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Are we seeing the weak signals of an alternative future?

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As C.S.Lewis observed: ‘Day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different.’ This is true for most people most of the time, because life is experienced in a context of normality. But after the last few extraordinary months that have plunged all of us into a new context, what will we see when we look back?

It’s far too early to answer this question. But to help make sense of our post-Covid-19 world, we have followed the highs and lows of 15 UK households during what has perhaps been the most abnormal period of our lifetimes. The longitudinal method, involving an in-depth video interview every week for 6 weeks, meant we got to know the sample very well and the analysis tells a story of our very instinctive, human response when life turns upside down.

We observed how people have processed the sudden change to their lives through the ‘5 stages of lockdown’: Shock – Adapt – Reflect – Question – Readjust.

Each stage is distinct and leaves us with questions about the legacy of the lockdown.

  • Has the shock left us with lasting anxiety about the health – and the wealth – of the nation? And if so, how will this change us? Will we stay fitter, lose weight, save more – make ourselves more resilient?
  • Most adapted quickly to the new world – and found reasons to be positive in the solidarity of communities and novelty of Zoom calls. Did we collectively learn something from this time? Are we better connected – both off- and online?
  • Lockdown gave us time to reflect about work-life balance, spending habits, career plans, retirement goals, our loved ones, the environment, key workers and those having a worse time of it than us. From here, will we try to create different and better lives for ourselves and others?
  • As the weeks ticked on there was palpable frustration and signs of restlessness: initially compliant and supportive of the restrictions, now we questioned the government, the media, the social inequalities of the virus. Are we reframing our expectations of our leaders and policy makers?
  • And then the prospect of release – we must readjust from being at home to being alert. While the younger generation were raring to go, most others were reticent. Have we lost our nerve to live our old life? Have we grown too accustomed to the safety of home?

This project has given us insight into the inner thoughts of a nation through the early weeks of lockdown. Our respondents couldn’t say for sure what will change; however, the weak signals of an alternative future will surely lie in their early reflections. The social disruption and heightened uncertainty have led many to review their usual habits and priorities – and almost all told us they intend to make changes.

You can see the full report here: Exploring life under lockdown inside Britain’s households.

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