We are proud to have a network of people as part of the TIMESTWO family helping others where they can during Covid-19. One such person is our incredible colleague Alka Graham, founder of new energy recruitment firm SURYA, who has been out every day in the community despite having had her own family tragedy to deal with.
And even though it goes against her nan’s “service in silence” mantra, the mum-of-two let us catch up with her to understand why she is so committed and what an average day looks like.
TIMESTWO (X2): Alka, we know you’ve been really busy helping out in the community in the West Country. First tell us a bit about why you have responded in the way you have.
Alka Graham (AG): Both my parents and that of my husband Courtney lived by the philosophy “If you have, then share – especially your time” which means being in the community is a part of who we are. We have tried to pass this on to our children, too. So when the pandemic broke we were already plugged into local networks where we could help mobilise the support that was needed for those identified as the most vulnerable. It’s been hard at times, but also life affirming to see everyone joining together and eventually the national network be set up with the volunteering app. You can see and feel the fact that we are stronger when we help each other.
X2: Tell us a bit about what you and your family have been doing.
AG: The day starts early! Courtney is former military and was asked to join a huge national operation very early on because he has rare lorry licenses to deliver medical supplies to UK hospitals. I took the decision to structure my day around him as he leaves every morning at 3am so put myself down for the 4am–9am shift helping vulnerable people and be first in the queue at supermarkets. The week starting March 23rd was the time it hit home for me. My cousins, who are medics in London, were drilling me about the severity of what was happening and as a family we became more prepared. I continued tasks such as packing and shopping in the morning and then the Bristol Sai Organisation, which is made up of medics, IT and engineering members, asked us to make visors for the doctors at United Bristol Hospital Trust and all the materials were delivered to our homes. So, my sons and I made visors in the evenings and weekends – the operation has turned into a much bigger one now too.
X2: You’re originally from London, where the virus took hold early and is causing such terrible problems – and during all of this your own family was affected. Can you tell us a bit more?
AG: The week commencing March 30th was horrible. I started to hear of people in my own network dying from the virus. Then on the Tuesday, March 31st, I had a very close personal loss. My Uncle J, my father’s younger brother, died very quickly after being diagnosed with C-19. I could not comprehend it as he was a very close part of our family and my father was devastated. I could not even go to see my Dad to give him a hug. In lieu of being able to do nothing else, I set up a JustGiving page in honour of my uncle for the staff at the NHS BARTS Health, where he died, as we were told they were lacking PPE. So, we started the visor project again just ordering stuff from Amazon and sending them in the post to the hospital. We also raised enough money for the staff there to buy the materials via Amazon to make their own. The rest of the funds went on communication devices for patients and loved ones to keep in touch whilst being in this lonely isolated ICU situation, as my Uncle did not get a chance to say goodbye or express his final wishes. So very sad.
X2: That is incredibly sad. Our very best wishes are with you and your family. It makes what you are doing even more amazing, not least because you’re also getting your new business up and running. So, what is your typical day like now – and how are you keeping going?
AG: It starts the night before when I get my plan sent for the 10 vulnerable people I look after. This includes info on things that need packing, food shopping, medicine drops or just chatting to vulnerable people online, WhatsApp and messenger. That means I just structure the day the night before and plan around the times the amenities are open etc.
3am: Courtney leaves
4am: Meditation between 4-4.30am and get ready for the day
5-5.30am: All my home stuff is done and as a priority, so washing, cooking etc out of the house between 5-5.30am if I have shopping to do or packing.
7.30-8.45: Back in the home no later than 8.30am or if I’m taking a yoga, meditation class at the primary school starts 7.30am – 8.30.45 (later if I start chatting!).
9am: Breakfast start the working day. The boys are GCSE & A level, so both follow their school timetables rigorously, as they are very self-disciplined. Business at SURYA, my new company, starts 8.30-9am.
1-2pm: Lunch with Courtney if he gets home in time or with the boys around 2pm.
2.30pm: Back on call app for telephone chats, all other business tasks.
4pm: Have a break, watch the government daily briefing and then back on replies from Surya clients and network.
6pm-9pm: In the evening I try and get a bit of time for myself but often end up making visors.
8pm: We have had some international calls recently due to the family situation and I usually get the next day’s plan about then.
9pm: Bed! As is Courtney is, if he is here.
X2: WOW! Alka you are our hero and an inspiration. What advice would you give someone who wants to get involved in their local community response?
AG: Primarily, I think people need to look after themselves and keep their families and the NHS safe – that’s the main and biggest priority. But if people do want to get involved then there are loads of ways to do so, many networks on Facebook, WhatsApp and through the official channels too. It is time for those of us who have some security to really count our blessings – and if you can give back then even the smallest things can help. When this is all over, as it will be at some stage, I’d like to think we can all look back and know that we did what we could, that we did our best. That’s really all any of us can do.