Jo Goodman is co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. During the pandemic, Jo lost her father Stuart at the start of the first lockdown. Through Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, Jo campaigned to ensure the voices of bereaved families were heard, organised the National Covid Memorial Wall along the South Bank in London, and was instrumental to ensuring a Covid inquiry took place.
Could you tell us about how Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice came together?
I lost my dad very early on in the pandemic. He was 72 with various health problems; he had heart failure, was diabetic, mildly asthmatic, and undergoing cancer diagnosis. There’s this perception that the vulnerable people lost to Covid “were going to die anyway” or had less to live for but on the day my dad returned from the hospital appointment where we think he caught Covid, he’d just received the first copies of his first published book. He had so much to live for.
A journalist wrote a story about my dad’s death and Matt Fowler, who had also lost his dad to Covid, had written a comment underneath it. We decided to start a Facebook group for bereaved families that eventually became the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign.
What compelled you to take action and pursue justice?
Around the time my dad died, the main emotion I felt was anger – his death wasn’t an inevitability and I believed it could have been prevented. There were all of these memorial pages on Facebook with pictures of people lost to Covid, but I thought, “I don’t want my dad to be on a memorial site. My dad should still be alive.” I felt angry, and Matt felt angry, and we both wanted to do something to hold the government to account and to try to stop more lives being lost needlessly.
When you first formed the group what were you hoping to achieve?
From the very beginning, we knew we needed an inquiry. We didn’t trust that the government had acted in the best interests of the country and believed the only way we could get to the truth would be to get an inquiry.
You were met with some resistance from government at first. Why do you think that was?
We were inconvenient. Boris Johnson wanted photo-calls, to visit hospitals, and building sites with hard-hats on and to be able to talk about getting back to business as usual, and we wouldn’t let him do that and because of that, he tried to paint us as politically-motivated activists rather than bereaved families looking for answers and change.
Campaigning after a bereavement must have been really difficult for you. How did you manage campaigning and grieving at the same time?
We didn’t, really. . We were campaigning so hard and life was so different, that didn’t really leave much space for grieving – though for me and I think many others, the campaign has also been a way of channelling our grief. There’s been a lot of research done into Covid and delayed grief, and I still often feel like I haven’t fully processed what happened.
Earlier this month, you gave evidence to the Covid-19 inquiry. What was that experience like for you?
It was very challenging. A very limited number of bereaved families were invited to speak to the inquiry, so I felt pressure to speak for the people that weren’t able to be there. The thing I have struggled the most with was that I had expected to be able to speak about my dad and who he was, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that. I felt like I did the campaign justice, but I hadn’t done my dad justice and that was really hard.
What do you hope will come out of the inquiry?
The truth. From the beginning, we believed that the government was not always prioritising people’s health. We’re not looking for an apology for that – that would be meaningless. We want to make sure that the right lessons are learned from the pandemic so that the government, the NHS, and care homes are better equipped in the event of another pandemic.
What has your campaigning taught you about how to make change?
Listen to people with lived experience. Three years before the inquiry, bereaved families were giving evidence to the APPG on Covid that the government could have learned from then if they’d been willing to listen. Also, you might feel like a broken record but having one message and sticking to it makes all the difference. When Boris Johnson refused to meet us, we kept making noise and banging the same drum until he was eventually backed into a corner by his own lies.
Are there any campaigns out there that have really inspired you?
I have massive admiration for Led by Donkeys. We collaborated with them on the National Covid Memorial Wall and they supported us with things like projecting videos of bereaved family members speaking onto the Houses of Parliament. They’re so good at elevating the voices of people with lived experience and really take the time to understand where people are coming from and how they feel.
What’s next for you, Jo?
Maybe a bit of self-care? More work-life balance. Well, more campaign-work-life balance! We’ll see if I manage it…