JOINING FORCES PART 6: SAMANTHA RENKE
14 / 04 / 2020
At a time when things get tough, we believe in working together, coming together and supporting one another. In this quite frankly, unimaginable time, the situation has affected all of us, each in different ways.
At a time like this when it can be so nerve-wracking for people to self-isolate and when there’s so much uncertainty, we wanted to come together as a community and spread positivity.
Here at ROOBBA, we have joined forces with six people who share a love of their home. They each have their own beautiful story and we take such inspiration from themselves and their homes. And together they are sharing their advice on how to make your home a sanctuary during these challenging times.
We’re exceptionally proud to have the incredible Samantha Renke as our finale in the Joining Forces Series.
Born in Germany and raised in Lancashire, Samantha Renke is an actress, presenter, disability activist, inclusion and equality consultant and keynote speaker. Prior to moving to London, she was a modern languages teacher.
She is a columnist for the Metro and has written a multitude of articles on what it is like to be disabled in a disabling world, as well as several socio-cultural criticisms on patronising attitudes, body image, bullying, LGBTQ+ issues, ableism and the financial and social costs of being disabled.
Additionally, Samantha has written for The Huffington Post and PosAbility magazine. She also featured in the highly successful series of adverts for Maltesers based on real-life experiences of disabled people, and is an experienced speaker having spoken at events for companies and organisations such as the National Education Union, Viacom, Houses of Parliament, British Red Cross, Santander, Reed Smith and Viacom.
Samantha is an ambassador for Scope and a patron of Head2Head Theatre. She was named in The Shaw Trust’s Power 100 list of 2019 of the UK’s most influential disabled people as well as being nominated as Campaigner of the Year in the 2019 European Diversity Awards.
Her credits include Celebrity Antiques Road Trip (BBC Two), Rip Off Britain (BBC One), Sunday Morning Live (BBC One), Victoria Derbyshire (BBC Two), Loose Women (ITV), Jeremy Vine on 5 (Channel 5), The Matthew Wright Show (talkRADIO), Badass Women’s Hour (talkRADIO) and Drivetime with Eamonn Holmes (talkRADIO).
Samantha won The Susan Mullen Award for Best Actress at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival in 2014.
Hi Samantha! Its great to talk to you. As a general question, at a time like this, when pretty much everyone is affected, perhaps people are worried about their elderly family members or perhaps their business or being a freelancer in the industries affected – what would your advice be? What would you like to say to everyone at this time?
As someone with a disability and a full-time wheelchair user I am no stranger to periods of isolation, bedrest or lengthy spells in hospital. I have a condition we’re my bones break easily in fact I’ve had over 200 fractures in my 34 years. I work as a freelancer in the creative industry which is notorious for its instability. There have been times where I’ve had a fall and broken my collarbone or arm and couldn’t continue my work duties. Instead of thinking my career was over each of these times I actually accepted that at this moment my situation is out of my hands and once you accept the situation or the uncertainty you find yourself in only them can you can with a clear head be proactive. Many of my current projects come from times of uncertainty for example I have a regular column in the Metro and this came about from being in bed not able to do much so I got my laptop and I started to write as they say the rest is history! We need to feel our emotions at this time and if we feel sad, frustrated or angry then feel them but don’t let them consume you.
What are your thoughts on self-isolation and has it affected you in any way?
Working from home and as previously stated isolation is no strange concept. In fact I actively love my own company. For many I assume being in your own thoughts is a daunting task for me it’s a time to get creative and feel inspired.
I have had to reduce my PA time – she is a lady I employ 15 hours a week to help me with daily tasks. I would say I am 100% independent (granted not when I have a broken bone) but my PA allows me to be more efficient and she takes the pressure off in many ways. With this reduction I’ve been fatigued much more than usual and I’ve noticed areas in my home I need to adapt to ensure I can be safe and sufficient in the future.
What’s your favourite room/place in your home? And do you advise people to find a spot that they can
turn into their little sanctuary?
I love all my rooms in my flat. I live in central London and have an adapted home. I’m very blessed that my home allows me to live independently, I am not disabled in my home , yes I still have my impairment Brittle Bones but my environment that is bespoke to me means I am self sufficient and have autonomy over my life.
Sadly, I’m one of the lucky few to have an adapted home. As it stands according to the English housing survey, just 7% of English homes currently provide even the most basic accessibility features.
Some examples of how my home is accessible are – automatic doors, electric windows – my cooker is on hydraulics and I have a wet room with a shower chair. My light switches are lower on my plug sockets are risen from the floor my doors or wider for my wheelchair I also have my lights connected to my Alexa and Phillips Hue and can be commanded by my voice and my phone.
What are your top 3 pieces of advice for anyone self-isolating?
