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Meet the Palace Women confronting the COVID-19 pandemic

16 April 2020

People across the country are working tirelessly day-to-day in a united effort to battle COVID-19, support their communities through the pandemic and save lives

There has been a nationwide focus on footballers, with the suspension of the game across the leagues affecting so many in such a significant way. Players from the top to the bottom divisions have been projected into homes on TV, social media and in other news outlets. They have pulled together to support the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic and have been proactive in maintaining channels of communication with their supporters.

But, for the country’s semi-professional footballers in the women’s game, the spotlight has often been fleeting. They, like so many in Britain, are continuing to work throughout the crisis and, for three members of Crystal Palace Women, are striving admirably to confront COVID-19’s impact in a variety of ways.

We caught up with Amy Taylor, Freya Holdaway and Cherelle Khassal on brief lunch-breaks - or, in Taylor’s case, as she stepped through her front door after a near-10 hour shift - to find out how life has changed to support the national effort.

“I walked into work at eight o’clock and we have two people off,” says Taylor, a Customer Service Assistant at Ashtons Hospital Pharmacy Service. “That means we can’t function properly. At half-past five, I left work with about half a day’s work still to do. 

“There’s always going to be an overflow into the next day of about an hour. But it’s become increasingly busy so we’re unable to stay on top of it - there’s an extra four-five hours now.”

Taylor works for a company that purchases and delivers medical supplies for non-NHS institutions across the country. These can include specialist mental health and addiction clinics or even police stations.

Taylor’s office has been split into four areas to maintain social distancing rules and one colleague has been assigned an isolated room to work from, ensuring his safety with a high-risk partner who works with COVID-19 patients in A&E. The Palace forward says commuting as an essential worker is “quite scary and also quite upsetting,” due to the risk of contagion and the number of people still out in public.

Once she gets to work, Taylor is faced with abnormally high demand and a strained, reduced workforce to handle it.

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Her company has been forced to procure and deliver a significant and sudden increase in medication to allow patients to isolate away from hospitals and institutions, where they’re better protected from the virus. However, due to the delicate nature of prescription drugs and the strict concerns about their administration, Taylor and her colleagues have faced a challenging task.

Another problem facing healthcare professionals across the country is the demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a supply that falls under Taylor’s remit.

“PPE is very hard to get hold of, as is infection control,” she says. “It is a massive struggle. Our purchasing team try on a daily basis to get any stock possible. 

“There’s limited supply, so we have to manage the amount that’s being sent to each individual site. At one stage, we had to prioritise hospitals that had confirmed cases of COVID-19. We couldn’t supply any hospitals but those that had confirmed cases. We were really struggling.”

Taylor and her colleagues continue to risk their own safety to ensure the deliverance of essential medication and protective equipment for professionals and patients alike. And, in the heart of London, Palace captain Freya Holdaway is fighting the battle on a different front.

A Community Engagement Officer for King’s College, Holdaway’s job supports 2,500 students who have either chosen or been forced to remain at their university residence during the pandemic. 

In a normal week, Holdaway and her colleagues organise and deliver extra-curricular programmes for students - essential in maintaining both physical and mental wellbeing as well as ensuring the university sustains a supportive and healthy community.

“We’ve had to shift all of our engagement online,” she explains. “We’d have fitness programmes, artistic creative programmes, people going on tours to get used to the area.”

READ NEXT: Holdaway opens up on difficult four-month spell

For the students isolating in halls of residence - a lonely enough place for some at the best of times - King’s College’s online community offers a rewarding support network.

“The students have said: ‘It’s been amazing to still feel a part of a community.’ They’ve said it feels great that the community is still there, even though it’s not face-to-face, and that they can still have those interactions.” 

Beyond organising adapted engagement programmes, Holdaway’s team have also enabled King’s College Hospital to call upon much needed volunteers.

“Some students have asked us to leave their employment spot for now to volunteer in Intensive Care Units or other services, such as policing. For me, it’s quite a proud moment when you’ve got students who are working for you and they feel they can come back to a job when it’s all over and they’re confident enough to volunteer in the likes of the ICU in a massive London hospital.

“It’s about reassuring them that we are in a position where we want them and we want to keep them, but actually they’re far more important to the community outside of just that job.

“I spoke to one of them and they said they’re really pleased to have the opportunity but at the same time it’s really difficult for them to switch off. I think those on the frontline are getting hit hard, not just by what they have to do in a shift but then coming home after seeing what’s actually happening.”

Thankfully, Holdaway and the team at King’s College University are still on-hand, providing not only support from the student community but much-needed distractions, too.

Of course, though, another impact from the COVID-19 pandemic has been less human, and more financial, with business suffering as a result of lockdown measures.

When Cherelle Khassal saw businesses suddenly lose their income, she decided to use her own company to provide a selfless lifeline. The co-founder of Empire Digital, Khassal supports small to medium companies build and maintain an online presence through websites and apps.

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It’s a costly process, but, for businesses who aren’t marketing themselves digitally, the move can be hugely beneficial.

“Obviously in these unforeseen circumstances, people are scared to spend,” Khassal explains how she has responded in the face of the crisis. “Some businesses can’t even open and they don’t know when their income is coming next. So what we’ve done is tried to get people online - for example, building an app for a restaurant where they can still get business in through deliveries. 

“We’re doing it for free for the next three months - there’s no fee for the design and building of any digital platforms and won’t be one in the future. It’s our way of giving back.”

READ NEXT: Training ground advice for Junior Eagles from Palace Women's No.1

Khassal explains that she and her team are creating digital platforms - worth, on average, £750 - for free: charging just a small monthly fee to maintain these assets after three months. It means businesses who have taken a financial hit can fall back upon her services and re-establish their source of income without taking a £750 leap of faith.

“Small companies, right now, don’t have £750 to spare,” Khassal continues. “Perhaps they did before, but then they didn’t have the time. Now they’ve got the time but not the income - so we’ve removed that concern.

“We’re just looking to give back to the community, the country and to help as many businesses as possible.”

There’s one recurring topic between the footballing trio: they each stressed the importance of staying at home.

For Amy Taylor, travelling to and from work each day to buttress the country’s healthcare system has become a personal risk to her and her family.

“People need to take note of the guidance,” she emphasises. “Staying at home is going to save lives. I know it sounds repetitive and it’s probably becoming a little bit boring, but it’s an airbound virus, so the more you stay at home, the more it’s going to stop spreading.”

For the Palace Women selflessly challenging COVID-19’s impact, please: stay home and save lives.

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