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The Bloggery

2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
10 YEAR anniversary!

Thursday, 12 August 2021

The online / in-person conundrum

I have, very reluctantly, decided that all the classes should stay online for this autumn. It’s a difficult choice, because I miss seeing you all in person so much and I know some of you will be very disappointed, so I wanted to explain my thinking.

This online / in-person choice has been a constant challenge since the start of the pandemic. For the last year and a half, I’ve been trying to decide two or three months before a course what to do while the government has constantly assured us it would all be fine by summer 2020… September 2020… Christmas 2020… Every single time, I’ve made the difficult choice to err on the side of safety, against government predictions. Every time, when the course came round, it would’ve been illegal to run in person.

The Meddling with Poetry course in May–June 2020 started during lockdown. The Summer of Writing workshops 2020 were during enforced social distancing. The new Writing in Style course in Oct–Nov 2020 overlapped with the second lockdown. The Imaginary Worlds course in Feb–March 2021 ran during the third lockdown. The Story Elements course in May–July 2021 ran when indoor mixing was prohibited. But every time, it was an agonising choice because two or three months before, we were assured things would be fine by then, and I had to guess they might not be. The uncertainty, and the feeling that I’m going against other people’s optimism, has been both difficult and painful.

Two months ago, I was genuinely certain that the Starting Points course in Oct–Nov this year would run in person. (With the option of a separate online course, naturally: I’m keeping that option regardless.) I’d drawn up lists of furniture and lamps to replace, repainting, teas to restock, sprucing up the conservatory to welcome you all back in style… then the Delta variant hit. Cases rocketed up. But so have vaccines. Many of you are fully vaccinated already. I will be too, soon. Then again, some of my double-vaccinated friends have been reinfected. One very dear friend has had Long Covid for 18 months. I’ve been waking up at 6am, wrangling with what to do, reading conflicting articles, inquisiting my friends in every field on what their sector is doing... A few mornings ago, I read an article where a lead scientific advisor explained why it was impossible to predict beyond September, and I wanted to burst into tears and laughter. Of course I’m struggling to predict this! The top experts are! So how am I, a writing teacher, expecting myself to do better?

This is what I do know: the conservatory is small.

Conservatory seating 12

If you’ve come to the in-person classes, you know what it’s like. It fits 12, just, plus me standing. It’s airy and pretty and sparkly, but it’s small. Keeping doors and windows open in autumn will be freezing, windy, and wet. The tables are 1m x 1m, with four people at each directly facing each other. In the breaks, people sit together in the living room, all use the same bathroom, squeeze past each other in the kitchen making tea and coffee.

For want of more specific guidance, I looked up the current advice for employers:

Despite the removal of Covid restrictions in England, businesses still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business.

The government's Working Safely guidance still recommends that employers carry out health-and-safety risk assessments, and take reasonable steps to minimise the risks identified.

Some businesses may choose to keep some of the measures they previously had in place, such as:

    Minimising unnecessary visitors
    Ensuring social distancing
    Frequent cleaning
    Extra hand washing facilities
    One-way systems to minimise contact
    Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face)
    Staggering start/end times

 (Source: BBC.)

The bits I've underlined in yellow are just impossible for in-person classes here. I’ve explored hiring a larger space so we can distance – but by the time everyone’s far enough apart, all the interactive games, activities, and discussions, the heart of the courses, don’t work. For that, it’s actually easier to interact on screens than at a 1–2 metre distance.

Being neither an epidemiologist nor a soothsayer, I just have to choose. If I err, I’d rather err on the side of safety. Then the worst-case scenario is “Oh, we could’ve done that one in person.” I can think of worse outcomes.

As always, I’ll do everything in my power to create an equally rich experience for the online course, sending you essential oils, felt-tips, candles, packs of colourful handouts and card sets, adding in soundscapes and music for your “travel time”, ensuring there’s time for casual chat before and after classes, and so on. The last two lessons of the Starting Points course are actually already converted for online teaching – from March last year, when we abruptly hared online after the 16 March announcement. And so it comes full circle.

I wanted to share my thinking and agonising about it in detail because, as I said, I know some of you will be disappointed and so am I, and also because I’ve wrestled exactly like this over every course since April 2020.

To everyone who’s disappointed: I’m sorry. I miss you. In-person classes will resume when they can. The 10th-anniversary party will still happen, even if it’s the 11th by then. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing your lovely laughing faces at least, talking and brainstorming and playing games and scribbling, and to reading your latest writing.


1 comment:

  1. dear Megan, I'm stuck, got disappointed by Oxford writer's circle. Thought Megan will kickstart me, but on Zoom, oh god, I am so bored of being at home but I am still mulling it over, just wanted to share that. Lovely post you're like Winston Churchill with your in-defatigueability if that is a word like Garboge.


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