When Boris Johnson announced a lockdown that closed businesses across the country, millions of workers were uprooted from their jobs and facing loss of income.
To make ends meet, people have turned to work they would never have considered before. Meet some of the coronavirus job swappers, who have thrown themselves into a new line of work during the pandemic.
Jennifer Hepburn, 39, West End singer to supermarket worker
I work on Mamma Mia! in the West End in ensemble, and I cover the Dynamos, doing eight shows a week. Before that I’ve done Les Mis, Cats, lots of stuff. I love acting through song. I’m more of a singer than anything else, so I love getting up and singing for people.
When the theatres closed down, a lot of people were left in the lurch, and being a single mum of three, I panicked and got a job at Sainsbury’s. It sounds ridiculous but I’ve always wanted to work at a grocery store. When I was a kid I thought it would be fun.
A lot of the time I’m doing the advertising side, but I fill in on the tills and the door to help keep the queues in order. As silly as it sounds, it’s really nice when somebody asks you a question – you can help them right there.
Supermarket workers are very underappreciated. We are working at two o’clock in the morning so there are things for people so they can live and eat, and I feel proud to be part of that.
Occasionally, I’ll catch myself singing – I can’t help myself – and sometimes I’ll get requests from colleagues. I’m not counting the days because I enjoy Sainsbury’s, but I cannot wait until we can reopen [Mamma Mia!] and get the crowds in. It’ll be amazing.
Cornelius Wilson, 30, pilot to ambulance driver
I’m a British Airways short-haul co-pilot, flying from Heathrow and going all around the UK and Europe. We will sometimes do up to four flights a day, so it’s quite hectic. We can be away for days in a row with each night in a different city. I could wake up in Newcastle one morning and go to bed in Lyon.
We came to an agreement with our union, Balpa, before the furlough scheme came in, to take a 50% pay cut for three months to avoid any redundancies. I’ve been volunteering for the London ambulance service for two years now, going out in the response cars once a week, but because of Covid-19 they needed extra ambulance drivers so they trained us up to go out full-time.
It’s weird, it’s my life now really. It’s been a good distraction but obviously there’s also been some pretty grim stuff. Sometimes you’re taking patients away from their loved ones who are probably not going to see them again.
Tonight I’m going to go out on an ambulance with someone I’ve never met before. You just have to get on with each other – and that’s basically what being a pilot is. In the crew room I’ll meet a captain I’ve probably never met before – it’s such a big airline – and then we’ve got to operate a 70-tonne Airbus and fly it around Europe together.
Kayleigh Easton, 27, glamping manager to lorry driver
I work as operations manager on the Sedgewell Barn Holidays site, making sure the wigwams are ready, letting people know which one they’ve been allocated and doing bookings.
When the lockdown was announced the site shut down. I’d recently got a HGV licence, so I have been redeployed on the sister company, Tweddle Transport, delivering potatoes. My dad and my brother both drive wagons, and I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ve been taking them to supermarkets and crisp factories all over the country.
I’m very grateful to still be working. Yes, the time at home would have been lovely, but it’s nice to be a key worker and help things carry on as normal.
I’ve got horses and dogs so it’s not practical for me do it all the time, but for the time being – and thanks to the help of my mum – it’s been fantastic. Although I do miss the physical side of my normal job, instead of being stuck in a hot, sticky wagon.
Obviously being a girl and being a wagon driver is quite hard work. With the current coronavirus restrictions, I often have to go in the men’s toilets which are not pleasant and it can be difficult to get hot food with a lot of services closed. And wherever you go people are always watching you because they think: “You can’t do that, you’re a girl.”
Larry Mills, 19, cafe worker to construction labourer
I’ve been furloughed from an indoor ski slope in Milton Keynes. I work on the reception desks, in the management rooms and in the cafe; a mixture of hospitality stuff. I worked there full-time before uni, now I work weekends.
My furlough pay is based on my salary over the past 12 months which, because I moved to working part-time, is not quite enough to live off. A family friend said they knew a construction site that was hiring because they had this big job to do, so I went for it.
I’m not doing anything unsafe or skilled work, just stuff like, as boring as it sounds, heavy lifting, shovelling and making cement. The first day I hated it – I’ve always been more into academic stuff and hospitality work, so coming in as a labourer was a bit tough, especially as, although I’m really tall, I’m not that strong. Honestly, I’m the last person you’d ever expect to see lifting slabs.
It’s difficult, but I need the money and it’s a safe way to get it – everything we do is socially distanced. I miss my normal job, but I wouldn’t want to go back. If they were to say, we’ll open it tomorrow, I’d feel hugely unsafe, especially because the household I’m in has vulnerable members.
William Smith, 39, trumpet player to delivery bike rider
I’m a freelance musician, so I do a bit of trumpet teaching at a school but I work mostly on West End shows, covering when people want time off. This year I was on tour with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, but after Boris Johnson’s announcement, all the theatres closed pretty much instantly.
I used to race bicycles and I’m a member of a cycling club, and someone in our WhatsApp group said Zedify were expanding their business and needed more cycle delivery drivers so I applied. It was a bit alien to me because I haven’t had to do that kind of paperwork for a long time, and I didn’t have much relevant experience.
It’s been really, really fun. You’re out on your bike all day and you’re getting paid. Other delivery companies take the parcels to the depot and we load up the trikes and utility bikes, and then do the last bit of the journey, because it’s often quicker on a bicycle than in a truck.
One of the main reasons I was interested is because it’s zero emissions, and I don’t think it’s going to be an area of work that will disappear. It’s something that I’m definitely interested in continuing even when the lockdown is over.
Until it starts hammering it down with rain, I think it’s going to be really fun. I’m also really enjoying my trumpet practice because there’s no pressure to practise for specific work now – I’m doing a lot more jazz and transcription, which is something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.