Heroes of COVID-19
Nick Barnsby is a father of five who spent a decade as a foster carer and had a career dedicated to working with children in care. During the coronavirus pandemic at the age of 61 he wrote his first book, Heroes of Covid-19. He talks about his book and how it was shaped by his experiences.
Talking about his time as a foster carer, Nick says: ‘We fostered young sibling groups alongside our own children and were motivated by the idea that if our own children ever had to go into care we would want them to stay together, and as we ha
d five children already, a few more would not be too disruptive.’
Nick and his family fostered up to four siblings at a time and several of the children they cared for had additional needs.
He set up Futures for Children with a social worker who had also fostered and, as a child, grown up in care.
Nick says: ‘We felt that between us we had experienced many different aspects of childcare, and could understand fostering from many different perspectives and had respect for children and young people raised in the care system, their parents, foster carers and local authority social workers.’
Futures for Children has been running for more than twenty years, and my youngest daughter, who was five when we started fostering, (she is no longer five) has qualified in social work, worked for the local authority, worked in adoption, and worked for another independent agency before joining me at Futures.
When the lockdown restrictions were introduced Nick found it emotionally challenging. ‘Shutting down the offices was traumatic for me. I was the last person to leave. I drove home, parked the car and cried silently for a while before I went into the house.’
He decided not to furlough any staff and in order to reassure them he wrote regular letters to all staff. Nick says: ‘I wanted them to know that as well as the contact they had from the organisation at a local level, as the director I was still thinking of them, and that we were all one family.’
‘I thought I would write cheerful letters to lift their spirts and then right at the start we had a member of the team unexpectedly suffer the loss of her father from the virus, and to write uplifting letters became more complicated. My own family also suffered very early the loss of my wife’s father who was in his 90s and her brother who was 58.
‘The virus became very real and my letters from lockdown had to also talk about the personal as well as the organisational.’
‘I tried to pick up on themes that were present amongst our families and to address them in my letters, and I also included lighter stories about the animals that surround me – the chickens Thelma and Louise we had rescued when they were abandoned at the roadside; a handful of sheep we started keeping last year; Squee and Aberdasser are our cats; the bees I have started to keep; Henry, our resident Peacock who came with the house and is one of several generations of Henrys who roost on the chimney’s at night. He has many wives and children who mostly inherit the name Henry or Catherine.
‘So all the animals in Heroes of Covid had already featured in my letters.’
One of the ‘personal miracles of lockdown’, as Nick puts it, was that staff and carers started to write back. ‘Sometimes my letters resonated with their own feelings, or their own life, or childhood,’ explains Nick. ‘Some of them told me that they were looking forward to the letters each week and reading them to their partners and families, including children and foster children.
‘I realised that I was writing to our children and young people as well.’
A special request
One carer asked Nick to write something specifically for children so at the age of 61 he wrote his first children’s story and after sending it out as a letter he considered how he might publish it.
‘I knew nothing about publishing and decided to use an illustrator who has never illustrated a book before. We decided that with our collective level of inexperience we could not possibly fail.'
The illustrator he approached was his niece, Anya, who has a young daughter and is a connected carer for the brother and sister of her partner who took on the responsibility of raising his younger siblings.
‘She is on furlough and her job will be unlikely to survive,’ explains Nick. ‘Anya embraced the opportunity to show her daughter that something positive can come out of a negative situation.
‘She sat at her kitchen table and illustrated the book whilst home schooling her daughter during lockdown.
‘I think warmth and emotion and humour are embedded in her drawings and am very pleased to have chosen to approach her.’
Persistence pays off
‘The reason for writing the story in the first place was for adults to help children make sense at their own level of the period we have just lived through,' Nick explains. It is written for children and adults to enjoy, but makes references to conversations that adults can develop with children if they arise.'
As a child Nick struggled reading and has a real affinity with children and young people who also find academic work challenging and part of his motivation for writing Heroes of Covid-19 was to show children and young people that despite starting with a disadvantage, if they persist, they can outgrow their disadvantage and succeed. ‘Even at 61,’ Nick says, ‘I am still an example to our children of someone pushing themselves into new areas and overcoming early difficulties.’
The book was published and reached the top of the Children’s Books and Education charts on Amazon.
Nick and Anya already have the first draft of a story of a young boy and his foster carers, which will be the foundation for their next book.