The speed of Covid-19 spreading across the country and impact on UK society has turned our lives upside down. Whilst the pandemic is foremost a public health crisis, the Young Foundation is curious to understand how people across the country are dealing with this situation on a personal and community level. In order to find out, we have launched Covid & Me, a study that asks 100 people across the UK from all walks of life to complete a weekly digital diary of their experiences over the next months.
The design of the research study draws on The Young Foundation’s rich heritage of ethnographic research and aims to uncover insight about community experience that wouldn’t be possible from other traditional research methods. Respondents are asked to submit weekly written diary entries to a secure online platform, which allows them to also upload photos, maps, drawings and short survey responses.
Weekly analysis of these submissions is providing a nuanced and changing picture of life across the UK during Covid-19. The method also provides us with the ability to design follow-up tasks and questions for our diary keepers in near ‘real time’, which is essential when government guidance and the effects of Covid are resulting in rapid change for communities.
Emerging insights from the first week of diary entries shows that this crisis could mean a shift in how people conceptualise their ‘community’ and what this community means to them in a time of need.. But first of all…
Who are the people keeping the diaries?
Melanie who just turned 18 is the youngest participant keeping a digital diary She is a student living with her mother and younger sister in London. She says, “I’m worried about my classes, falling behind and not being able to catch up and the impact so much time away from school will have on my exams when they come round.” Whilst spending more time at home, she has been trying to keep her little sister entertained but misses having privacy, seeing her friends from school and her boyfriend.
“I’m worried about my classes, falling behind and not being able to catch up and the impact so much time away from school will have on my exams when they come round.”
Liz is in her seventies and our ‘most mature voice’. She lives by herself in Wales and while she is enjoying eating fewer ready meals and spending more time in her garden, she misses her volunteer roles and not being able to go to the sea. To minimise social contact, she is taking turns with her neighbour in going to the shops, “My neighbour and I do shopping for each other so that only one of us has to go out. Others lucky enough to get an on-line delivery (only Tesco and Asda deliver in this area) have added a few items for neighbours.”
As respondents describe various coping mechanisms – from producing baked goods and watching box sets to making use of the daily hour for outdoor exercise, for some it is more difficult to have to stay at home. Florence became a grandmother shortly before the lockdown was announced and is frustrated and upset at having only been able to see her granddaughter for one week: “I am sticking to the rules, which has been very hard as all I want to do is kiss and hug my children and grandchildren, but the thought that I could maybe pass anything on to them and endanger them is reason enough to stay away.” In the past, she suffered a mental health crisis which prevented her from leaving the house. Since the lockdown, she has only left the house when accompanied by her husband and says “this concerns me as to what I will be like when I can go out alone and restart my life. I am afraid that I am taking steps backwards which scares me as I don’t wish to go back to how I used to be.”
“I am sticking to the rules, which has been very hard as all I want to do is kiss and hug my children and grandchildren, but the thought that I could maybe pass anything on to them and endanger them is reason enough to stay away.”
How has people’s work/ life balance changed?
Many office workers have had to adapt to working from home which puts a particular burden on people with children who now have to juggle work and childcare. Debbie shares her experience of looking after her primary school aged child whilst doing work, “It’s the Easter holidays, I’m working from home yet my child is reluctant to do school work. I signed him up to Minecraft realms this morning so he could play online with a friend while I had a meeting. Thank you, Minecraft!”
Kim who shares the dining table with her partner to work from home says, “This is where my partner and I spend most of our days at the moment – trying to work from our tiny dining table! It’s good that we have a space we can dedicate to this (we don’t often eat at the table) but it’s a little sad that it’s in the living room where we also want to relax, and that it’s so small and has to have both of us in the same room. If we had a desk in the bedroom, or an additional room in the flat, things would be easier.”
Whilst working from home requires some flexibility, a variety of respondents commented on how this has opened up new possibilities for life after lockdown. Louise says “I work full time at home now as do the rest of the company I work for. This has been enlightening as it’s working quite well in general. adjusting to new ways if working and getting the logistics right for my team have been challenging but new technology has been amazing and we’ve all embraced it.”
Ijeoma is a key worker and still going to work, she says “as a key worker in a care facility, I am still able to devote some of my time in helping out people who need extra care. Strict hygienic practices are now embedded and my perception towards life has changed. We don’t know what the future holds, we should try to positively impact life as this is what matters.”
“As a key worker in a care facility, I am still able to devote some of my time in helping out people who need extra care.”
Karen who is in the most vulnerable group, says she feels “shielded” and her family strictly sticks to the social distancing rules. She is trying to get their shopping delivered but says, “I can’t get a supermarket slot despite being on the vulnerable list.” She has also recently been put on furlough, saying she is “missing my work persona and there has been some confusion over working from home and furloughing. I was eventually furloughed on Friday so now under strict instructions not to get involved with work at all. This is both quite weird and quite nice, once I have got used to the idea.”
What are people doing with their spare time during lockdown?
Karen keeps herself and her two children and husband busy and reports still feeling connected to her community. “I am very restricted with access to my community as I am advised not to leave the house. I can sit on the front step and talk to neighbours at a safe distance and the same across our back yards. A positive has been friends and neighbours helping out with shopping etc whilst we were in quarantine.” She has also played tennis with her son in the garden and enjoys that this lockdown meant her teenage children would agree to play board games with their parents!
Our digital diaries also help explain why supermarket shelves have been empty of eggs and flour. Many report starting to bake during the lockdown. Linda is combining this with keeping in touch with her community by doing an online baking class. She describes her below photo “This represents my wider, online community. At present, this is my lifeline! Here, I am enjoying an online baking group, learning how to make a new type of bread and interacting with some lovely people, most of whom I did not know before…”
Louise has taken the lockdown as an opportunity to dye her hair pink, Karen says “I’ve got my reading head back and have really been enjoying books, and sharing these with my son and also with online communities.” John says it is “it is amazing how quickly time passes” when he organises photos he has taken in past trips. Fiona enjoys walking along the river banks in her Scottish village.
How do people feel about their communities?
A variety of respondents say they miss the way community manifested in the past, like going to the pub, meeting friends or taking part in community activities or seeing public spaces crowded on a sunny bank holiday weekend. At the same time, mutual aid groups emerging across the country make people hopeful and a huge amount of respondents reported being grateful for the NHS’ work as well as moved by the large number of volunteers who offer their help to more vulnerable people where they live. There are also new community activities blossoming online. , Melanie is playing online games with her dad who lives away, others are taking part online choirs and generally there is a motivation to ‘figure out’ how to adapt offline activities.
What would you like to ask our digital ethnographers? Let us know in the comments box below!