As part of the Our Frontline campaign to support the mental health of all those out working to protect us during the coronavirus crisis, we’ll be regularly sharing stories, tips and other thoughts about what life is like for them at the moment, in their own words.
Syed Asim Shah, 37, is a Shift Station Supervisor at London Bridge. He shared his experience of working on the frontline during the coronavirus pandemic.
Beforeeverything was okay and normal. When the pandemic first hit us there were so many challenges. The main thing I needed to focus on was uplifting staff morale. So many people were scared, people were dying. Some of my team were scared that if they came to work, they were risking their life as they would be coming into contact with so many passengers each day.
I’m a Shift Station Supervisor at London Bridge and my role adapted quickly. As my day to day role changed, so did my responsibilities. I went from spending a lot of my time based in the office to standing with colleagues on the concourse, helping them lead passengers and trying to reduce the fear they were feeling. Anyone with underlying health issues were sent on special leave, so I had to step up and support in roles that were new to me. I came up with a plan that gave staff more breaks and less contact, so they didn’t feel they were exposed for long periods of time.
The main focus for me was toas much as I could and make sure I stayed connected to them, checking in on them and leading them to keep the country running. If they came to me to share that they were scared, I tried to help them to see it as an opportunity to support their country and keep it running and connected. I would say to them “We should be proud of what we are doing, we will be part of history. We’re helping doctors, nurses and every other frontline worker get to work to save lives and keep the country going right now”.
I personally recorded the voice note that played out at London Bridge station, encouraging people to socially distance, take alternative routes and only travel during off peak hours to slow the spread. I felt like I adapted really well to the role because I had to be strong for the team. I came up with the idea of social distancing badges for all our staff and the Managing Director loved the idea and he ordered keep your distance badges for the staff for all stations. We wanted to encourage passengers to maintain their distance from staff and ensure our team felt they had some support to help communicate the government guidelines to protect themselves.
A lot of our staff were suddenlyif they were shielding so it was a challenge for the rest of us to step up. We were working on everything from crowd control to exits plans. It has been a time where we have had to adapt and pull together to keep things going. One great thing to come out of it all is that I created an idea to support people with hidden disabilities that may need assistance. I thought it would be good to design a badge or lanyard saying ‘I don’t have to wear a mask’ for people whose disabilities are not obvious. After four days my Station Manager at London Bridge emailed me to say that my idea had been shared nationally and they were working on it. Another three days later I heard that my suggestion had become a government policy, which I am really proud of. With challenging times also comes great change.
In my personal life, the main challenge was being away from my only daughter. Being separated from her mother meant that we made the difficult decision that she would be at home with her mum as she was off school. I love my daughter so much and it was difficult not seeing her for so long, but at the same time I was thinking about my community and country and doing what I needed to do. I did have bad days where I would cry and the tears would flow, but my job gave me something to focus on and it was my responsibility to look after my team and my customers.
I was the only supervisor left as many of them had to shield at home or step up and started covering different stations, so I was looking after a lot including briefing new staff,and ensuring everyone was as safe as possible. I’m very passionate and ambitious and in three months I’ve had the opportunity to display skills that I wouldn’t normally be able to show in a year.
Every week we had a station manager zoom call with all our staff, including those working from home. Seeing twenty-five to thirty familiar faces was so reassuring. They would ask me how I was getting on and be there to listen and support. I did get emotional but reassured them that I’m really proud to be here and keep my country connected, but at the same time I miss my daughter a lot.
To look after my mental health, I made sure I video called my daughter a lot. I focused on my physical health too, made sure I was taking vitamin and did push ups, running and weights at home. I used my own experiences to advice other staff too. I would encourage them to listen to music and do exercise when they weren’t at work to look after themselves.
It’s so important to have support likebecause people have been scared for their lives. We have to reach out to people that are supporting the country. People are still unsure what will happen. The station is getting busier so we’re putting new things in place and adjusting. We’re giving free masks out and setting zones for our staff to maintain social distance. I’m spending more and more time with the staff and listening to them. Communication is the key right now. Some of our staff that are shielding want to come back to work so they can help but they can’t just yet, so I’ve been advising them on what to do with the spare time to look after their mental health and I’ve shared the details of the support available through Our Frontline with them too.