The Stories

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Lockdown Landscapes was all about telling stories, helping us to understand the real lived experiences of people during the pandemic. 

As part of the project we recruited and trained a group of Heritage volunteers, equipping them with skills that they needed to collect oral histories of people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. These oral histories will be catalogued and archived at the Arboretum, helping people to learn about the ways in which different people experienced the outdoors during lockdowns, and enabling us to engage even more people with the Lockdown Landscapes project in the future.

 As we collected people’s stories, repeating themes began to emerge. By looking at these stories we can start to see the things that we all have in common, which experiences were shared, and which were unique to each person’s circumstances. Some of those themes and stories are explored here.

 

Warning: Some of the stories featured below discuss themes connected to the pandemic that may be traumatising for some people

Change

For better or worse, change was something that we all experienced during the pandemic. This could mean changes in the people that you saw each day, changes in the places that you visited, or how you experienced those places, changes in the way that you felt, or changes in the way you looked at things.

“I was single before the pandemic, but in a long term relationship, but we both had our own houses. But we decided just to lock down together rather than locked down separately. And he's still here. So basically, we just thought was easier for two of us to lock down together rather than to you know, absolutely continue seeing each other but over the phone or whatever. And so we just braved it. And in the end, we decided it worked.”
“It really taught me like how to be by myself. You didn’t have the support of seeing people every day, which is really difficult. So you really have to like enjoy your alone time. And I think I did manage to do that in lockdown. So that was nice. And it really taught me like how important family is. Seeing them all the time and spending most time with them.”

Health

Naturally, the pandemic brought with it a lot of concerns surrounding our health, or the health of loved ones. Covid-19 led to the loss of loved ones, reduced access to essential healthcare, a national crisis in anxiety and struggles with mental wellbeing – the consequences of fear, loneliness, and feelings of isolation. Essential support groups were prevented from meeting in person, leading to serious consequences for those struggling with issues such as addiction. Young people suffered the mental and emotional effects of separation from their friends.

On the other hand, thanks to the hard work of our NHS and volunteers around the nation, the vaccination programme gave us all hope that lockdowns would soon end. Some of us even felt that the pandemic gave us more time to exercise, with its opportunities to head outdoors, breathe the fresh air and move our bodies

“I didn’t know it was Covid, I wasn't well, and I was in bed. I'd got a terrible cough. Very chesty. I think it was when you breathed in. You were struggling with your breath and I rang 111. And they said, ring 999 and I was whisked off very quickly to be fair. They were really quick.”
“I had to attend all my antenatal appointments by myself and my partner couldn't attend those. So that was quite difficult. Sometimes we had no sort of birthing classes or anything like that. So I felt like I went into the birth blind because COVID had such an impact and everything shutting down.”

Keeping busy

For many people, the pandemic presented new opportunities to develop new skills, start new projects, explore our outdoor heritage, learn, craft, and bake (banana bread, anyone?). Things that we would normally do together turned virtual, and some activities such as team sports couldn’t take place at all.

“I think I just got a little bit obsessed with baking. And I remember when I was younger, my mom used to say to me, oh, you know, lots of lots of children, lots of daughters, they, they learn how to bake, and you never learned how to bake. And I was like, I'm not that kind of daughter anyway, I don't want to start baking cakes. And you know, that's just some boring activity. And then I just got obsessed with it. And I didn't realise how good I was. I made the most fantastic cakes, with orange and chocolate cake, upside down orange and chocolate cake.”
“My wife and stepson both worked for the NHS. So they left at eight o'clock every morning. So I was left alone in the house, which was quite tough to start off with, it was so unusual. So yeah, I was on my own for eight, nine hours of the day. So every day I would go for walks. But generally I was indoors, watching telly or puzzles reading that type of thing.”

Connecting with the outdoors

New reasons to head outside provided people with the chance to see outdoor heritage in new ways, finding new perspectives on places that they had visited before and new experiences in places they had not. Outdoor spaces and places that previously held little or no meaning to us became increasingly important, representing precious moments spent away from the isolation of the indoors.

People took the time to relish in the sensory experiences of the outdoors, noticing the sounds of animals, footsteps on the ground, rushing water and wind in the tress. They also noticed the absence of other sounds, with the noise of aeroplanes and cars often being conspicuously absent.

