Good Causes

Eden Project’s free online festival is ‘antidote to lockdown’

Dr Amit Patel was 33 when he woke up to find he had completely lost his sight. A series of blood vessels at the back of his eyes had burst, leaving him blind and deeply fearful about the future.

He said, “I was a trauma doctor. I was busy all the time and I loved the adrenaline rush. Everything I’d worked for disappeared within 36 hours. I came home from work one day and never went back.”

Dr Patel, 40, rebuilt his life with the help of his wife, Seema, and a remarkable assistance dog called Kika. His journey – from despair to fulfilment as the father of two young children – will be recounted when he appears at The Festival of Discovery which runs from 20-21 November 2020.

The event, made possible by funding from The National Lottery, is The Eden Project’s first online festival. Sir Tim Smit, the co-founder of the Eden Project, describes it as the “perfect antidote to lockdown” – a way of helping people connect through lively discussions, fun demonstrations and inspiring stories.

Speakers range from celebrity entertainers like Eddie Izzard and Jo Brand to Esther Mujawayo, who helped rebuild shattered lives and communities in Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide. The long-distance cyclist Mark Beaumont will talk about resilience and Greg Whyte OBE, the former Olympian who helped train David Walliams for his swim across the English Channel, will share some of his motivational secrets.

Dr Patel will take part in a live discussion of the importance of community, a topic that became incredibly important to him after he lost his sight. He said, “I felt I wasn’t part of any community – I felt very isolated and very alone.”

After attending a street party in Hackney, London as part of the annual Big Lunch – an Eden Project initiative made possible by funding from The National Lottery – Dr Patel decided to organise a similar gathering for his neighbours in Greenwich. The event, which took place 2nd June 2019, attracted more than 150 people.

Dr Patel, 40, said, “People were a bit sceptical about [the street party] at first but we had an amazing day. The thing that put a smile on my face was when the 80-year-old lady who lives across the street came up to me a week after the party and said, ‘My diary is full!’”.

The connections forged by the street party proved essential when the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020. Dr Patel said, “We knew who was likely to be isolating and we delivered bread, milk and groceries to each other. My 4-year-old son planted 300 sunflowers and distributed them to neighbours just to cheer them up.”

Dr Patel said the pandemic has proved the importance of strong communities and the importance of supporting each other. He said, “People have lost their social lives and in some cases a loved one. It’s important to realise it’s OK to talk about these things and it’s OK to feel bad. I used to waste so much energy putting a smile on my face for everyone around me and forget about looking after myself. I don’t think that way any more.”

The Festival of Discovery is a free event, but participants must register by visiting Dr Amit Patel’s session is at 1pm on 21st November.

18th November 2020

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