THE mother of missing York chef Claudia Lawrence is devoting her time during the lockdown to comforting vulnerable people despite being trapped in a nightmare of her own.

Joan Lawrence, 76, who lives alone in a North Yorkshire flat, admits that being in isolation is making the disappearance of Claudia 11 years ago “even harder to deal with”.

But she is spending her time hand-painting cards and sending them, with reassuring letters, to bereaved, elderly, lonely, and disabled people.

Joan is also supporting the Missing People charity, making her telephone number available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to support anyone having to cope with the disappearance of a loved one.

“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 than ever to deal with,” said Joan, speaking from her home in Malton.

“Using my art, and designing the 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.”

Joan has so far sent out scores of the cards, with watercolour illustrations of flowers and animals.

In normal times, she has a weekly routine, including “ballet keep fit”, meeting friends for coffee, and going to church on Sundays.

She is also a member of a Ladies’ Luncheon Club that meets monthly in nearby Pickering, and she loves to visit her hometown of Darlington for regular reunions with former work colleagues.

Coronavirus has put paid to all of that – taking away the routine that is so important to her as she strives to keep Claudia’s memory in the public eye in the hope that someone, somewhere might have an answer.

Claudia, who worked as a chef at York University, has not been seen since vanishing in March 2009.

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

“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. 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.”

Joan has the added frustration of not being able to visit her other daughter, Ali, and two grandchildren in Derbyshire.

“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.

So, Joan, a former Mayor of Malton, distracts herself by making her cards of comfort for others.

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.

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 the winter and another for spring. I’m due a new one but I can’t even go and get that!” she said.

Joan is now planning to send one of her cards to Captain Tom Moore to mark the 100th birthday of the war veteran, who has raised almost £30 million for the NHS by completing 100 laps of his garden.

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