As plans to get children back into classrooms dominate the news, Simone Richardson meets three local women working in education to find out how they got through the lockdown and what the future holds
Melanie Ferrag, Paula Frank and Colette Ozanne worked with children and adults during the lockdown and they were all back at work before the summer holidays.
They all live near Brixton and found their own path back to work.
Summer holidays for Melanie Ferrag are just two weeks off from her work in the SRC Community Nursery in Kennington.
She takes buses through Brixton every day and walks through Kennington Park to get to her workplace which looks after children from six months to five years old.
The voluntary sector nursery began life in Sumner Road Chapel in Peckham in 1983 as a “short term project”. It to Kennington in 1986 and is still going strong.
Melanie began working there as a chef in 2011.
“My day starts at a quarter to nine when I arrive,” she says.
“I get changed into my chef kit, wash my hands, sterilise and make my way into the kitchen. I look at my menu and what I have to cook and start the prep for the day.”
First is always breakfast which is cereal porridge, fruit and toast – a lovely choice and start to the day.
Then is the important prep for lunch. “Examples of what I have done for lunch are chicken pasta, lasagne, jacket potatoes with cheese and beans, chicken curry with rice and peas.
“The children’s favourite is definitely my spaghetti bolognese – a firm favourite with the kiddies shouting ‘More, Miss, More’.”
Melanie’s favourite part of the day is clearing up – “the kitchen looks nice and all is in order prepared for the following day.”
To find out more about the nursery, contact manager Robyn Coulter on 020 7582 7282.
Paula Frank was born and brought up in Devon and attended college there. She now lives close to Brixton.
She studied studying British Sign Language (BSL) and Teach Me Sign in Lambeth College.
Her working day was changed by the lockdown.
“I worked at a deaf school in North London supporting a profoundly deaf child with Down’s Syndrome and complex needs.
“It is an outstanding bilingual school, all the children and the vast majority of staff are D/deaf. BSL is used throughout the school, but children learn English too.’’
During lockdown, Paula worked from home near Brixton. To begin with, a lot of lessons were videoed, using as many visual aids as possible – use of Sign Language, maths, English, science and BSL stories.
“We also started using Zoom for team meetings – not easy when you have 10 people signing on one screen – and one-to-one sessions with the children for reading and just keeping in touch with them and their families.
“The school also set up a weekly TV programme for families in the shape of an accessible BSL video with fun facts, art and craft ideas, jokes. Etc. which all staff contributed to.”
When school began after lockdown, some children were supported in “bubbles”, but many chose to remain at home.
For anyone relying on lip reading and signing, masks are a huge issue.
“I have some clear masks that I use,” says Paula. “It is very difficult for Deaf and hard of hearing people during this current time as so many people need to lip read. This can make them feel more isolated.”
She says: “Going back to work has been anxiety-inducing after working from home and only going out for exercise.”
Paula took up cycling, for the first time since moving to London, for food shopping and did use public transport for three months.
“I look forward to meeting friends for a meal, live music and dance in Brixton when it’s back on,” she says.
“I am making the most of the summer weather and getting on my bike around Brockwell Park.”
Colette Ozanne has walked a lot. She walks to Brixton and all along the Thames.
“I walk everywhere,” she says. “I have been out walking so much. I started watching the birds – the many seagulls, ducks and ducklings, the heron and a cormorant one day.
She has walked as far as St Pauls, discovering lots of new streets and parks, picked flowers, lime blossom, and blackberries.’’
When she is indoors, Colette walks back into the past.
From France, she lived in Brighton for seven years. Colette was 32 when she moved to Stockwell, near Brixton..
Her French lessons happened through the interest of friends – “At times there were secondary school students who needed a little boost’’.
She also taught a little French to year one and year six pupils at Walnut Tree Walk primary.
Lockdown put her skills out there again. A neighbour, John Phelan, who had already done French classes, wanted to improve his speaking skills and has been doing just that with Colette.
Her French lessons began with him and Zoom lessons helped her through lockdown and continue through the summer holidays.
“I always found French grammar and language beautiful and love the subtleties of language, in English or French,” says Colette.
“I was taught all the grammar rules of French in primary school and was an avid reader and still am. I read in both languages.
“John does some grammar exercises and we usually end up with a bit of pronunciation work when he listens to me really slowly and he repeats what I say by watching me say it.
“It has been surprisingly easy to transfer our time together to this online medium.’’
Colette is due back to do her job as a receptionist in the City and Guilds of London Art School where she has worked for 31 Colette has started back at her job as a receptionist at City and Guilds of London Art School, where she has worked for 12 years.
If you want to do an online visual French lesson, then contact Colette and talk to her about the cost for an hour or more.