The Coronavirus has imposed changes on all our lives. That is no different for people at L’Arche. With the exception of one house, which was in lockdown for some time after one member had suspected symptoms, people in L’Arche London have still been able to get out of their home, under the same restrictions as everyone else. However, social distancing measures have made it impossible for the Community to meet at the workshops, the garden or for community gatherings.

In order to find out more, Chris Asprey met with Jack Ridgman and his assistant, Ashley Ashworth, over Zoom. 

Jack and Ashley are members of the L’Arche London Community, based in south Lambeth. Jack lives in a small Victorian cottage on Norwood High Street, leading out at the back onto a courtyard shared with his neighbours, who are also members of the L’Arche Community. Ashley lives in north London. For the past two years he has been travelling down to work alongside Jack in his home and as part of a drama group.

***

I start by asking Jack how the Coronavirus is making life different at the moment.

Jack: Some of my favourite programmes – not on. Emmerdale, Coronation Street, EastEnders.

Ashley: That’s a good point, Jack. Can you explain why they aren’t on?

Jack: They’re showing You’ve Been Framed.

Ashley: And why have the other ones stopped?

Jack: The virus.

Ashley: Exactly. That’s a direct way it affects Jack’s world.

Jack: On the TV news, Boris Johnson – not well.

Ashley: What else is different, Jack?

Jack: Touching the bin … Do not touch the bin.

Ashley: Why not? What might the bin have on it?

Jack: Germs.

Ashley: And what other things don’t you touch, Jack?

Jack: Hands – shake hands. Erm, elbows.

Ashley: Yes, we can’t shake hands so we’re doing elbow touching instead. We try and keep a distance on the whole.

Jack: Knees.

Ashley: Yup. No touching knees.

Jack: No cuddles.

Ashley: That’s a good thing that the virus has done for us. To understand a bit about personal space – and our responsibility in that. It’s helped me stand a bit back from Jack, and Jack stands a bit further back from me, and all the assistants. But you are naturally quite an affectionate man.

Jack: Yes.

Ashley: And how often do we go out for a walk?

Jack: Erm, Monday afternoon.

Ashley: So how many times a day do we go out for a walk?

Jack: One [long pause] Two, three, four, five.

Ashley: So how many times a day do we go out? Once or twice?

Jack: Once.

Ashley: And Jack, because of the virus are we washing our hands more now, or less?

Jack: Less?

Ashley: More, Jack, more! And does it make you cross, the fact that I keep telling you, “Wash your hands! Wash your hands”?

Jack: Yes.

Ashley: While Jack is a very loyal guy, it does put a strain on our relationship at certain points. For example, Covid-19 can be carried in on people’s shoes – and Jack likes to sit on the floor to watch TV. I’ve had to insist that he can’t do that at the moment. We’ve rearranged his bedroom to make it more comfortable, but he’s fed up with me telling him to sit on a chair.

Jack: On the floor is virus. We moved my room. Ben [another assistant] helped me to put my DVDs on the shelves, and all my clothes hanging, suitcase out, suitcase back again.

Ashley: I realise at the moment I’m being firm with Jack, but I don’t want him to get ill. If he did, I couldn’t go with him to hospital – he would be there alone, and I worry about that.

Jack: [I would ask an assistant to] get my hospital passport, blood sugar reader and my clothes, my pyjamas – erm – my shoe bag – erm – medication.

Ashley: This is the worst case scenario. There’s a list of Jack’s conditions, up in the assistants’ room, in case we need to call 111, so that if we need to phone up – to show that Jack must be a priority, he must be a priority. That’s what would worry me – that someone isn’t there to say: “It’s these things that you want to watch out for”. Because even though they’re medically trained, and even though they know far more, they won’t know Jack as a whole. So, that’s me being very concerned, I suppose.


I ask Jack whether he’s concerned.

Jack: No.

Ashley: Jack’s making a list of all the things he’s going to do when the virus is over.

Jack: Going to Scotland. Holiday in France with my parents. Costa. The theatre. Supper out.


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