stay safe, birmingham: A COVID-19 Statement
from the front room

[Monday 11th January 2021, 6.30pm]

As a team, it is with difficulty and heavy hearts that we write this statement, for many reasons.

We feel deeply saddened and scared by the news emerging from the NHS and health professionals across the country during this third lockdown in England. This is certainly exacerbated by the fact that many of us feel very frustrated by the way the last 6 months in particular have been handled by the government, the continuation of the patchwork of financial support, the conflicting advice, and an encouragement to snap back to normal, despite knowing what might be ahead. We continue to want to honour the grief, loss, anxiety, isolation and more that has been felt across our households and communities, and know that the deep social and economic ramifications are being felt in countless different ways that none of us truly know how long it will take to repair from.

The seriousness of the position we now find ourselves in means that we will, with deep sadness, be closing The Floating Front Room for the duration of January 2021. We know technically that within the rules we are allowed to remain open, but with infection rates rocketing, more and more families being affected, and the NHS at absolute breaking point, we have taken the difficult decision to close temporarily. Whilst we are confident in the hygiene and safety measures our team and neighbours have been following through our collection-only offer, every little additional risk we take at the moment adds up – from our team travelling to and from work on public transport, increased interactions and deliveries from suppliers, more touch points from baking, purchasing goods, and so on and so on. With many of our families and friends on the front line in the NHS we have seen the pressure up close, and understand that even a small trip, or fall, or accident at the moment puts extra pressure on an already collapsing health system, who have been pleading with us all to do our best to reduce any possible load. We want to play our small part in avoiding adding to any risk for the benefit of anyone who needs care of any kind from our services at the moment, never mind, of course, avoiding contributing in any way to the increased serious threat of COVID-19 at the moment, no matter how careful we all are.

We have had to balance all of this with the consistent feedback from so many of you, about what a lifeline this as been throughout 2020, how much our team have loved every moment spent with you all, and how we have been able to offer different kinds of support in the neighbourhood using The Barge as a base to alleviate pressure from the essential work of others. We know The Floating Front Room has been a place to get up and give a focused point to your daily exercise; a chance to see a friendly face, sometimes the only one you will be able to see all week. We know the complimentary food, drink, books, activities and more aren’t just a nice-to-have, but like so many other kinds of organising is filling gaps in local library services, in free school meals, in the smallest most day-to-day way. This is not something we stop lightly, and for the team within walking distance of The Floating Front Room we will continue to deliver care packages from The Barge as part of our daily exercise. We will also be bringing lots of online programming and connection points back, and discussing with local organisers how we can best support their work. We will reopen as soon as the pressure on the NHS has stabilised, but for now we are taking the crisis very seriously.

It is important to us that, as communities, we resist the division, anger and conflict we see in many places at the moment. Many, many things are true; our hosting and barista team were really keen to continue work on-site but, like many hospitality freelancers, this work is crucial to their income due to not being eligible for government support, in a way that is putting so many workers in unsafe circumstances at the moment for non-essential work; a position that we believe is completely wrong to be put in in this country. We make this decision together with them and are supporting one another as a team in a way that means no-one has to choose between their income and their safety, wellbeing and long-term health. We know this story isn’t the case for many of you, and we are sorry our systems are so fractured and harmful. It is in the lifeblood of our work to build better than this.

There is some hope on the horizon. We create it in our places, in actions small and big, every single day, Many on the frontline are in impossibly difficult situations balancing everything from care, priorities, other illnesses and injuries, and still finding hope. There is isolation, there is a whole generation of parents, carers, and children building new realities to survive and thrive in this time, and much more. There are valid concerns, as well as disinformation. There is anger with the government as well as islands of brilliant light and coherence to look towards. There is division and fear, and huge struggle. We invite nuanced discussion about what is happening, and would be honoured to host spaces for this. But, there is hope, everywhere. On every street, in every neighbourhood, all across our beautiful city and elsewhere. We are honoured to be in community with you all, as neighbours. It is a time for us to turn to each other, even just one-by-one, share what we can, support each other how we can, build new realities, new versions of who we are, who we can be, and what it means to be neighbours. Let’s do that together, through all of this and beyond.

Very practically, if you know of anyone struggling with digital access, or getting onto virtual calls, or needing a care package as a pick me up, please do let us know. We will do our absolute best to keep supporting in all the different directions that we can, but keep an eye as we share other things The Floating Front Room team may be doing, as well as online spaces we will be hosting together.

For now, please take care of each other, stay in touch, keep talking to us, talk about what you might need from us or each other, and we can’t wait to be back.

With love from Almira, Andy, Byng, Cynthia, Daniel, Danni, Farah, Immy, Indi, Kam, Luke, Nikki, Rory and all of us at The Front Room.

