New book provides unique and fascinating record of life under lockdown

Queen Mary University of London

The A4 fully illustrated book is a collaborative neighbourhood initiative that documents the lived experience of 45 households on two adjoining streets and the nearby estate in Hackney between mid-March and mid-June 2020.

Families, newly formed couples, young people in shared households and single pensioners including one who has lived in her home for 89 years all recount stories of their survival strategies during lockdown.

Stay Home Stories

Many of the book’s themes are core to the research project Stay Home Stories, involving Queen Mary University of London and museums in London and Liverpool, which explores how the pandemic has changed our relationship to home.

Photographer Eithne Nightingale was unsure how her neighbours would respond to her “rather incongruous” idea to be photographed holding objects that had sustained them during lockdown.

Damian, one of the residents admitted, “There was something odd about sitting on the steps of our house on a sunny day displaying objects that somehow represented my coronavirus experience. We’re just 10 minutes away from Homerton Hospital, where hundreds, maybe thousands, have been treated in intensive care, on the edge of life, and I was holding a toothbrush and hair clippers.”

Most rose to the idea including members of one household who had met at a music festival in Bulgaria. “As we’ve been padlocked out of festivals this year; we took this opportunity to wear funky, festival clothes.”

A sense of community

The book was initially published for the residents and local archives and museums, but it has proved so popular there is now a second edition. “I’ve read it cover to cover and Paul is reading it now. We both think it is a beautiful idea”, said Alison and Paul Holberton of Paul Holberton Publishing. “Not only is it a beautiful-looking book, the sense of a cosmopolitan community at peace with itself is marvellous. A book unlikely ever to appear in suburbia. Wonderful”, added Hugh Sockett, father of resident.

Families spoke of the difficulties of juggling work and home schooling. A household of paramedics posed in their uniforms holding an Australian flag, a huge dog at their feet. Cristina admitted, “It’s been difficult not knowing when we’ll be able to return to Australia to see the family… Baloo, our rescue dog, has seen us through our worst days”.

A knitted, masked Covid nurse on a rainbow pillow hung from a doorknob. “I spent my night breaks in tears while patients were gasping for air,” said Mike, a nurse working on a Covid ward. His sister had knitted the doll to see her brother through the pandemic. Zak regretted that, “We weren’t able to mark Ramadan in the same way.” Gina, aged nine, missed hugging people and Juno, aged six, feared the coronavirus would never go away.

Initially Sam had BBC news rolling in the background but stopped as it made her feel powerless. Others continued to engage. “We’ve despaired at grave mistakes made by the government “said Helen and Sandy. Myfanwy, studying at Sheffield University thought, “The government must find a way to compensate students including financially. John hoped “a more equal, inclusive and kinder society can emerge.”

New experiences, new skills

Not all experiences have been negative. People have learnt new skills, shown resilience and supported each other. Natasha admitted, “Gardening is now a passion. My children never got this attention.” Zahi, aged 13, thought, “We [his family] get on even better than when we’re out of quarantine.” Jenny was grateful for the support she had received. “Neighbourly help and the strong sense of community have taken the sadness out of shielding.”

Joyce, who had gone no further than her doorstep for nine weeks, chose which neighbour she asked to do her shopping. “Donna is a vegetarian, so I ask someone else if I want a nice lamb steak.”

More information

Life Under Lockdown, Mehetabel Road and Isabella Road, Hackney 2020 is now available for sale from Pages independent bookshop. Profits go toward Hackney Giving and Hackney Migrant Centre.

If you would like to contribute to the Museum of the Home’s Stay Home Collection go to the Stay Home Stories project website or The Museum of the Home.

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