DURING these difficult days of the lockdown, dozens of vulnerable people are receiving pretty, hand-painted cards, with thoughtful letters inside – reassuring them, and asking if they are coping.

The cards are being illustrated with watercolours, and posted by a 76-year-old woman, living alone in North Yorkshire, and, like everyone else, wondering how long it will last.

She is Joan Lawrence, mother of Claudia Lawrence, the York chef, who has been missing since 2009, with no sign of a breakthrough.

Painting the cards, and posting them to bereaved, elderly, lonely, and disabled people – as well as other families with missing loved ones – is Joan’s way of dealing with her own isolation.

“I like to keep myself busy, to take my mind off things, but not being able to do all the normal things makes it harder,” says Joan, speaking from her flat in Malton.

“Using my art, and designing cards for people, who might be feeling down, is a therapy for me, and, hopefully, it helps them too. I’m not at all digital so it’s my way of sending a message of support.”

Despite the nightmare of not knowing what has happened to Claudia, it is typical of Joan to be thinking of others.

In normal times, she has a weekly schedule: on Tuesdays she does “ballet keep fit” at the Kirkham Henry Dance School, in Malton; she meets friends for coffee on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and she goes to church on Sundays.

There’s also the Ladies’ Luncheon Club that meets monthly in Pickering, and she loves to visit her hometown of Darlington for reunions with former work colleagues..

Coronavirus has put paid to just about all of that – taking away the routine that is so important to this remarkably resilient woman as she strives to keep Claudia’s memory in the public eye, in the desperate hope that someone might have an answer.

“I try to stay positive, and have a daily walk, but I’m finding it an extremely difficult time,” she says.

“Not a day goes by when I don’t wake up thinking of Claudia, and now I’m wondering if she’s out there somewhere with the virus, and that’s an extra worry because she had glandular fever as a child, and is prone to infections.

“All sorts of things go through your mind but, as a mother, you worry if she’s at risk, and, if she caught it, I can’t hold her hand, can I? The worry never goes away but I have to think of her as being alive because once the hope’s gone, I might as well give up altogether.”

There’s the added frustration of being unable to visit her other daughter, Ali, and two grandsons in Derbyshire.

So, Joan, a former Malton Mayor, distracts herself by making her cards of comfort for others. If she hears about someone who may be feeling isolated, they are sent a card, with painted flowers, or animals.

And the love comes back. She recently received a card from a little girl at the local Sunday School. It had a bunny on the front and read: “To Joan, Easter blessings to you – love from Bethany, aged nine.”

“That made my day,” she says.

Joan is also continuing to work with the Missing People charity, and has made her phone number available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to anyone needing to talk about a loved one who has disappeared.

Serving as a councillor on Malton Town Council is another welcome distraction, although meetings these days are restricted to telephone conference calls.

“I miss the human contact because, ever since Claudia went missing, I’ve done my best to get out and about and see people,” she says.

Two years ago, Joan lost her hair due to alopecia, thought to have been caused by the stress of Claudia’s disappearance. Typically, she talked publicly about wearing a wig in the hope it would help remove the stigma around hair-loss.

“I get two wigs a year – one for winter and another for spring. I’m due a new one but I can’t even go and get that!” she laughs.

Before the telephone interview ends, Joan has a question: Can I get her an address for Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year-old war veteran and national treasure, who has raised almost £30m for the NHS?

“I want to send him one of my cards for his 100th birthday,” she says.

NOT that I fall into the vulnerable bracket by any of the official criteria, but one of Joan’s cards arrived at my house last week.

“I was just wondering if you are coping OK? It can’t be easy,” she’d written at the top.

She adds that she’s sorry she hadn’t been able to make the latest work reunion in Darlington on April 9, not least because she was hoping to pop into the covered market to buy some fresh fruit from Robin Blair’s stall.

The card she sent is pictured, bottom left, and the illustration on the front is of purple tulips. They happen to be Claudia’s favourite colour and flower.

The Northern Echo:

CREATIVE grandparents is a bit of a theme this week.

Ann and Malcolm Hunter have also been in touch to tell me about how they’re passing time during the lockdown.

Ann and Malcolm, who live in Newton Aycliffe, have a four-year-old grandson, called Jack, who lives 30 miles away in Newcastle.

Every day, Jack sets Ann and Malcolm a challenge – they have to make a different Lego model, then they compare their efforts later on Skype.

So far, their creations include The Angel of the North, Big Ben, a train, circus, aeroplane, castle, robot, and even a pizza parlour.

“We never know what might be coming next, but it’s certainly keeping us going,” says Ann.

”We look forward to a new one each day, and we’re having great fun. We’re always judged on our attempts but, needless to say, Jack always wins!”

Never mind lockdown – it sounds more like Newton Aycliffe’s in ‘blockdown’.

The Northern Echo:

AT the risk of this page needing disinfecting, I can’t let last week pass without a word about another grandparent – Donald Trump, who somehow became President of America.

He’s got me wondering...could eating a bar of soap, washing it down with hot water, then rolling around on the floor to build up a good lather, while singing Happy Birthday twice, be a cure for coronavirus?

Seriously, the world needs to wash its hands of the crackpot in The White House.

PLEASE get in touch to let me know what you are up to during the lockdown, especially if you are doing something to help the NHS and other key workers. I’d love to hear from you at peter.barron@nne.co.uk.

In the meantime, stay safe.