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  • Kevin Hempsted

Wellness in the unlockdown - my dear friend & colleague shares tips for the Hackney Wick community

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

Kevin Hempsted is a born and bred Eastender, and runs White Post Lane therapy and counselling centre A Balanced Life. He talks about how the pandemic has impacted health, and why the local community is so essential to all our wellbeing

Words: Gabrielle Reason/Portrait: Hannah Rajah


Lock-down has taken away part of the community we all need - that contact with others - and many people have ended up feeling quite isolated and alone. It's tested many of our relationships to new levels, sometimes from simply from being in a small space with one other person. Even in a loving and caring relationship, your'e probably experiencing the equivalent of three or four years in one. And with a lack of much else going on, the feelings that come up can seem heightened and over-significant.

Either w can reflect on ourselves and investigate our emotions, or we can push them down and finding a coping mechanism to hide from them. Figures show drinking problems have risen, while domestic violence has become more widespread. I think that's because we're enduring such an unknown: there's no template of what we should do, or how we should act.

We've also changed our relationship to work. Many of us have brought work into the home which was great at first, but it's also becoming harder to separate our working and domestic lives.


Coming out of lock-down won't be easy either

The sheer magnitude of getting back onto packed tubes and into offices, or remembering how to dress in a different way. Those who have worked on themselves, and maybe come out of this a little better, they'll be able to enjoy the world from a position of strength. For those who have resorted to coping mechanisms, they'll have new unresolved feelings and emotions that they'll have to carry about with them. As you're coming out of lock-down, be mindful of how you navigate it and check in to ensure you stay safe and well. Ask yourself: What have we really missed? What have we seen? What will feel quite difficult to change?


Healing through sensing and breathing

I've found it important to go for a walk in nature everyday, which is equally beneficial as any antidepressant you could take. I check in with how I'm feeling and watch where the emotions are arising from. It's not just about walking but completely taking in what you see, smelling what you smell, hearing what you hear. It's about immersing yourself so that your're practically swimming in it. When we begin to feel anxiety or fear rising, the first thing we do is to stop breathing properly. Breathing is one of the most natural things for us to do, but many of us only breathe into our chest which isn't much more than panting. Some people pant their way through life. When we breathe properly into our whole body, it's intrinsically relaxing and gives us so much more energy.

My friend Mark White runs MEUS Practice, which is a sort of Spotify for physical and mental health. He's moving into the space next to me and I'm looking forward to what he'll add to the wellness community here. He's a great advocate of breath-work. He also organises something called Run Grateful which brings communities together through running. We worked on one initiative where you run the equivalent of a marathon over 24 hours. You initially do 5k, and every hour on the hour you run a mile and find something that you're grateful for each time. I ended up walking 17 miles of it with people who needed to walk, and got them sharing some of their stories. It was a beautiful and emotional journey for a lot of people.


Community is a medicine

It's been important to keep us as much real-world communication as possible. Even when it was just the coffee shops open for takeaway, being able to have a conversation with the same person serving you felt like such a gift. The coffee shop downstairs form me - HWK - is amazing. There's such a lovely community where I work. Doh has just moved in opposite which is a wonderful addition. You can watch them bake the bread - it's the kind of community I grew up with.

I'm next door to GRL GYM and had the privilege of getting fit with them just before lock-down. I unfortunately caught Covid quite early on, and think I would have suffered a lot worse had they not improved my fitness. What I really loved is that when I went to train, it gave me the safe space to become vulnerable which was what I needed. I've previously stayed away from gyms because I felt there were so many expectations of how I should be. But I felt able to flourish, and could really enjoy it. They did push me to my limits. But it was in such a beautiful cathartic way that I really enjoyed it. The gym Kasia has built is a wonderful safe space, and there's so much enthusiasm for what they do there. She's really inspirational. We're now planning quite a few projects together, too.

The beating heart of Hackney Wick

There's a real beauty in that given the opportunity, we can all succeed. But a lot of young people in Hackney maybe haven't had the opportunity to blossom where they could have. We mustn't forget them. This is their home. This is where they were born. This is their roots. I think the key to keeping the spirit of Hackney Wick alive is communication. Letting people know the history here, letting them know what existed before, how we have all survived, and all come together. It's always been multicultural and that identity has been beautiful, and it helps us to grow. We've always educated each other about our cultures and our religions, the way we eat, and the way we look. We all embraced it together.

Kevin is a Humanistic Counsellor in Hackney Wick.

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