Over the last 18 months we have all had to adapt the way we live our lives and many of us can feel a sense of normality returning. We are able to be with our families again, schools are open and, fingers crossed, we will hopefully be able to spend this Christmas with our loved ones too.

For some of us the Covid-19 Pandemic forced changes that actually turned out to be life-changing in a good way. Some enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time at home with the children, some changed jobs or moved house as no longer had that long commute to work.

With this in mind, our blog today is asking Youth Fairy followers to look back over the last 18 months and consider what positive changes have arisen despite the challenges.

We put this question to author, illustrator and Mum of two Steph Waller, who certainly had a story to tell of how Covid-19 Pandemic changed her life in a completely unexpected way.

Like many of us Steph remembers the beginning of the pandemic and feeling a little sick when the news mentioned the possibility of closing schools and more people becoming ill.  Steph confesses that when it was confirmed schools were closing  she cried (a lot).  Not because she didn’t want to spend time with her children, but because she was scared that she was going to fail them.

Steph also recognised, like many of us, that we value some time to ourselves – she didn’t know how she was going to cope 24/7 with a 6-year-old, a one-year-old and a husband full time at home, working from the dining room table.

When we asked Steph to look back on how well they coped, she acknowledges that the result of lockdown for her family was a stronger family bond – and her need to see her wider family resulted in an amazing outcome.

Not being able to see her parents and Grandma regularly was one of the worst parts of lockdown for her, particularly worrying about her Grandma who, at nearly 90 was considered extremely vulnerable.  Steph’s Grandma and parents are neighbours and so she was able to support them by taking essential items to them.

On one of these drop-offs Steph spotted a rare moment between her son and his Great Grandma and took a shot of it on her phone.

Little did she know what would follow.

Steph’s sister-in-law heard of a photo competition being run by HRH Duchess of Cambridge to capture the moments and heroes of the Pandemic, and convinced Steph to send in her photograph.  Although Steph is an artist, she had no expectation that she would even hear back from the competition. But two days later Steph was flooded with emails from newspapers and television stations asking if they could use her photo and asking her to do interviews.  There had been 31,500 entries and Steph’s picture of her Grandma and son had been selected.  Steph says she was so surprised that she screamed the house down.

Steph’s photograph “Glass Kisses” is the first photograph in the book Hold Still, photographs selected by a panel and HRH Duchess of Cambridge to represent the amazing moments of the pandemic and has not only been displayed at The National Portrait Gallery but also on the huge billboard at Piccadilly Circus.

Steph said:

“My dream was to have one of my creations on a billboard… to see it on a bus stop was bizarre, but to go to London and see it on a huge screen, bigger than a double decker bus, was incredible – then to see my photograph in the Hold Still Book in the front window of many bookshops, on social media, on the news, was just amazing.  It still hasn’t really all sunk in.  But the most momentous moment was when HRH The Queen chose to show it on the Queen’s Speech.

We asked Steph how this amazing experience has changed for her:

My self-belief is something I have always struggled with, but it has definitely grown.  My little boy is starting nursery in the new year so I will be focusing on writing children’s books and illustrating. I am determined to not worry about what other people think so much and push towards my dreams.  As for my photo, another Gallery in London has asked to borrow the photo for a big exhibition next year, and I am now a listed artist in the National Portrait gallery where my photograph will be archived forever.”

“I have always been a worrier and struggled with anxiety and feel guilty for every decision I make, but more so during the pandemic. My family and I have learned to talk more and give each other the time we need to express our feelings. I have learned that shouting when frustrated is not the way forward, often cuddles work much better instead. I’ve learned to not be so strict with the children and that being outside in the fresh air, water, sand can really help if the kids are having a bad day.  Because of the pandemic, I have learned that it’s okay to have time to yourself and it’s okay to stay home and let the kids be bored. Because of this they have both learned to use their imaginations.

I truly think being one of the 100 winners of this competition has taught me, that I don’t need to worry about the ‘what ifs’ and its okay to say no to things you don’t want to do, even if that’s television interviews!

Life is precious, so I will be pushing forward with my dream.”

You may not have been invited to appear on television… but we would love to hear from you too about the positive changes you have experienced during or as a result of the last 18 months. Please send your stories to info@theyouthfairy.com