My furlough ‘to do’ list

About the author

Maddie Waktare is a Media Officer at British Heart Foundation. She's studying the CIPR Professional PR Certificate with PR Academy.

Lockdown with family
Lockdown with family

I work as a Media Officer at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and I’m also a student at the PR Academy, studying for the CIPR Professional Certificate. The coronavirus has caused the BHF, along with many other charities, to furlough a significant proportion of their staff and at the end of April I was put on furlough for six weeks 

When you’re used to a structured day of ticking off tasks, stepping back into a prolonged period of time off can take some adjusting.  

This is an incredible amount of free time, the likes of which you will probably never experience again, and you want to make the most of it.  

As a result, there is the temptation to draw up a ten page ‘furlough to do list’ and start manically bulldozing through it – heaping huge amounts of pressure on yourself in the process.  

On the other hand, this lengthy stretch of empty days feels strikingly familiar – to a holiday. Or an extremely long lazy weekend. Finding a balance between relaxing a little bit too much and going into overdrive can be tricky. Especially, as we alrespond to the anxiety of living through a global pandemic and adjust to a new normal 

Over the past month, I’ve found that using my time productively is important. But I’ve also come to accept that the nature of my small daily accomplishments will be different, and that’s not a bad thing.  

For example, I spent the last six months working on the PR campaign for the BHF’s London to Brighton Bike Ride and for a long time now I’ve been desperate to start cycling.  I follow cycling influencers; read the Guardian’s ‘Bike Blog’ and I’ve come to feel passionately about the growing movement to get more women into cycling. But, until being furloughed, I still hadn’t managed to get myself on a bike.   

Just before lockdown, I moved home to be with my family in Portsmouth and so I’ve been able to borrow my brother’s road bike. I hadn’t cycled properly since I was a child and learning to ride with your feet clipped into the pedals (known as ‘cleats’) is a very different kettle of fish. I think of it like the adult equivalent to taking the stabilisers off, but much less scary 

I’ve loved getting to grips with a new hobby, something we rarely do in adulthood. And with so few cars on the roads, there couldn’t have been a better time to get the cogs turning, as it were.    

To keep my brain ticking over, I’ve been doing some communications work for a homeless charity in London, which I volunteer forUsing my skills to support them in this difficult time has been really rewarding and writing for a charity with an entirely different mission to the BHF has also been a great learning opportunity for me 

There are some fantastic websites which match furloughed communications professionals with organisations that could do with a handTime to Spare provides a free service to small charities where prospective volunteers can sign up, indicating their skills, availability and how they’re willing to help. SimilarlyElwood and Atfield offers volunteering opportunities for furloughed communicators, through their ‘Covid-19 Communications Volunteering’ initiative.  

Furlough has also been a brilliant opportunity to get ahead with my CIPR coursework. It’s given me the chance to really take my time over assignments, where usually, it’s been a manageable, if slightly frazzled push to get them finished over evenings and weekends.  

I’ve also started putting together a document with particularly useful learnings from the course: something I intended to do, but probably wouldn’t have managed in the busy drudgery of normal daily life.  

The final aspect of furloughed life is, of course, spending more time with the family. I’ve been fine-tuning the art of conversation with my X-Box obsessed teenaged brothers, while mid-morning game of Bananagrams has become a treasured fixture in my daily routine.  

I’ve also been able to help out more with my elderly granddad who is high-risk and needs full time care.  

On being furloughed, I took on the role of chief shopper for my extended family, who are taking it in turns to care for him and therefore need to self-isolate as well 

AI’m sure many others across the UK have recently discovereddoing the weekly shop for three or four households is nothing short of a military operation. But the brief, socially distanced greetings when dropping off food are definitely worth it 

So, while my personal and professional pursuits have been hugely worthwhile, my biggest achievement while on furlough has got to be just about keeping my loved ones in toilet roll, eggs and pasta. 

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