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Meet the lockdown legends who kept Northern Ireland ticking along as the rest of us stayed indoors


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Chris McCracken (Linen Quarter Managing Director), Lord Mayor Alderman Frank McCoubrey, Stephen Mewha (Belfast One Vice President), Gerry Lennon (Visit Belfast Chief Executive) and Paul McErlean (Destination CQ Chairman).

Chris McCracken (Linen Quarter Managing Director), Lord Mayor Alderman Frank McCoubrey, Stephen Mewha (Belfast One Vice President), Gerry Lennon (Visit Belfast Chief Executive) and Paul McErlean (Destination CQ Chairman).

Lockdown Legends. Ross Early - Translink Station Inspector for Great Victoria Train Station (NI Railways)

Lockdown Legends. Ross Early - Translink Station Inspector for Great Victoria Train Station (NI Railways)

Stephen McKay

Stephen McKay

Lockdown Legends. Dr Patrick McAleavey from Public Health Agency

Lockdown Legends. Dr Patrick McAleavey from Public Health Agency

 Jordan Wray - SOS BUS NI Response Team

Jordan Wray - SOS BUS NI Response Team

Chris McCracken (Linen Quarter Managing Director), Lord Mayor Alderman Frank McCoubrey, Stephen Mewha (Belfast One Vice President), Gerry Lennon (Visit Belfast Chief Executive) and Paul McErlean (Destination CQ Chairman).

In Belfast's vibrant Linen Quarter they have become known as 'The Lockdown Legends' - a group of devoted professionals who kept vital services going throughout the health crisis.

From doctors to engineers, transport workers, cleaners and even charity volunteers, they were all on the beat during the weeks these normally busy streets were quiet.

Chris McCracken, managing director of the Linen Quarter BID (Business Improvement District), summed up just how much it meant to keep some services going after offices, restaurants and bars in the area were forced to close.

He said: "One thing that Covid-19 has taught us is that during times of crisis, local people will always shine.

"We are proud of these dedicated individuals based in the Linen Quarter who worked hard to support our communities throughout lockdown.

"Each story is an example of a person who has gone above and beyond during the pandemic, and we owe them all a debt of gratitude."

We caught up with some of the local heroes who explained what it meant for them to keep working while most people were confined to home.

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Lockdown Legends. Dr Patrick McAleavey from Public Health Agency

Lockdown Legends. Dr Patrick McAleavey from Public Health Agency

Lockdown Legends. Dr Patrick McAleavey from Public Health Agency

Dr Patrick McAleavey (38) from Newtownabbey has played a crucial role in the battle against Covid.

The father-of-three who is married to Ciara works as a speciality registrar with the Public Health Service, helping develop health services.

He found himself working at the coalface when the pandemic struck.

He explains: "During lockdown I worked on a range of services, including developing guidance for communication to the public and professional bodies, and helping with the establishment of the Covid-19 testing system, getting this to the point where all members of the public have access to rapid testing.

"The most significant service I helped with was delivering the test, track and trace centre, which was first, based in Linenhall Street and is now in Ballymena.

"My main role was to support the contact tracing team and to identify and investigate clusters and potential outbreaks.

"We are very fortunate that the public in Northern Ireland has engaged really well with the contact tracing process, which was very important in helping us to come out of lockdown safely."

Patrick admits that his biggest challenge has been the speed with which he and other professionals had to react to the ever-changing situation and establish new systems from scratch.

While he found himself busier than ever, he also admits he did feel the pressure.

"Like most people, I have found it to be a very strange and stressful experience at times," he says.

"As a public health doctor, we train in outbreak management and disease control, but it is difficult to prepare for something on such an unprecedented scale as the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Like many people, I have worked from home where possible and have become acquainted with the challenges of video conferencing, sometimes with one of my three children on my knee.

"What has been really great is the way the HSC staff have taken this disruption in their stride and really pulled together to ensure everyone's safety."

