Transcript: 'We're temporarily cancelling your career'

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This is a transcript of We're temporarily cancelling your career as first broadcast on 1 April. Presented by Beth Rose

[jingle: Ouch]

BETH -Hello and welcome to the third Cabin Fever podcast. Can you believe it's week three already? I'm Beth Rose and I'm still presenting this BBC Ouch special from my flat. This time on the sofa.

As we know coronavirus has hit every single person in the nation and changed the way life is lived. But what if you're one of those bright young things starting out on your career, having negotiated workplaces, accessibility, colleagues and potentially some stereotyping and judgements too? Well, luckily for us we know a few of those bright sparks. First off we've got Lucy Edwards.

LUCY -Hello, I'm Lucy. I'm blind and I'm a freelance journalist and presenter, currently sitting in my living room.

BETH -And we've also got Ellis Palmer.

ELLIS -Hello, there, Beth, how's it going? My name is Ellis Palmer. I'm a producer on BBC NewsHour on the World Service. I've got cerebral palsy. And I'm currently sitting on the Wirral peninsula somewhere between north Wales and Liverpool.

BETH -And we were saying earlier you've suddenly got a lot more northern, Ellis.

ELLIS -Yes, I guess you could say that. But then for two weeks now, I was home, moved back to London, and only found out I shouldn't be in the office on the train back to London by googling cerebral palsy, coronavirus, and I was like oh god, I shouldn't really be at work.

BETH -Oh no!

ELLIS -So, I went into my office and my boss says, "Oh no, you don't need to be here, get out, get out!" So, that's when I came home and I came back up north the following day. And actually I listened to Ouch on my way home.

BETH -Yay. So, what did you see when you googled cerebral palsy and coronavirus?

ELLIS -It was just the risk of high-risk conditions, people should be at home or practising extreme social distancing. I wasn't fortunately on the list for social isolation. But I called up NHS 111 and they said to me, "You should be working from home, you shouldn't be in the office". So, I had to think a bit outside the box in terms of technology, in terms of what I could do to do my usual work from home.

LUCY -Yeah, it's hard, isn't it, being stuck at home in some respects. For myself being a freelancer my April was going to be a very different April to the one I'm probably going to have now. I'm blind so I am not on the high-risk conditions, but I was a bit poorly with a cough and I thought it best to stay at home. But yeah, I was going to be flying to Spain and had all different commissions. And as the landscape of journalism changes, current affairs obviously doesn't stay still, those commissions probably won't necessarily be there in a few months. So, that's where I'm at.

BETH -Ah, that's a tricky one, isn't it, because we're kind of in that point where we think okay, things are cancelled but they'll be rescheduled. But as you say, the thing with current affairs it all does kind of move on a bit.

LUCY -Yeah, it ebbs and flows, Beth. If you've got great ideas and you know who to point them to that's fabulous at all points, so I'm not crazily worried. But being a freelancer is tough. You know that being a freelancer that some things may change, but also you do half plan around those arrangements because you have trusted contacts. So, I think it was a bit weird.

And also having my wedding cancelled that was really sad. I can be a bit more jovial about it now, but the 48 hours when we were saying to ourselves, we can't actually do this, we can't put our family at risk in this way, it was rough.

BETH -That is tough. And BBC Ouch was particularly cruel to you because we were getting you to work on a wedding takeover, weren't we, just literally a week before.

LUCY -It was fabulous, Beth, because I was obviously looking forward to our wedding and then I was chatting to other fabulous disabled people also looking forward to their wedding. So, I was getting really hyped, and then it was like boom, freelance work gone. But also because of YouTube planning all my content, I have a little calendar that I share with my agent and my access worker, and I had all schedules in, all of these wedding videos that I was going to film. And it's just all been like boom, gone.

BETH -You sound very upbeat though. I'm not sure I'd be as upbeat as you, which is absolutely testament to your positivity.

LUCY -Resilience I guess. But as I said, I was really upset about it. Me and Ollie have just said to each other, "Right it's another year to think about it". We have to think about this positively because I think the main driving factor was knowing that I'd maybe put my dad or my nan or Ollie's dad at risk, and I think that's why I'm so jovial about it because I feel like I'm keeping them safe.

BETH -And also it's another year of anticipation, and that's kind of half the fun, isn't it, looking forward to it?

LUCY -Yeah, it is a long time. But also I've been speaking to other brides and grooms who have had their weddings and they're like, "Oh it's over so quickly". It's just an excuse to come back to Ouch and make sure we do the pod.

BETH -Exactly. We've got everyone lined up now. You've just got a year to wait and we'll get it on the airways.

LUCY -Exactly.

BETH -Ellis, what about you? Tell us where you've been working and what you've been doing.

