Are the kids alright?

Exams chaos aside, gap years, internships and summer plans have all been decimated by the virus. However, some youngsters have found ingenious ways to boost their prospects


Throughout the pandemic, it is the elderly that have preoccupied governments. However, as the long-term implications of the virus because clearer, some organisations are warning that younger people have been made to “pay the price”.

In a recent report, charity Hope Not Hate said that 55 per cent of young people felt that the pandemic had limited their opportunities and 51 per cent had said it would cause “huge” long-term disruptions to their future.

And yet with the jobs, internships and studies on hold, some teens and young adults have found ways to keep busy and engaged in these empty months by creating new projects and getting involved in community programmes.We spoke to a collection of Jewish youngsters to find out what they have — or haven’t — been up to.

Chloe Spinks

Chloe Spinks, 21, had her life mapped out for the next five years. By February, everything was falling into place — “then corona happened.”

Ms Spinks, who is studying business and marketing management at Oxford Brookes University, had secured a “dream job” in California as part of her degree’s “year-in-industry.”

“It was all planned, I was going to be doing marketing for an entertainment company in L.A. — a huge dream,” she says.

“I had wanted to do things there that would help me build my CV help me get out there and meet contacts, and then after I had completed my degree go back to the same company,” Ms Spinks explains.

“It has been no fun watching my five-year plan disintegrate,” she adds.

Ms Spinks, who has ADHD, said that she is now unsure about whether she will return to university in September — which would be required as most firms are now unwilling to take on interns or new hires.

“I know in my heart that if I go back to university and if anything is slightly different to normal, which it will be, I’m not going to be able to learn to my greatest capacity.

“I think I am going to take a year out,” she says, “I have work lined up potentially – to do marketing for a biofuel company in Canada. It’s not year-long, it’s small projects. I have to fill a year of my life now.

“I’ve got some great things lined up but until then, I’m just kind of sitting in the void waiting for life to start again,” she says.

Ms Spinks says that young people have been forgotten.

“Even though the priority is not that I’ve had to put my life on pause, because people are dying,” she says, “there is a difference between being in your fifties and having a job that you have had for years, and having a regular schedule.

“You need to put a lot into your life between 18 and 23, you have to do a lot to build up your CV to build up your life and now I don’t have that — that is terrifying.”

Nicole Wojakovski

Nicole Wojakovski, 20, from Hendon, is studying Civil Engineering at Bristol University, and had an internship planned in New York for this summer. Reading the paper one lockdown morning, she came across a piece about the comeback of drive-in cinemas.

“I mentioned it to my sister Nathalie and my cousin Emmanuelle as a passing comment,” explains Ms Wojakovski.

“They thought we should have a go ourselves. With absolutely no particular interest in cinema and minimal understanding of what it would take to run a business, we decided to do it!”

Thus was conceived ‘Carview-20’ — a drive-in cinema located in Aldenham Country Park, Hertfordshire.

A socially distanced night-out, you can watch nostalgic classics like Grease or the La La Land, from the comfort of your own car, with food and drinks delivered directly to your door.

For the entrepreneurial trio it has been a steep learning curve — creating and developing every aspect of the business themselves, from the website and marketing, to hammering in signs and even cleaning toilets.

“Being a small team has meant that we have had to be a Jack of all trades,” says Ms Wojakovski.

“We have learned all aspects of the business on the job and at a fast pace. From the initial planning and dealing with the council to securing film licenses.”

Originally planned as a two-week pop-up, Carview-20’s success means that showings will extend through the summer despite the return of regular cinemas.

But it is not without its own constraints: “This experience has definitely illuminated the difficulty of achieving a work-life balance,” says Ms Wojakovski.

“We have worked tirelessly at the expense of our incredibly supportively family and friends. We belong to a generation of women who want to work full time and it has given us some food for thought on how realistic it is to have it all.”

Emily Burton

Emily Burton, 21, is studying Spanish and French at Leeds University. She, like Chloe Spinks, had been intending to move abroad next year — to Barcelona.

“It has been disappointment after disappointment,” she says. “I chose to study languages so that I could love and work abroad, and it doesn’t look to promising.”

Ms Burton had been earmarked to spend two months in Bordeaux from May, and then move to Barcelona to take up a job as part of her year abroad.

“It’s still very uncertain,” she says. “I don’t really know how it will affect job prospects in the future if employers know that I won’t have spent time abroad.”

“I don’t really know anything; I feel very left in the dark,” she says, adding that Leeds has not shared any information with her about what her next few years will look like.

“At the beginning of the lockdown in March, I thought that I was in the ideal situation or the ideal age group to be experiencing lockdown, because I was able to move home and could be supported by my parents and I wasn’t furloughed or laid off,” she says.

“As time went on, I have changed my mind,” she adds. “We’ve missed out on a lot of leaning opportunities and it has made me anxious and nervous — I took back what I had once said.”

Emma Gold

What’s a jet-setting fashion stylist to do when the retail and fashion industries suddenly go into freefall? Typically a hands-on job, adjusting clothes on models and being present on shoots can hardly be carried out via Zoom.

