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Stories from the Pandemic This new film charts Sheffield’s journey through the pandemic with tenderness, bravery and joy

Stories from the Pandemic features testimony from dozens of Sheffield residents touching on all aspects of lockdown life, and is available to watch for free online.

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Sabia from Darnall shares her experience of the pandemic.

Stories from the Pandemic.

“I remember there was a time when I was up on intensive care, and I was with a patient who had come in. And before they were going to ventilate this patient, he asked to see me. I was by his bedside and he said to me, “I’m really, really scared. What if I never wake up from this?”

Sabia from Darnall is recounting an experience she had working as a nurse during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

“I didn’t want to dismiss how he was feeling, so I said ‘It’s okay to be scared’.” But a few weeks later, it became clear to doctors that treatment wasn’t working. Relatives agreed to withdraw treatment, and Sabia had to break the news to the family of five that only one person was allowed by his bedside to say goodbye.

Sabia’s testament is part of a new hour-long documentary that aims to both document and memorialise the experience of Sheffielders during Covid-19. Stories from the Pandemic, which is available to watch for free online, was made by Opus Films, part of worker-owned social enterprise Opus, who also publish Now Then. It was commissioned by Compassionate Sheffield and the city council as one strand in a season of community activity across the city to mark the impact of the pandemic, and mourn those lost to the disease.

The film, which premiered at the Showroom last Friday, captures the trauma and loss of the pandemic, with moving accounts from people across the city who lost loved ones – spouses, parents, friends. But it also reveals the lighter aspects of lockdown life, and celebrates the way communities across Sheffield sprang into action to care for each other.

“The first couple of weeks then, what happened?” the film’s director Tim Feben asks Tyler, a school student from Ecclesfield. “PlayStation to be fair,” responds Tyler. “Yeah, sat on my arse playing PS.”

“Another moment that springs to mind if you don’t mind me talking about it was the lack of toilet rolls” recalls Heeley Green shopkeeper Jorge. “Oh my god... people went mad for them. They wanted to buy ten packs of 36 rolls every time. And I was like, ‘no, you can have one per household!’ People were offering me ten times the value for a pack of 36 rolls...”

Using dozens of face-to-face interviews captured over the past year, the film illustrates the wildly varying experiences that became a hallmark of the pandemic. Jensen, Tyler’s classmate in Ecclesfield, describes lockdown as “repetitive and boring”, while nurse Philippa from Crookesmoor recalls being “absolutely terrified” the first time she had contact with a confirmed case. “I just thought: we don’t really know anything about this. We’re being told it’s okay, but is it? I don’t know, but at the end of the day, this is my job.”

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Philippa, a nurse living in Crookesmoor, said she was "absolutely terrified" the first time she had contact with a confirmed case.

Stories from the Pandemic.

The sold-out screening of the film was introduced by Councillor Fran Belbin, the deputy leader of Sheffield City Council, who recalled how community groups across the city mobilised to support those most affected by the pandemic in a matter of weeks.

For the Park Centre on City Road, having to suddenly move their community programme outside provided an unexpected benefit in the form of increased visibility. “We got to speak to people in the community who actually live in the area that didn’t know we existed, and we’re literally on their doorstep,” said volunteer Kellyanne.

The documentary also captures testimony from staff at Sheffield’s two teaching hospitals and the Children’s Hospital, who were often asked to work outside their usual areas of expertise due to the sudden emergence of Covid-19 stretching clerical capacity to breaking point.

Cariad, a virology consultant, recalled how her small team had needed to repurpose huge sections of the hospital to process in-house Covid-19 tests as quickly as possible. “Everyone was chipping in who’d never done virology before, and they were like ‘Can I help? Can I do something?’”

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Rosh, a musician from Heeley, said there was a "real big outpouring of people desperate to help each other."

But more than anything else, Feben’s film captures how ordinary people in every community in Sheffield, many of whom would have previously been strangers to their neighbours, built rock-solid networks of support where the state could not or would not help. The film shows that everyone has a story of the pandemic, and that by learning about each other’s lives we are more understanding of each other, our individual pressures and what made us who we are.

Ruth from Fulwood says that the main thing she learnt during the pandemic was “how important the people that are physically close to you, who live near to you are.”

“You’ve got really important family, and really important friends, maybe in different parts of the country or different parts of the world. They’re all really important, but actually during the pandemic, making those connections with people who live a few doors down… that was where I get my sustenance from. You learn that you can really love those people.”

Rosh, a musician and activist living in Heeley, recalled how “there was a real big outpouring of people desperate to help each other,” citing the mutual aid groups that sprung up in the first few days of lockdown. “There was this massive show of compassion and care and solidarity with everybody else who was in the same situation. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that in my lifetime.”

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