ELLIS -In terms of my work I started on BBC NewsHour at the end of January and it's great, it's been really, really good. But I've been dealing with the Wuhan crisis since my very first day on shift; it's just been Wuhan and coronavirus. Then it spread from China to Italy and that's when places really, really started to shut down. I had actually just been in Spain three weeks ago, and flew back from Spain on the Sunday, went in to work on the Monday, Spain kind of went into partial shutdown, going into total shutdown the week after. I'm actually up north now, but I'd booked the week off. I just had to cancel my flight to Spain instead and go hand cycle up north here on the Wirral peninsula. So, I've been out with my dad every single day.

I'd actually bought the hand cycle in January thinking great, for the summer, it's going to be a two-month wait. And I got it the week before the UK went in to lockdown. So, I was lucky in some ways that I got it at that point. I enjoy going to the gym normally in London, but having the hand cycle during this crisis has been a godsend in terms of getting out and about, getting that fresh air, otherwise I think I'd be going a bit bonkers in the house to be honest with you.

BETH -I think a lot of people would pay good money to go hand cycling on the Wirral.

ELLIS -Yeah, there's some beautiful coasts, some beautiful countryside. And obviously it's quite quiet on the roads so actually it's a perfect time to go out cycling.

BETH -With a hand cycle all the motion comes from you basically pedalling but with your arms and hands?

ELLIS -Yeah, with my arms, so I have to push it forwards. I feel like I'm cheating; it's got a little bit of a power assist on it, which I find especially useful going up hills, otherwise I would have been stuck in the mud quite a bit. I've explored so much of my home peninsula I actually didn't know existed. So, in that way it's been positive, working around my usual work and everything like that. It's been great to get out and about, within a safe distance and only for one exercise a day of course.

BETH -I like the caveat there, very good.

LUCY -Yeah.

BETH -Because as you say, it keeps you mentally agile. Is it crucial that you have that time in the gym or have that time on the bike?

ELLIS -I find it helps things like my hand/eye coordination, my control. It makes it easier for me to get around. My circulation improves in my body. My type of cerebral palsy it's not a spastic cerebral palsy, but I have a lot of over movement, so I find going to the gym or going hand cycling helps me somewhat to control that over movement and control those spasms that I sometimes get.

LUCY -Yeah, I think it's really important to get out. But obviously 30 minutes for my lovely little lady here, guide dog Olga, isn't too, too much for such a big doggie, so we've been having to adjust our little routine. Obviously I'm not going massively down to the shops because I'm not too sure of how I'm definitely going to stay two metres away from people when I can't see them, so I'm quite worried about that situation. Thank goodness I've got my lovely fiancé Ollie; I don't know what I'd do. Freezing treats and putting them around the house for little Olga dog to try and find has been paramount to her mental health, her doggie mental health. But I think she's still climbing the walls a bit.

Also I have experienced isolation before when I first went blind and I had quite a low mental health time. I first lost my eyesight when I was 17, and I think it does bring back some of those thoughts and feelings, feeling isolated and being indoors. I love being social, I love talking to contributors. Getting out and about to London was my lifeline and my everything in some senses that made me Lucy; to think that me and Olga can go on public transport at any time we wanted and feel free. And now it is bringing back those feelings that I can't go down and get a tin of beans like I usually would. It is a bit upsetting.

Also I think what is really highlighted on groups like VI Talk, a Facebook group that I'm part of, is that a lot of visually impaired people like myself aren't being able to have their normal delivery slots on the supermarkets because they're being quite overwhelmed. And I think that's something I really wanted to highlight because they're going hungry, quite rightly there is a list of conditions, 1.5 million UK citizens who need the slots, but also I think there needs to be a contingency plan for those visually impaired people who can't get out and about, like myself. I know that Visionary UK and Guide Dogs and Thomas Pocklington Trust and the RNIB have sent a letter to an MP and are encouraging other people and families dealing with no delivery slots and feeling hungry to do the same.

ELLIS -A couple of points from what you said there. One, prior to lockdown I had just started cooking, albeit very, very wobbly cooking I must say, I made a mess in my kitchen, but I really started enjoying making pasta. I'm not able to do that now because my mum's kitchen here isn't accessible. And it does make a massive, massive difference in terms of being independent.

LUCY -It really does.

ELLIS -Two, I'm quite lucky in that I produce radio for the World Service, so a lot of my job is dealing with contributors in Asia or the United States or elsewhere in Europe. So, a lot of my job is done over the phone, is done by WhatsApp messages and emails, is done with things like Face Time; so in terms of my actual workflow it's not changed that much. But for somebody who enjoys interviewing contributors and enjoys getting out to people it must be so frustrating for you, Lucy.