“My initial thoughts were: they have shut all the studios, I cannot work socially distanced,” says stylist Emma Gold, 25. “I was really quite anxious. My industry had shut down. How would I earn money? It was nerve wracking. But I needed to keep busy so I did some remote jobs and worked in customer services for my brother’s company, Skinny Dip.”

But before long Ms Gold had launched her home-grown tie dye business from her boyfriend’s kitchen sink. “I learnt how to tie dye on Camp USA. I love wearing and creating ‘one-off’ items so I decided to go with the tie dye.”

With her understanding of the fashion world and how young people shop, Ms Gold set up an Instagram page and enhanced her existing website. Buying in plain white t-shirts and sweatshirts from Skinny Dip, as well as some vintage items, she even tie dyes socks! All profits go to Charing Cross Hospital, where her father was cared for following a serious health scare.

The tie-dye trend caught on quickly, with Instagram influencers modelling her creations. Ms Gold has sold 200 pieces since lockdown and is now developing a dedicated brand called ‘Interstate’.

“I didn’t expect to have come out of lockdown with my own brand,” says Ms Gold. “Nor to have raised £4,000 for charity on my own. The whole experience has been life changing. But I love my stylist job so I definitely won’t let that go.”

Ruby Kwartz

Ruby Kwartz, 17, from Manchester has been suffering under the region’s local lockdown. “It was in many ways more difficult than the first,” she confides.

The concerns that are playing on Ms Kwartz’s mind are not the same as those who are older than her – they are primary focussed on two things: university and the experiences she has missed out on.

“I’m concerned about applying to university and things next year,” says Ruby. She is in year 12 — normally a time when students zip up and down the country visiting universities and attending open days. This year, none of that was possible.

“We’ve already missed the opportunities for open days, which has impacted some more than others,” she explains. She has managed to go down to Bristol, but even there “everything was closed, there was nothing to see.”

To Ruby, experiences are what she is worried that she has missed out on – this summer she was supposed to lead a B’nei Akiva camp, and was planning to go to Spain with friends, but everything has had to be cancelled.

“I know it’s hard for people that are 40 and in a steady job, who will think it isn’t hard, but they are settled. It’s meant to be the time when lots of change is happening, so it is probably a bit more worrying.

“Whatever happens, happens,” she says, “we are in the same boat. Nonetheless, it is a worry. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

“I wouldn’t say that people my age are kind of stressing about jobs because it’s a bit too far away. But, it’s definitely a thought,” she says.

“If anything”, she adds, “it is about a lack of control.”

Ella Blendis

If you had reason to dial 111 in recent months you may have heard the voice of first year medical student Ella Blendis, 19, from Muswell Hill, who was recruited to a London-based healthcare team early in lockdown along with cohorts of other at-home medical students.

“I was set to lead Camp America this summer,” says Ms Blendis. “My mood at the beginning of lockdown was up and down as I could see the months stretching out before me, I really missed my friends.

“But then I was contacted by a friend who is a second year med student and was helping to recruit for the NHS 111 helpline at London Central & West Unscheduled Care Collaborative. They operate a 111 and GP Out of Hours service in parts of London. So I jumped at the opportunity and sent my CV.

“My role was to take callers’ demographics and then, depending on the severity of the symptoms, I would pass it onto either a call handler, nurse or a GP to triage.

“London was extremely busy during the height of the pandemic and 98 per cent of calls across our patch were, and still are, being answered within 60 seconds,” explains Ms Blendis.

“In order to keep within this tight timescale all us medical students have a paramedic and GP sitting within our team should someone ring with emergency symptoms and require an immediate transfer to an appropriately qualified clinician.

“Given we were taken on for a specific role, medical students are obviously not allowed to give advice,” says Ms Blendis. “In the beginning we got thousands of Covid-19 calls and people are still calling even now with self-isolation questions.”

Ms Blendis feels privileged to have had such responsibility during a difficult period in our lives. “People trust you to help them. It was a very scary but rewarding role. I feel I have learnt a huge amount clinically from the amazing doctors and nurses around me.”

The Chiltons

Set up as an urgent response to Covid-19, the Royal Free Hospital Trust established the Hampstead Gown Factory to make PPE equipment for their hospitals. Ellie, 16, and Anna Chilton, 21, decided to offer up their skills and help out.

“I was preparing for my GCSEs at JFS when I heard about the lockdown, and my sister was in Coventry where she studies Forensic Investigations,” says Ellie Chilton.

“I had been talking to my friends when the first cases came to the Suburb and then the next day they were quarantining. I wanted to get involved and contribute in some way,” she adds.

Joining the multi-cultural, cross generational team, the sisters appreciate the camaraderie, and supportive environment. Novices are taught the basics of sewing on machines and with beginner starting on belts and folding.

“There’s music, and it’s even joyful. We have a common purpose,” says Ms Chilton.

“I realise how sheltered my life is, being exposed to other cultures and diversity has shown me how good it is to help other people.”

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