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    The business founder and digital marketing expert on finding new routines and seeking advice from her peers

    As we seek to rebuild and revive our vibrant City of London community spirit, this autumn The Royal Exchange has partnered with the charity Mind in the City to explore mental health and the important role relationships, conversation, connection and community play in wellbeing. Here, we talk to Abby Ghafoor – the founder and CEO of Arc Management and the co-founder and managing director of Refine Events – about how she maintains a clear mind and a work-life balance.

    What activities, habits or rituals have you found to be the most conducive to maintaining good mental health through challenging times?

    These challenging times have certainly brought out more chaos. Initially, I had difficulty controlling the home-work life and finding a perfect balance. I decided to recreate my routines and rituals for keeping a clear mind. I made a list of what makes me happy and I schedule it in to do at least one of those a day. At the start of the day, I spend 10 minutes reflecting on what I am grateful for, and I create a list of things that I plan to achieve for the day. I have found that having some background music on when I am working allows me to focus. At the end of the working day I go for a 20-minute walk to get some fresh air, which helps me to unwind and relax.

    Who is your go-to person when you need to talk about a problem or challenge you are facing?

    I do not have one person but am extremely fortunate to have an amazing network of friends, colleagues and family. I have a WhatsApp ‘lean in group’ consisting of a group of very influential professional women. Once a week, I have a catch-up with a member, sharing positive thoughts as well as getting advice when needed.

    When you feel low, what activity helps you to feel better?

    We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and one thing that I have come to realise is that happiness is a choice and it is in our power to let things go. When I have a low moment, I stop whatever I am doing and focus on something different. This could be a spontaneous visit, a call to a friend, or escaping in one of my favourite playlists. I always find myself coming back feeling refreshed and positive.

    I have come to realise is that happiness is a choice and it is in our power to let things go

    What have you learnt from the experience of lockdown?

    There have been many lessons that lockdown has taught me. My biggest has certainly been giving myself more ‘me’ time, which has changed the relationship I have with myself. I have learnt to be more comfortable in my own skin, as well as giving myself much more attention.

    Did you learn any new skills or take up any new hobbies that you’ll continue to embrace going forwards?

    Recently, I have picked up a skill that has allowed me to focus more on my creative side. I discovered that painting enables me to express my thoughts and visions on a canvas. I must add that I am no Picasso or Van Gogh, however I use painting to mind dump on a canvas.

    Have the events of 2020 changed your thoughts and feelings towards a work-life balance and is there anything you’ll do differently now?

    I have been extremely fortunate to be in an industry that’s mainly digital, meaning we have not stopped working throughout this pandemic. Working exceptionally harder than I have ever worked left my home-life disorganised. The lockdown meant that my home and work environments merged together, making it much harder to maintain a perfect balance between the two. Pre-Covid, my work, social and family life were more separate, making it much easier to maintain a balance. What I have started to do differently is to be stricter with my working day and the time I spend with family and friends.

    How would you define the new normal and what does it look like for you?

    Prior to Covid, the expectation from customers and business associates was to have face-to-face discussions. There is a current acceptance that a majority of my meetings are now online and over video and phone. For me, working with the team remotely had its challenges, but we learned from the experience and now the way we work is more streamlined and more efficient.

    Abby Ghafoor is the founder and CEO of Arc Management Consulting, a marketing agency, with bases in London and Paris, and the co-founder and managing director of Refine Events. Originally from Hackney, she now lives in Essex;;

    Images taken at 10 Trinity Square members club; photography by Trent McMinn; hair and make up by Dil Matharu

    The Royal Exchange’s local Mind network – Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest – offers a range of innovative and collaborative services to support people’s mental and physical wellbeing, resilience and recovery. Click here for further information about how to access this local service, make a donation or find out how you could help with campaigning, volunteering and fundraising 

    Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest is part of the national Mind network, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing difficulties, visit to access information about a broad range of topics and services, designed to help you overcome the challenges of this difficult time 

    Visit The Royal Exchange this autumn to celebrate the vitality of community and rediscover the joy of sensory experiences within our welcoming boutiques and eateries. Read more about our Reconnect campaign here and let us know how you are reconnecting with the world on Instagram @theroyalexchange and Twitter @rexshopper