THERE were days, in the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, when GP Craig Smith could not face going into work.

“It was difficult to go in – you felt overwhelmed by what could happen, worried about your patients’ health and concerned about what you were not seeing as patients stayed away,” he explains.

“But our practice team pulled together from the beginning. We worked well to support each other.”

As the country prepares to mark one year since the first lockdown, The Glasgow Times caught up with two people who shared their stories with us last March as the pandemic first took hold.

Craig, a Lanarkshire GP of more than 20 years’ experience, and Glasgow community worker Kirsteen Marshall have both found their working and personal lives transformed by Covid.

“I’m exhausted,” says Kirsteen, who runs New Rhythms for Glasgow, which supports people living tough lives in the north of the city. “But you don’t choose a career in the third sector unless you truly love serving others. There are no benefits, bonuses or big pay cheques in this field - you choose it because helping others makes your heart beat."

For Craig, the last 12 months have also been tiring, with many concerns and frustrations.

READ MORE: Doctor says coronavirus could 'change NHS forever'

“We didn’t know what was going to happen, as day by day, it changed,” he says. “Often, we didn’t get information about it much sooner than the general public.

“We felt frustrated by our lack of contact with patients, worried we were potentially missing serious conditions as many didn’t contact us or want to come to the health centre out of fear for their own health.”

New Rhythms for Glasgow team members from left, Jim Hobbit, Stephen Farrell, Ryan Williams, Jaffa, Kirsteen Marshall who has kept the community supported thoughout Covid, Liz Howarth, Yinglei lee, Graeme Lockhart, Carole Turner and Mark Gallacher

New Rhythms for Glasgow team members from left, Jim 'Hobbit', Stephen Farrell, Ryan Williams, 'Jaffa', Kirsteen Marshall who has kept the community supported thoughout Covid, Liz Howarth, Yinglei lee, Graeme Lockhart, Carole Turner and Mark Gallacher

He adds: “To some extent we are still frustrated by delays in getting patients seen in hospital and for outpatient appointments. We were keen to get going with Covid vaccinations and completed all of our over-80s by the end of January, but we were frustrated by the slow roll out to the practice, as the vaccines came piecemeal, which slowed us.”

Last March, the practice had to adapt quickly, Craig explains, introducing telephone triage and a dedicated email for patients to send in photographs.

“Despite what the public may think, as a practice we have remained busy and there hasn’t been a day when one of the doctors didn’t see someone face to face,” he explains.

“We have continued with house calls as needed. We have probably had the same daily patient contact as before, albeit in different forms.”

He adds: “But we have much to be thankful for, as we were at work every day, we had job security, which we are acutely aware others worrying about redundancies and finances did not have.

“We are seeing more and more people struggling with mental health issues, and we worry that the mental health services, adult and especially child and adolescent services, which were already underfunded, will struggle.”

There is cause for optimism, says Dr Smith.

“As things improve and the vaccination programme continues, we will see an end to this,” he says. “But general practice will be very different in the future.”

At the start of the pandemic, unable to run its usual art, dance and music classes and clubs and acutely aware of how many of the people they supported would struggle in lockdown, New Rhythms for Glasgow quickly switched to online delivery.

Keen to lighten the load for children struggling in isolation, the team ran online art and crafts sessions and, aware that many families would not have the materials, they made up and delivered hundreds of art packs to those in need.

They distributed 50 warmth and wellness packs to the homeless community at Christmas and secured funding for 30 £100 gift vouchers for families in Springburn and Sighthill living in working poverty (in employment but still struggling financially.)

Kirsteen explains: “The feedback has been wholly positive and everyone was super grateful just to even be thought of during a very isolating time.

Strathaven GP Craig Smith reflects on 12 months since lockdown began STY .18/3/21 Pic Gordon Terris/ Herald&Times....

Strathaven GP Craig Smith reflects on 12 months since lockdown began STY .18/3/21 Pic Gordon Terris/ Herald&Times....

“The second lockdown has definitely been harder. There has been a huge increase in mental health challenges amongst individuals and communities. People are simply at their wits’ end and desperate for some normality and consistency.”

The biggest challenge for the charity, says Kirsteen, has been the “constantly changing restrictions. “

She adds: “It made it very difficult but our staff team have managed with grace and resilience. Our staff and volunteers have taken every hit in their stride and remained determined to serve others as best they can.”

One of the biggest positives to come out of the last 12 months, she adds, is the “connectivity” amongst the community and third sector.

“I have experienced a genuine effort from people and organisations to fully support each other, without ego, competitiveness or aggravation,” she says.

READ MORE: Glasgow's 'wee charity with a big heart' helping those in need during pandemic

“It’s been a very supportive and ‘all hands on deck’ environment to work in. It’s great to see the third sector being valued for its vital supports in communities across Glasgow.”

Kirsteen adds: “I feel blessed to have been able to walk alongside the communities we serve during what has been a monumental time in our history and we will continue to do whatever it takes to keep people motivated, engaged and energised.

“We are knee deep in a mental health crisis right now, and the creative industries have always been hugely influential in tackling that.

“While that remains the case, we will always be there.”