LUCY -Oh my gosh completely. Likewise I get the contributor side of things. When I'm producing a piece it is easy to sit behind your computer. And obviously on a telephone Zoom call like we're on now it's quite easy for me because I don't get those visual cues when I see you both in person anyway at Broadcasting House, so that is quite advantageous to me. And I'm trying to get out there and look at courses, keep myself talking to people in the industry. I actually took part in some courses that were online that were hosted by Donna Taberer, the talent lead for the BBC. I found her on Twitter, linked up with her, and she's running some free courses that are going on throughout the whole of isolation through Zoom, so get your hands on those tickets if you want.

Keeping the freelance work going, but there's not a lot of extra things being commissioned, so it's hard.

BETH -You've also got your YouTube channel, haven't you, Lucy?

LUCY -I do.

BETH -How is that affected at the moment? Is it maybe even more popular?

LUCY -I think I'm getting more views, Beth, yeah. I keep doing live shows, a bit of a cooking live, so just a bit of inspiration I think. The tendency in this period is to feel a bit low and a bit isolated, and YouTube is my saviour in some senses. I see everyday people like myself have a bit of a cook and we can all have a chat, so it's good.

BETH -Do you get paid per view?

LUCY -Yes, monetisation per thousand views. It depends on the month and how many people are online and the adverts that are placed on there. So, say in December because a lot of companies are advertising for Christmas the run-up is very advantageous for YouTubers because you get a lot more lucrative ads being on the front of your videos. It's doing well. I think a lot of YouTubers these days are saying that they're not getting as much revenue from YouTube because they are pulling down your content if you say certain things, because they track what you say in videos. So, for instance if you say coronavirus currently they will put it to the bottom of the pecking order because they don't want fake news spreading, which that's working in a great way in some senses. But I think it's a bit of a shaky way to make money in some ways.

ELLIS -Do you have to say COVID then instead?

LUCY -You say COVID-19 or corona and it's pretty much demonetised.


BETH -Do you get a list at the beginning of each month about the topics they don't want you talking about?


BETH -You just have to guess?

LUCY -You just have to go with the flow, yeah. There's been a lot of talk around it in YouTube. They're just trying to make sure fake news doesn't spread.

BETH -And is this a time for you to really put time and effort into YouTube?

LUCY -Yeah, I think it's a massive time to flourish on YouTube in some ways because you have the viewers, but you can't go outside. And I think a lot of content these days audience members want to see you doing things. The content very much has steered away from just being in your bedroom with some fairy lights behind you. I think it's become a lot more professionally cut and edited. What I would say it's a really great time to go back to basics, home grown content. I am also conscious that I don't just want to keep talking about how I'm doing this at home because of the coronavirus. I want my channel to be a bit of an escape. So, I'm thinking about maybe getting on my exercise bike live. Ellis has given me inspiration! We'll see.

BETH -So, going back for both of you, you've both been journalists for what, three years?

ELLIS -Scary thought but yeah, three years.

LUCY -Yeah.

BETH -So, tell me, going back three years, how hard was it to get your foot in the door and get your career going?

ELLIS -I'm not going to lie, it was a challenge. I was basically studying in Birmingham, then moved to Barcelona to do my master's, and then finished my master's in Barcelona, heard about the BBC job, got the job. Then really the hardest thing was finding somewhere to live in London, and that was really, really difficult. The rental market is a nightmare. It's not accessible at all for me as a wheelchair user to find a flat; it was a nightmare. So, I had four months to find somewhere to live before I started work basically. All I needed was the bathroom to be a wet room bathroom, and honestly it was amazing how difficult that was to get.

In terms of starting in my post to be fair the BBC were sound in terms of making any reasonable adjustments I needed, any assistive technology I needed. And I will say all my bosses have been pretty sound on the disability front as well.

But I actually think this crisis could throw up a really, really interesting thing for a lot of disabled people, which is we had to fight a lot of the time to get reasonable adjustments, but now a lot of non-disabled people are finding they need reasonable adjustments, laptops or whatever, to be able to work from home. And now they're realising kind of the wisdom of our fight. Hopefully there will be more of an acceptance of remote working, just spending a day in the office a week. So, I actually think the future of work post COVID-19 could be potentially advantageous for disabled people economically speaking.

LUCY -I totally agree Ellis. Being in a studio flat with quite a big Labrador on the third floor was quite a challenge.

ELLIS -Oh my god, I remember your flat, yeah.

LUCY -It was just not accessible. Me and Ellis have a really close friend, Alex, another journalist, and we all tried to get into that flat. We had a hilarious night where we all tried to get up steps to try and get in that flat. It was just so tiny.