Routine, routine, routine. Even making ones bed and putting on perfume can be great motivators. If you are working from home I suggest you put timer on your phone or Clock and use them as prompts rewards even once you’ve completed half an hour an hour of work. I do this when I have to write sometimes I get writers block so I set an alarm for 15 minutes I have to write even if it’s rubbish for that 15 minutes
I am a self-proclaimed fashionista and fashion has always given me confidence in my darkest times particularly growing up when my self-worth was Rockbottom. So I’ve been experimenting with some clothes that are at the back of my wardrobe and having fun I’ve taken pictures and they have provided me with perfect content for my social media platforms.
I cannot recommend practising gratitude and meditation enough. I appreciate some people find meditation very difficult but if you can go out of your way to understand how gratitude works and even maybe start a gratitude journal you start to realise that actually things aren’t as bad as you first thought. A great app to download is calm.
What are your top 3 tips for those people that are new for working from home?
Set realistic goals don’t make this into a new years resolution scenario because the chances are you’re only going to disappoint yourself if you don’t learn Mandarin or Russian in the next three weeks.
As a campaigner what I would say is to maybe learn about other people and I wouldn’t be a good disability campaigner if I didn’t suggest maybe you learn about how the disability community really is. We seem to have in this country an awkwardness towards disability and that comes from ignorance so why not go onto social media and find some amazing disabled influences to follow! I’ve also been challenging my friends to learn sign language not only is it something you can do with your children but actually been able to communicate in British sign language is such an amazing skill to have something I personally think everyone should learn in schools.
What are your top 3 tips for those who want to spruce up their home during this time?
I would like to think that I keep my home relatively tidy and clutter free that’s not to say I am a minimalist quite the opposite I actually grew up with a father who was an antiques dealer.
However on a practical note I can’t have too much on the floor or crowding my living space because I am a wheelchair user it can be quite hazardous if somebody leaves something in the middle of the hallway. So I am always tidying and restructuring my little flat. if you want already on Pinterest then I suggest that’s a good place to start for some really nifty organising ideas.
I am extremely sentimental and although I don’t horde I do have a number of boxes with memories from the years gone by if you don’t have a memory box maybe think about doing one it can be a beautiful way of remembering that life is good even if at the moment it’s a challenge. I recently reached out to a fellow presenter Sophie Morgan who is a wonderful artist and commissioned this beautiful drawing of my cat Lola, – just a simple picture brings a smile to my face every time I go into my living room.
What pieces of advice do you have for those living on their own during self-isolation?
Technically I am on my own however I got a cat called Lola about eight months ago I think the universe was looking out for me and had anticipated the strange times that we now find ourselves in. If you don’t have a pet and would really love one right now you can certainly foster or adopt and if you can’t physically have an animal for whatever reason you can sponsor one from charities such as Protection or Battersea most of them won’t you sponsoring Animal has a virtual footage so you can pop in on your laptop daily and watch your sponsored animal go about it daily routine.
Contrary to popular belief given that I work in television and I am so to speak a people person I’m actually very comfortable in my own skin in my own mind in my own company so I found it overwhelming the amount of people that have wanted to FaceTime me or want me to join house party and I think at times felt self-centred but actually that’s just how I am wired so for those of you who are like me who are quite happy being on their own I would definitely tell your Friends and family if you are feeling overwhelmed and maybe just schedule a few calls a week and reassure them that you are doing okay.
Do you prefer home cooking or take-outs? And what will be your go-to foods during this time? Any tips on this?
Until my kitchen was adapted I couldn’t really cook at all so now that my kitchen has been adapted I’m very keen on cooking although when you live on your own you can become very lazy I’m sure many people are the same.
Because I live in the city I have so many restaurants and takeaway is just a click away so I do you have to catch myself and I’ve deleted a number of fast food delivery service apps on several occasions.
What I really need in my life is a man that can cook for me!!!!
What are your tips for our incredibly inspirational NHS force when they come home from a shift?
Please make sure that you have a break from the news I found that each weekend I’ve not turned on my television to watch any news this may seem strange and some irresponsible but as I have struggled with depression and anxiety over the years I need to safeguard my mental health. The same goes for our NHS heroes you have to safeguard your own well-being because if you aren’t well then you can’t be expected to look after anyone else.
Please don’t feel like you are a burden or that you can’t reach out to people to ask for help. Granted we have seen the worst of humanity over the past few weeks but also with seen how wonderful humans can be so after a long day of challenging circumstances please know that there are many many others that will be there for you in a heartbeat.
Do you have any stories that people can take inspiration from?
I would just like to end on this note and hopefully people will take something away from it please understand that voluntary isolation is actually a privilege many people elderly and disabled are excluded isolated daily because of discrimination prejudice lack of accessible homes lack of awareness lack of empathy.
Once we eventually resume some form of normality people like myself will still not be able to leave their homes find work take public transport because of an accessibility negative stereotypical attitudes so if I want anyone to take something away from this time we have in isolation is that maybe you can now truly empathise with the disability community on a small level and now having this information be an ally to people like me.
Thank you Samantha, you are so right. We must all be allies, it’s a time to come together and be a unit and a community. We, as a country, can grow together from this – we are definitely stronger together.