Contact us: hello@thefrontroom.cc

Lots of Care: A COVID-19 Statement
from the front room

[Friday 11th September 2020, 10pm

Today’s news about a change to Birmingham’s public health and safety guidelines for COVID-19 in the city, officially as of Tuesday 15th September, are sad for us all, but unsurprising given the scale of the challenge the virus presents for us all. We are taking a moment to reflect on all of those still grieving from the loss of loved ones, the social and economic impact for so many of us in the city, across the country and world, as well as the sustained pressure on our public services and National Health Service, many of whom we know are preparing for further difficult times ahead. 

All summer, like so many of you, we too have been perplexed by the conflicting advice; not being able to visit some of our close family, yet allowed out in restaurants and pubs, we too have simultaneously wanted to support our local economy – especially the freelancers and independents forgotten by government support – and been worried about how much of the advice seemed to encourage us to congregate only where we would spend money, rather than places that felt safe.

As vocal and public advocates of citizens income / dividend, we have consistently believed there was a more equitable, noble and universal way of us working our way through all this. Having lost family members and elders ourselves as a team, more personally we have wanted to both hide away, and be there with even more strength for one another, knowing so many of our neighbours and communities were finding themselves more and more isolated. We understand how crucial it was for parents and children for schools to reopen, but also that this is scary and complex, experiencing first hand the challenges on parents to hold the many layers of responsibility over last six months.

Being able to spend time together outdoors at a safe distance in South Loop Park this August and early September through The Floating Front Room has meant the world to all of us in the team, and we are so grateful for our time spent with all of you and how you have conducted yourselves during this period. It has been more than we could have dared to dream could be possible given the uncertainty and onging affects of the pandemic. At every turn we are planning and making preparations for it to be safe, to go ahead, and also knowing that at any moment we may need to pull back and pivot when this is required of us, and that communication around this is key.

We care about the people of this city more than anything else. We are people of this city; our friends, families, neighbours, partners are the people of this city, and so are all of you that we’ve been lucky enough to meet through our work over the last decade. This love and care is what drives our decision-making, always but now in a way that feels even more crucial than ever before. Everything served at The Floating Front Room is completely free for local people, so this decision-making is also not associated with an underlying need or desire to generate revenue.

When planning activities in person, we are continually weighing up the value and risk of this, and are prioritising that which we think will ultimately strengthen and build resilience across different groups of people, locally and connected by values from across the city, such as learning about how to grow our own food, staying active, and supporting our mental health, and what can be done safely with as little contact and proximity as possible.

Today we are feeling as confused and conflicted as many of you will be, and trying to judge what seems acceptable to us beyond the guidelines themselves given the rise in cases, and the sensational and unclear way it has been reported today has created further questions for us all about how we show up for one another whilst showing care and caution too.

Moving through the paradoxes, we have studied the latest advice in as much detail as possible in order to share a statement regarding our activity from today onwards.

We would like to continue The Floating Front Room over the next few months to ensure there is a safe, affordable, free, space for people to socially connect. We want to do this as safely as possible, in every sense of the word. So, it’s now about how we do so with lots of care, lots of extra care, and stay open minded to adapting together as and when we need to.

How to Show Lots of Care
at The Floating Front Room

  • Strictly keep 2 metres distance between yourself and those outside of your household or support bubble at all times, including all members of The Floating Front Room team.

  • Wear masks if you are able to do so. We always have these available for free.

  • Hand sanitise regularly. We have multiple sanitisation stations near The Barge for your use.

  • Spend time in groups of no more than 6 people (unless your support bubble exceeds this size).
  • Spread out across the park as much as possible, and do not  convene in areas of the park where groups are already gathered.

  • Do not congregate around The Barge.

  • Please do not go onto The Barge, even the outside decks, unless you are a member of our team.

  • Take home any blankets that you use, and do not unnecessarily touch anything. If you read a book, or use a conversation menu, please take it home, and keep it as a gift from us to you.

Over the coming weeks we will be gently bringing in more and more ways to participate safely, creating additional markings and signage in the park, and ensuring activities continue to take place online where possible, so please co-operate whether you are a regular or visiting for the first time.

It is a scary time for the city, but we hope we can come together as neighbours and friends to work together to keep each other safe, to support each other emotionally and practically through COVID-19 itself, but also the many ongoing knock on effects of the pandemic and exemplify the care, character and spirit the city is known so fondly for. Know that you are not alone, and we hope that The Floating Front Room can continue to be a space for us to safely come together across our experiences, views, postcodes and all that attempts to divide us, to keep each other safe, connected and cared for, whatever the near and extended future brings for Birmingham.

With love from Andy, Byng, Cynthia, Daniel, Danni, Immy, Indi and all of us at The Front Room.