Kingston spotlight: community spirit and a virtual grand hall to hang out in

Our guest columnist Robin Hutchinson shares his thoughts on how we can get through this, and talks about the launch of a ‘grand hall’ where people can gather virtually

Well, what times we are living through! For many years we’ve been hearing the word ‘unprecedented’, but perhaps now we can genuinely understand its true meaning.

A blog written at any time can age badly and be quickly superseded by events – but we are in a time when the very moment I stop writing, my thoughts and words may seem daft.

This is Monday 23 March and the first day without schools – for the majority other than the children of key workers. Requests for people to isolate themselves socially and stay at home instead are being obeyed by many, but this weekend’s TV scenes from popular coastal resorts, and more locally from Richmond Park, suggest that the severity of the situation has not completely registered.

And why are we surprised? It’s that word ‘unprecedented’ again. As people are struggling to adjust, some are in denial, some feel invincible and their behaviours reflect that accordingly.  But we will all have to adjust and we will all have to learn how to do it. For many, the thought of 12 weeks at home was a dream, a wish – well, we now find ourselves in the land of ‘being careful what we wish for’. There’s little point pretending it’s not going to be hard but, by helping each other, we can get through.

Change can have a massive emotional impact. Add uncertainty to the mix and we have a potent cocktail with implications for everyone’s mental health. More than ever, it’s important to recognise that none of us is invulnerable to anxiety or depression.

One of the most important things we can do is think about, and keep in touch with, our friends, families and colleagues. Send a text, an email, make a call. And if you can, use a platform that allows you to see them – there’s plenty of free video options available. Those who live with mental health issues have learned how to hide, to withdraw to the shadows. For many this will be a new experience but it’s up to us all to try to look after each other and ‘seeing someone’ can make a big difference.

In a time ‘Before COVID–19’ (BC) there were enough concerns about social isolation to worry people. Now it has intensified. We can help by caring – so why not make a list of those you know and make sure you’re keeping in contact, showing you are thinking about them?

Social media platforms are coming into their own as ways to keep in touch, but do take care. Over the last three years we have seen how nasty, negative and hurtful they can become, so make a positive choice to leave those groups that anger or upset you. Find the places of positivity – they are out there.

The Community Brain has created an online space on Zoom called the Grand Hall. It’s a virtual venue – somewhere to drop in and out of, ­- hopefully with simple instructions. There may be nobody in there when you first visit, but hang about and maybe someone will join you, come back later, invite your friends.The “Grand Hall” is a free-for-all space to drop in and talk to others, rather like a virtual pub. We also have a “Side Room” available for quieter events of all kinds, maybe to learn a skill, play games, meditate, listen to a performance or join a workshop.

We can use this difficult time to find new ways of being positive together that hopefully will pay dividends in the way we live when we are AC.

As a result of the national and international developments in regard to the spread of the Covid-19 Pandemic we are sad to inform you that we are postponing the Surbiton Food Festival and associated events until, hopefully, later in the year. As you will realise this is not a decision that we have taken lightly but we have to act in the best interests of all our communities. We appreciate your support, kindness and understanding in these unprecedented times. Post Covid-19 it will be vital that communities can come together again to celebrate and find strength in each other. With this is mind we will be looking for every opportunity to organise events and happenings as soon as we possible safely can

Help for home workers

Many are finding themselves working from home for the first time – here are just a few tips and tricks from some old hands who have been segregating their work and home lives for some time:

  • Try to set a structure for the day. You don’t have to keep to it rigidly, but it can help in making sure you set the boundary between your ‘working’ and just ‘being’ at home. Build in breaks.
  • If you can, find a place in your home which is where you ‘go to work’. It might be a particular chair, a particular place at a table or, if you are lucky, a desk.
  • It might even be the clothes you put on – a good way to signify to yourself that you are ‘at work’. It’s so important to be able to know when you are working, and know when you are not – you may never switch off otherwise.
  • Be kind. Forgive yourself. Some people feel guilty working from home, believing it can’t be real work or feel they have to do more to justify it. Neither of these are true. Just do what you can.

Remember that when this is over – and it will be – and we return to more normal times, we will be changed. The ways in which we work will be different – no workplace can just go back to ‘where we were’. Working remotely will have been proved in many of those organisations that had denied it was ever possible.

The way in which you work now will be your template for the future. So be kind in your work-life balance, learn to switch off and learn to forgive yourself.  This is all new, but may be an opportunity to shape your future in ways you could never have imagined.


Robin Hutchinson, MBE, is founder of  The Community Brain, a local CIC which develops and organises events such as Surbiton Ski Sunday, The Surbiton Food Festival and The Seething Festival. He is also a founding trustee for The Rose Theatre , the Chair of Creative Youth which organises the annual International Youth Arts Festival (IYAF).