NIROMP Guest Post by Martin Barrow as part of our Covid-19 Short Stories series

LET’S BUILD SOMETHING TOGETHER

Author: Martin Barrow @MartinBarrow Local authority foster carer, journalist.

The bunk beds in the children’s room have been part of the family, well, forever. They once belonged to our now grown-up daughters, and over the years have been a resting place for foster children trying to sleep away their worries and fears. But the ageing beds were never going to survive the lockdown and the energetic play of the two fosterlings who were part of our family when the world went crazy. 

The children could not contain their excitement as their new bunk beds took shape… a job that should have taken just a couple of hours but eventually took the best part of day. The next challenge: what to do with the remains of their old beds, piled up beside the back door? The local amenity tip was closed and bonfires were banned. 

With DIY stores also closed, we looked at the wooden slats, rails and headboard with new possibilities. “We could do with some boxes to grow the fruit and veg,” said Mrs B, nodding towards the seedlings in the greenhouse. The boys were intrigued. Knowing my own (poor) DIY skills, I wasn’t so sure. But with the children looking on, it was too late to back down. 

Since coming to live with us, the children have discovered the joy of the outdoors and are curious about the natural world around us. During lockdown, home schooling has often shifted to the garden and lessons have been about woodpeckers and newts rather than the seven times table. They have been learning that much of what they eat comes from the ground, not a supermarket trolley, and have planted many seeds, rushing out every morning to see if green shoots had broken through the soil. 

The children wanted to be hands-on when it came to making boxes to grow their potatoes and butternut squash. They carried the wooden slats, helped me measure up and watched from a distance as I cut them to size. Did they have questions about what I was trying to do? I should say so. “Do you know what you are doing?” was particularly helpful. They held the four sides in place so I could screw them together, and suddenly it all made sense. 

I lined the boxes with old plastic sheeting. Together, we shovelled the best soil from the compost heap into the wheel barrow and they poured it into the boxes. Finally, we were ready for the boys to plant their seedlings. Now, every morning and every evening they remember to fill their watering cans and carry them to the top of the garden, whereas my first thought as I wake up is “let’s hope the deer or squirrels haven’t eaten their plants.” So far, so good. 

We moved to this house some 20 years ago after falling in love with the garden. But we could never have known how much joy it would give to so many children over the years. They arrive at our front door, frightened and bewildered. We try to help them find peace over time, using all our skills as parents and carers. But I am sure it is the magic of the garden that brings the comfort they seek. 

We have been foster carers for 12 years, yet nothing in our experience or training has prepared us for looking after children during a pandemic. But if their memories of this turbulent time are of growing potatoes in a box made from bits of bed, our job will be done. 

Ends 

Thanks so much Martin Barrow and to all the Foster Carers out there who are creating fond memories for children at a turbulent time in our history. #ThankYou

Learn more about our short stories series HERE including how you can get involved.

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