THERE are many unsung heroines on the Costa del Sol who have experienced an extraordinary year.
Everything changed when Spain implemented a draconian lockdown for its residents. Today we step inside the lives of some of the women who lived and breathed it to find out how they have coped with the last 12 months and how dealing with COVID here has impacted them.
Melissa Vaughn lost her cleaning work when lockdown struck.
With suddenly a lot of time on her hands, she started reading stories on Facebook at 4pm to cheer up friends and family, and to distract herself from a ‘terrifying time’ for her.
But then she had a brainwave: A couple of months earlier, Melissa had recorded a voiceover for a video promotion for her local choir and a jingle for a radio station.
She had received fantastic feedback, so with no job and unsure of what to do, she decided to try to use her voice to generate an income.
The Casares resident registered on an online platform where she could apply or be recruited for voiceover work and she now has more than 80 five-star reviews from clients who have used her for anything from podcast introductions and jingles to radio and TV adverts.
She has even gone on to help create a children’s musical e-book called The Nature of Me, in which she narrates poems from Spanish-based poet Jaany.
“2020 has turned out to be the best year of my life. I have never done voiceover before and now I have a brand new career. This would never have happened without the lockdown,” she explains.
Another expat who had to make drastic changes was Dixie Mitchell, who has run estate agency IPP Spain in Fuengirola for nearly 20 years.
When lockdown began, Dixie knew she had to make changes to be able to stay afloat. A large proportion of her business of sales and rentals was from British, Belgian, German and Scandinavian clients, many of whom had fled back to their home countries.
While March was usually the start of our busiest time of year and all of a sudden they had nothing. They needed to urgently adapt.
“But what we suddenly saw was the number of enquiries going through the roof. People were sitting at home and contemplating life. They were starting to realise what their priorities were and that perhaps it was time to start fulfilling their dreams of a holiday home abroad.
“Others had started to realise that they could work from anywhere in the world, so why not work from Spain in the sunshine. Some of the conversations we have had with clients have been extraordinary.
“We started doing online calls with property developers and clients to bring the new projects to life. The great thing about new developments is that there is nothing for clients to see as it is either a plot of land or a building site. As long as they were happy with the location, then there was no reason why they couldn’t buy from the call.
“We would also get our property owners to do video tours with clients. It worked really well and it has changed the way we do things.”
Dixie didn’t let Covid beat her. She has gone on to use the crisis to launch a new luxury property brand called Mitchell’s Prestige Properties.
“2020 was a big learning curve, but we have got through some very tough times and things are set to explode in 2021,” she believes.
Lucy Pardoe meanwhile, was a singer and wedding hair and make-up artist, who saw all her events and weddings cancelled from the lockdown.
She lost both of her businesses and – alongside her partner Ollie, who was also a hugely popular Robbie Williams tribute act – they had to downsize from a wonderful villa in the Mijas hills twice to be able to make ends meet.
But, when you speak to Lucy, you don’t hear any of the stress and worry that she has obviously been through. But this positive, inspiring woman had an idea.
“When lockdown happened we thought it would be fun to do an online concert to help keep people’s spirits up and entertain each other.
“Within an hour of doing a radio interview, we had thousands of requests to join Rock the Lockdown. At its peak there were 875,000 people in the group, it was incredible.
“While it wasn’t an income generator, it helped give me a purpose during an incredibly difficult time.
“Sure we may have had to give up our dream home and it has been tough, but, looking back, creating Rock the Lockdown has helped us to create a new line of work.
“We were able to give a platform to artists we would never have known. As a result, one was offered a recording contract and another secured work on a cruise ship.
“As well as our own gigs, we are now working with other artists and helping them to get their voices heard. We have tours planned. I have just had my first hair and make-up booking for a wedding. Things are looking up.”
Lucy Reed, from San Pedro, is a mum of four and was working in commission only sales when the pandemic took hold.
“We had just come out of our quiet period at work and the busy season was about to start when COVID and lockdown happened.
“I had three teenage boys home-schooling. One was going for his GCSEs and one was doing his finals to get him into University. My husband was also working from home.
“I had no idea when my office would open again and what to do with myself, so I turned to what was normally my passion project – art.
“With bodies everywhere, I made the dining room table my studio. Trying to juggle large wet artworks and mealtimes was an art in itself!
“It was a fantastic distraction and there was a lot of interest through a Facebook page I set up, but people’s financial circumstances due to Covid meant buying art was not a priority.
“So I turned to my old profession as a graphic designer and worked on some freelance projects and continued with my art on the side.
“When you have a family and you are struck by adversity, you have to find a way. And that was what I did. Although we are far from out of the pandemic, things have calmed and I can stop and reflect on what we have all been through in the last year, and how lucky we are.”
Natalia Edelmann, from Casares, is an online entrepreneur and business coach so didn’t see an immediate change in her work circumstances when lockdown started.
Now, she believes this whole experience has made her stronger and more resilient.
“The biggest impact for me was my social world and physical health. Suddenly Zoom became the go-to, but that meant I was sitting for long hours at my desk, more than I would usually.
“I was eating more and exercising less. I gained 20 pounds in that first lockdown and had to bring in home gym equipment to help me to get active.”
Working and communicating online has changed the way many of us work and Natalia saw the opportunity.
She has helped women to transition their businesses and scale them online by becoming the director of the women’s empowerment organisation BIG (Believe. Inspire. Grow).
The last word must go to Ali Meehan, one of the key female figures on the coast, who founded Costa Women more than 10 years ago.
The group was designed to connect women who were living in or moving to the Costa del Sol, but now there are thousands of members around Spain.
When lockdown was announced Ali was just 24 hours away from the start of their International Women’s Day Conference.
“We had hours to take the conference online, but we did it. From then on, we have created a much stronger online presence, connecting in more than 230 online events and we have increased our membership across Spain,” reveals Ali, who is based in Fuengirola.
“We have totally adapted our business model as a result of what has happened to fit the new world. It has been very hard to keep a positive focus at times, but I believe it is my role among the chaos to stay motivated, engaged and supportive for our members.
“We have heard many heart-breaking stories from our members, but we have worked with them to help and find solutions,” she adds.
These amazing ladies are just a handful of women who have juggled work, no work, family, mental health, physical health, got creative, not given up and come out the other side of a horrific year. Get in touch and tell us your COVID-19 stories.
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