ELLIS -I think we ended up making a cardboard ramp to get over some stairs basically. I got up on Alex's wheelchair, sat in the middle. It was hilarious.

LUCY -I was crying laughing. It was ever so funny. I think it's just we're so resourceful. Having a disability you think on your feet. And I think it's been very eye opening seeing the general public also maybe have to combat a few things, maybe a glimpse into what we have to go through day to day. I think it's been crazy. But it's also highlighted to me, as I said, that isolation isn't easy and it's really made me feel humble to how I've adapted.

ELLIS -For most people on their day to day routine they're not going to encounter any obstacles in terms of getting around. But I'm a wheelchair user, I've got cerebral palsy, I've got a little bit of hearing loss as well, and for me getting around, getting from A to B, going to the cinema, listening to the telly, whatever it may be, can be a real challenge at times. And I think that kind of thing makes you quite resourceful. That's incredibly valuable in a crisis like this that you don't panic, but you kind of think right, how would I do this, how would I do that. You're able to join up the dots quite quickly because you're used to having to get around awkward situations in a way that maybe some people aren't.

LUCY -I think that's probably why I'm not that upset in some ways, I haven't held onto the upset about my wedding, because there are a lot of things that go wrong in my day to day life: I get into a taxi, I may or may not be discriminated against; I log on to a piece of software and it may not work with my Jaws screen reading software. And you have to learn to be versatile. I think that's why I'm able to get through this isolation, that's why I was the one that rallied the troops within my family and said, hey we can get through this. I made sure my nan was set up on an iPad and I posted it to her, made her a little guide and said, nan you can get through this, I know it's going to be hard.

ELLIS -I've got two grandmas: I've got my 81 year old grandma in Hull and I've got her set up on Face Time. But oh my god, she can't use it very well at all. I love her to bits, but you see more of her body than you see of her face, which can be a real challenge at times. But still it's great to be able to see her; it's great to be able to talk to her.

My other grandma, who I love to bits, an old Irish woman, I have to call her up via a landline because she's not got the internet, she's not got a mobile; she wouldn't know what Skype is if it hit her in the face.

LUCY -Oh bless her.

ELLIS -That must be really, really isolating for my grandma. And I think if you're a disabled person in an urban area or a semi-urban area I guess things are a little bit easier. But if you're a disabled person in a rural community it must be a lot more difficult for you during this period of isolation.

LUCY -Yeah. I love getting on the phone to my mum and my auntie and my nan. They often say, "Luce, I'm really scared about COVID". And I said, "I am too, stay safe. I know we can't see each other". We live an hour and a half away, that's the way we communicate most of the time on Face Time. And I think it is about finding the positives and silver lining in everything. If I thought about it too hard, I've watched breakfast telly, they're saying, look outside the window, it'll make you feel happy, I can't see any light anymore, I can't see the sunlight, I see lovely scenery when I go and walk Olga for the 30-minute slot that I have, I do feel upset about that. But I have to think of the positives because I am lucky, I'm doing my dream job, I love being a freelance BBC journalist, I love being a presenter. And if I thought about the negatives I wouldn't be where I am. I think Ellis has that on his side too: he's such a happy person. Positivity guys.

BETH -One more question, Lucy. You did a really awesome thing at Christmas: you were Radio 1's first blind presenter.

LUCY -I was.

BETH -You're coming back, aren't you? Is that still happening?

LUCY -Yeah in August, it's been slightly postponed, but I am coming back. I'm doing another radio live type affair. It's going to be fantastic.

BETH -So, that's something super exciting to look forward to.

LUCY -Oh definitely.

ELLIS -We tuned in when you were on Radio 1 at Christmas and oh my god, you were fantastic, Lucy, you were great. It was really, really good.

LUCY -Thank you.

ELLIS -My mum and I were dancing in the kitchen, "Oh my god, we know her, that's Lucy!" It was fantastic.

LUCY -Oh Ellis.

ELLIS -It was great to hear you on.

LUCY -I just can't wait to get back in there. We've been having massive talks about how to make Radio 1 studios accessible in some capacity. So, yeah watch this space, guys, it's very exciting.

BETH -That sounds like such a good place to wrap up this edition of Cabin Fever. Thanks so much Lucy and Ellis for joining in, and we'll be keeping in touch with you guys as well. Don't forget you can keep in touch with us; we're @bbcouch on Twitter, bbcouch on Facebook and for email it's

Also, don't forget, we have are releasing the isolation diary podcast each week which follows Ouch presenter, Kate Monaghan, and her family doing their 12 weeks of shielding. And of course there's the entire Ouch back catalogue to keep you entertained on the BBC Sounds app. Speak to you soon. Bye.

LUCY -Bye.

ELLIS -Ciao.