite a drop on national level. “Like all small local charities working with homeless people,” wrote Ben Richardson in a press release, “we are under immense pressure to protect and serve those we care for now more than ever. We’re currently seeking to house all homeless people regardless of their immigration status into temporary accommodation, including people with no recourse to public funds,” Ben Richardson explained. “Provision for those who are homeless during this crisis needs urgent national-level intervention. And this crisis is making the already vulnerable more exposed than ever.”
To support Caring in Bristol:
Without your, our solidarity, this wouldn’t be possible
Having grown up under a socialist government, in a city run by a communist city council, I can only feel touched by this wave support running through Bristol!
So many other initiatives have been put into place that I can’t name them all. About 220 students from Bristol University’s medical school fast-tracked their graduations so they can help tackle the coronavirus crisis and join the NHS in the coming weeks. Facebook groups came about like Bristol Community Care – Covid-19 Mutual Aid and COVID-19 Caring in Bristol Homeless Mutual Aid group
The community union Acorn also has set up a website allowing to people display their need for help and connect them with a volunteer.
These unions and charities all need volunteers, and will only need more in the coming weeks. As I still work as a lecturer and a writer, I’m mostly stuck home all day. I have donated as I can’t commit to volunteer yet; maybe in the summer after the students’ final assessments…
Universities and creative industries are at threat more than many sectors; they’re by nature full of self-employed people with less security and sometimes no compensations.
Lecturers, artists, musicians, writers have nonetheless been among the first to offer help around me. Organising support, using their social media platforms to share appeals, or simply singing for others on Twitter and Instagram, while their own work has been cancelled for months…
Hopefully, these incredible examples of solidarity guide others, and inspire more people to feel that together we can overcome this crisis.
Melissa Chemam writes for many publications such as The Public Art Review, Transfuge Magazine, Le Figaro, Le Monde, Skin Deep, The Bristol Cable, Bristol 24/7, CIRCA Art Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement and Public Pressure. Melissa also published Massive Attack: A Bristol Story, in 2019.