“My friends and I kind of all have bikes. So, we met up early during COVID, because it was two-meter distance when cycling really. So, we just decided to cycle through various locations. So, it'd be one day we did all the football stadiums in London, just to visit that. And then it was just to visit like monuments. We would go through all the bridges, and seeing how many we could do – Richmond. Just places that we wouldn't necessarily go.”
“It was actually really beautiful. Like I didn't really appreciate how nice it was just being able to like leave my house...It was nice seeing like nature again. And yeah, I guess you don't really like know how important something is until you can't do it.”
“During this time I found loads of little spots that became like my favourite spots. I found this little hidden woodland walk that you could do that started from Cannon Hill Park, and then it leads you up to Holders wood.”

The world of school and work

The pandemic brought with it new ways of working, with those who were able carrying out their duties remotely, online. Some people were furloughed, and others, such as key workers in essential services such as healthcare, shops and food production, had no choice but to continue to work in person.

Businesses felt the strain of what felt like endless lockdowns, with some people facing losses of income that would never be recovered as the nation moved back towards normality.

Young people were some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with remote learning having an impact on their education. From primary schools to universities, methods of learning were turned on their head to reduce the spread of the virus. 

“That impacted me a lot. I remember like crying a lot when I found out because I had worked so hard. But I was so scared that I wasn't going to get the grades because there was nothing to like prove how much I'd worked hard.”
“I got up in the morning, I pretended that I'm going to work. I had a good top on, and pajamas and then sat in front of a screen. We had zoom meetings and things like that. And we had a separate telephone system where we could call our patients and laptops were given to us so that we could work from home as well.”

Coming together

Whether volunteering to deliver groceries and medication, helping with the roll out the Covid-19 vaccine, or carrying out the work necessary to keep the country running, people all over the Nation went above and beyond to help those in need. Neighbours and local communities came together, offering support to those who needed it most.

The connections that we shared with others in our households took on new importance during the pandemic. Those that were shielding or isolating alone often had to make do with speaking to people virtually, or from the safety of a window, depriving them of the human contact that people sorely need.

We found new ways of connecting with people, through virtual meetings, across fences in our back gardens or metres apart from each other on walks. The outdoors became a lifeline for many people who felt isolated in their own homes. Whether in parks, gardens or out on the streets, outdoor spaces were the first places in which we were able to come together again.

“So we went up to our pharmacy, and it's a small village pharmacy, we know the pharmacist or the main pharmacists there. And we just said, Look, you know, if you're stuck, we will volunteer for you give us a reason to go out for a walk every day. So rather than take months, go through all police checks, etc. We did it on a private basis, we gave them up permission to give our telephone number out. And at first, we had probably about 15 people.”
“What did affect me was that my mum who was 89 in the December before we went into the first lockdown and lived in Chester. During the first three months I couldn't see her at all. She's got no computers or anything so everything was by phone.”
“So I didn't have anybody, just my dog. And the joke was, now this was after a while we could actually take dogs for a walk locally… And I met this other dog walker. And he said to me, ‘Oh, how did you manage during COVID?’ I said, ‘Oh, fine. I was fine. I just talked to my dog all the time.’ And this chap said to me, he said, ‘Oh I can tell because when your dog barks, he's got a Scottish twang.’”

Lasting legacies

Some people feel as though Covid-19 has changed their outlook on life entirely, carrying some of the habits that they developed during the pandemic into the future with them. Others feel that some effects of the pandemic, such as remote, flexible working practices, have enabled them to lead a better quality of life, spending more time with loved ones.

People whose physical and mental health was most strongly impacted by Covid-19 are still experiencing the effects of the pandemic, with the feelings of uncertainty that many of us have left behind still very much being part of their lives. 

The pandemic was a historical moment for all of us, and forever transformed the ways in which we engage with our outdoor spaces and heritage, as well as the ways in which we connect with each other.

“It was a good time for me to be fair! Thank God, no one in my family passed from Covid. I had a good time. Showed my character, what I want to be, and who I am as a person.”
“We don't go and get as close together. We're far more careful with ventilation now. A lot of things haven't gone back after COVID to how they were before. It's amazing really. To think of us all stuck in one little meeting room in the middle of winter with all the windows shut. But now you’re zooming meetings more and more.”

The stories explored here represent just a selection of those that were collected by Lockdown Landscapes as a whole, with the entire archive of oral histories being publicly accessible at the Arboretum. If you'd like to visit us and hear more of the recordings, please get in touch with us at heritage@thenma.org.uk for more information.  
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