I lost my job as a singer – so I’m working in Sainsburys to provide for my kids and help fight corona – The Sun

WHEN single mum Jennifer Hepburn gets ready for work, it's all about the big hair, diamante-encrusted stage outfits and a full face of make up.

That was until the coronavirus pandemic hit – and the 39-year-old, from Forest Hill, London, was forced to swap the stage for the supermarket as she took up a position as a till assistant in Sainsburys.

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She's one of thousands of Brits who have undertaken temporary job swaps to help ease pressure on key industries – and to support themselves in unprecedented financial times.

Two million people in the UK have already lost their jobs to coronavirus, with the crisis said to have wiped out five years of employment growth.

Desperately worried about paying bills and feeding their families, photographers, singers, café workers, pilots, estate agents, sportspeople and even pro darts players are having to take alternative jobs in overrun warehouses, supermarkets and the health service simply to keep their heads above water until the pandemic plays out.

Last week, Tesco revealed that in the previous 10 days it had taken on more than 35,000 temporary workers while Sainsbury’s had taken on an extra 9,000 and hoped to reach 11,000.

Amazon, too, is trying to hire 5,000 additional warehouse workers and drivers, boosting its British workforce to 35,000.

'I now sing in the aisles instead'

Jennifer, who has starred in Cats, Les Miserables and Mamma Mia, says as soon as the virus hit, she was forced to take up a job in her local supermarket to provide for her three kids.

"When COVID-19 struck we were all quite concerned," she tells Sun Online. "We sing very close to each other and partner dance and there’s even kissing – and then there were the packed audiences too.

"When they made the decision to shut down it was still a major shock.

"As a single mum without much financial help I was scared we’d be out on the street. I have a friend who works at Sainsbury’s and she hooked me up with a job two weeks ago and I absolutely love it.

"The people I work with are genuine and lovely and I plan on staying as long as they’ll have me. It’s not as much as the West End would pay, but I am just starting out.

"I do nine-hour shifts starting at 5am, working the tills, manning the queue, helping the online team – very different from my usual job. I spend most of those hours on my feet working and it’s exhausting.

"But I feel proud when I can help someone find what they’re looking for and don’t have to ask a colleague. Everyone at Sainsbury’s is like family and they’ve really welcomed me in.

"Obviously it’s far less glamorous than starring in the West End but I enjoy the challenge of learning new skills and working with people.

"I look forward to the theatres re-opening and getting back to singing on stage but for now I’m happy to just sing in the aisles!"


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'I've given up professional darts to work for the NHS'

But Jennifer isn't the only Brit to have swapped the spotlight for a new job during this pandemic.

Keegan Brown, 27, from Carisbrook in the Isle of Wight is the 30th best player in the country.

He has put his darts career on hold and taken on extra shifts as an assistant in an NHS blood-science lab.

"While playing on the PDC pro tour – a series of darts tournaments for professional players – I tried to work three days a week in my lab assistant job," he tells Sun Online.

"This would normally consist of two full days 9am to 5.30pm and one day from 11am to 8pm. But since the darts calendar has been put on hold I’ve been doing a minimum of five days and the hours can be anything now, including night shifts and also on-call days.

"I figure if the NHS can use my skill set to help or support the service, then I want to offer anything I can to help in the midst of this pandemic. We have all been up-skilling too, to help backfill when people are being forced to take time off.

"The NHS has always had a family-feel but even more so now as we’re working under such different circumstances, something I’ve never experienced.

"My wife Roz is extremely proud of me but also very worried. She worries about everyone!

"But I am so lucky to love both of my jobs. They come with highs and lows and there are times I prefer one to the other, but overall they both make me happy.

"The darts is more full-on, intense and competitive and you’re mostly judged on the last game you played.

"It can be an emotional rollercoaster and you do have to learn to grow a thicker skin.

"Working for the NHS can also be full-on and intense but you’re working as part of a team – rather than on your own – and you do feel like you’re making a difference.

"I’m not practicing my darts as much as I’d like to, but I am still keeping my arm in as much as possible. "Just last night I was playing online darts with some children from a darts academy. The academy contacted me and I was happy to help!"

'I feel part of the greengrocer family'

Leivi Saltman, 25, from North East London, is a professional photographer – but is now working at a greengrocers.

"I’ve been a professional photographer for six years and cover everything from engagements and weddings to charity and corporate events," he tells us.

"A typical day is editing photos, keeping my social media updated and going on location visits to scout out a venue so I can figure out lighting and places to get the best angles and atmosphere.

"Then in the evenings I’m usually out photographing events.

"When I first started hearing about the virus, there wasn’t a massive effect on my work and only one or two jobs were cancelled. But once the government ruled there should be no public gatherings, that pretty much tied my hands. Twenty-five events were cancelled or postponed, which was the majority of my events leading up to July.

"A friend of mine put a post on Facebook that a local greengrocers were looking for help and I thought, ‘'Why not?'"

"I am earning less compared to my photography, but it helps to structure my day and gets me out the house. It’s a full-on day starting at 7am and finishing at around 6pm.

"My typical day is unloading the lorry, which is full of fresh fruit and vegetables bought from the market that morning at 3am.

"Once the lorry is unloaded and put in the fridge, the remaining tasks include stocking up the shop, putting together customer orders and making sure there aren’t any empty shelves or shelves low in produce.

"There’s a lot more manual labour involved than in photography, but it’s surprised me how much I’ve really enjoyed it.

"I like meeting new people each day and being a part of a team rather than working on my own. It feels like I’ve become a part of their family and I’ve learnt a lot about different types of fruit and vegetables and how you should store them.

"Of course, I’ll be going back to photography when the crisis is over, but I will miss the greengrocers too. It’s been an incredible journey."

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