Riviera Travel tour guide Becky Cato has decided to upskill by learning sign language while she isn’t working due to lockdown. She tells Abra Dunsby her story
When lockdown began in March and tour guide Becky Cato’s tours were cancelled, she decided to use some of the extra time she had while at home in North Yorkshire to learn sign language.
Becky, who has worked as a self-employed guide for Riviera Travel for 11 years and usually escorts tours in Andalucía for the operator’s Classical Spain trip, said she’d been thinking about learning sign language for years, after meeting disability awareness trainer Stacey Stockwell on a tour five years ago. The pair became good friends and still stay in touch.
“I’d thought about learning sign language in the past but never got round to it,” explains Becky. “Then in March when I put on Facebook that I was going to be at home for the foreseeable future because my tours were cancelled, Stacey messaged me and asked me if I’d like to do her online sign language course for free.”
The interactive online course on staceystockwelltraining.com comprises 85 three to four-minute video lessons, and Becky has completed around 20 of them so far. “It’s harder than I thought it would be but I’m really enjoying it,” she says.
“You start off by learning the alphabet, then numbers, and now I can put sentences together, such as: ‘Hello, my name is Becky, I live in Yorkshire. Where do you live? What’s your favourite colour’?”
Becky then sends videos of her practising sign language to Stacey, who gets back to her with comments and feedback. “I’d highly recommend it to anyone else stuck at home,” she says. “The course is at a reduced rate during lockdown too.”
As well as providing her with a hobby during lockdown, Becky says she hopes the new skill will come in handy when she returns to work.
“I had one passenger in the past who was deaf and could lip read. I think [sign language] is something nice to have. Who knows, someone deaf might join one of my tours one day and I’ll be able to use it. I think will come in useful.”
She says the course has also helped keep her mind busy during lockdown. “It’s given me something to do besides cleaning and gardening,” she laughs. “When the weather isn’t good and I’m stuck indoors, it keeps me busy, and it’s something to learn. It’s good to keep the mind active.”
Becky is also using the downtime to go for runs and long walks with her partner. “I was meant to be doing a 26-mile McMillan Mighty Hike in Northumberland on the 4 July but it’s been cancelled and will hopefully run in the autumn instead. I’m still keeping up the walking with my partner though,” she says.
Becky has also been brushing up on her Spanish during lockdown using the duolinguo app. “I’m fluent but I realised I hadn’t spoken it since I last worked in November so I’m learning new vocabulary.”
While lockdown is inevitably tough on tour guides like Becky, who are self-employed and often work seasonally, she believes people may return to work with new perspectives and new skills.
“I don’t think [lockdown is] a wasted time if you’re positive and try and do new things. And if you want to learn something like sign language, now is the best time to try it.”
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