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Lockdown Legends. Ross Early - Translink Station Inspector for Great Victoria Train Station (NI Railways)

Lockdown Legends. Ross Early - Translink Station Inspector for Great Victoria Train Station (NI Railways)

Lockdown Legends. Ross Early - Translink Station Inspector for Great Victoria Train Station (NI Railways)

Ross Early (29) is a station inspector for Translink at Great Victoria Train Station where he found a much quieter working day during lockdown.

With many commuters confined to home, those travelling were mainly NHS staff and key workers.

The Belfast man, who has three children with his partner Anoushka (25), had to ensure travellers complied with social distancing rules.

Ross recalls: "The station was a lot quieter than what we are used to, although having NHS staff and key workers coming through on a daily basis was nice to see, as it shows we provide an essential service for the public.

"I have also been making sure the station complies with all social distancing rules and we are well stocked up with PPE, which the company has provided any time it's required.

"Our services have become slightly busier since the lockdown eased, so I need to remain vigilant and constantly make sure everything is safe in the station for staff and passengers."

Ross felt fortunate to be able to continue working his normal hours throughout lockdown, giving him a sense of normality. However, with the busiest station in the network unusually quiet, it did feel strange at times as he explains: "It has been slightly surreal.

"It has been interesting to notice the changes as lockdown eases.

"The numbers are slowly increasing, but the passengers are all socially distancing and people are adapting well to a new way of life on public transport, it seems.

"Seeing how people reconnect with family members they might not have seen for a long time, or people returning to work, and all being able to do this thanks to the train service really makes it seem like we are doing important work."

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 Jordan Wray - SOS BUS NI Response Team

Jordan Wray - SOS BUS NI Response Team

Jordan Wray - SOS BUS NI Response Team

Jordan Wray (23) from Belfast is a cyber security analyst and part of the SOS Bus NI response team.

During lockdown he was part of the Belfast Response Hub at the Ulster Hall delivering vital food parcels to people who were shielding or vulnerable.

"Each Monday we would collect 40-60 boxes from the hub and deliver them to individuals and families so that they could stay safely in their homes," he reveals.

"Together with the other drivers across the city centre, we delivered over 4,000 boxes a week in Ormeau Avenue, Donegal Pass and Botanic.

"It was great to have been able to put our SOS training into practice and over the weeks we met many people on their doorsteps for a chat.

"They often said it really brightened their day, as we were the only people they saw. This made my job seem even more worthwhile."

While working to help others get through lockdown, Jordan confesses that at times he did struggle to cope. "My biggest challenge was my own health, both mental and physical.

"I thrive on social interaction and before lockdown in my day job I worked in a building with over 100 people.

"To go from a busy office, to working from home I found that a huge challenge - and something I struggled to get used to. By volunteering with the SOS Bus, I was able to get out and take a break from working from home.

"Whilst the food programme aim was to help those who were isolating, it was also a great opportunity for me to have social interactions with others, which really made a difference to my own mental health."

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Stephen McKay

Stephen McKay

Stephen McKay

Stephen McKay from Belfast, who is married to Diane and has four grown-up sons, spent lockdown sprucing up the Linen Quarter as part of its clean team.

Thanks to his efforts, the streets soon became graffiti and chewing gum free.

He tells us: "Working throughout the pandemic was strange. At the beginning it was a bit surreal, everything just seemed to stop overnight, everywhere closed, streets deserted.

"From a practical point of view, it was actually very convenient, plenty of space to work, easy to get parked and fortunately the weather was fantastic.

"I did a lot of graffiti removal at the start, which I got well on top of, but we are now seeing a bit reappearing since the easing of lockdown.

"Also, all the hotels in the Linen Quarter had the areas outside pressure-washed and the chewing gum removed and the whole area was weed-sprayed."

While lockdown gave him the chance to tackle extra cleaning jobs, he did feel the loneliness of working without the crowds which make up a normal day in these busy streets.

He adds: "Working alone was strangely stressful at times.

"I didn't expect it to be on my mind just as much as it was that while all my colleagues were sitting in the garden, everything was falling to me to cope with.

"Also regardless of the precautions I took, I was still at more risk (of the virus) by being out and about.

"Having said that I am so glad that I was able to continue working, I think I would have gone crazy sitting at home."

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