Coronavirus: Eight things that have kept us going in lockdown

Illustration of a boy looking out of a window with plants and a rainbow picture

Coronavirus has forced people around the world to change the way they live their lives. In Britain we have been spending most of our time at home, attempting to educate our own children and leaving the house only for essential reasons. What has kept us going? Here are eight things British people have been doing to cope with life in lockdown.

1. Socialising virtually

With almost half of Britons (48%) reporting that their wellbeing has been affected by the coronavirus crisis, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), large numbers of us have been forced into finding new coping strategies.

Probably unsurprisingly, top of the list of things people say are helping them is staying in touch with friends and family.

Almost eight in 10 respondents (78%) cite contacting important people in their lives over the phone, social media or video conferencing as a key factor in coping while being at home, according to ONS survey data collected at the end of April.

And individuals have also been flocking to a variety of platforms to stay in touch.

Britons are spending more time on social media, with almost half (47%) doing so, according to polling from Ipsos Mori.

And video-conferencing tool Zoom and video-chat app Houseparty have seen huge rises in take-up.

Zoom says its global daily users went from around 10 million in December last year to a massive 300 million in April, while Houseparty has revealed that its app has seen 50 million sign-ups.

People have also been using the internet to continue with other social activities, such as taking part in virtual worship services. More than half of respondents (52%) to the ONS survey said they had used digital services in this way.

However, with many of us now relying on the internet for work, social life and entertainment, charities have warned that lockdown has left some of the UK’s poorest people shut out of such support networks.

According to 2017 figures from Ofcom, only 47% of those on low incomes have broadband internet at home.

The Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience (Aple) Collective, a grassroots network of people with experience of living in poverty, has asked the government to introduce free wi-fi for vulnerable low-income groups.

2. Watching films and using streaming services

The second most popular way Britons have been coping, according to ONS data, has been by viewing on screens.

Almost six in 10 people (57%) say they are watching films or using streaming services to help ease the impact of the crisis, according to the ONS.

Separate research by Ipsos Mori suggests households are watching more TV overall, with an average of five hours more each week being consumed than before lockdown.

The same survey also reveals families are watching more TV together, with shared viewing up by 37% year-on-year since restrictions began.

“New routines and habits are emerging, with TV bringing households together to seek comfort in shared experiences,” says Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos Mori.

3. Spending more time with the people we live with – and helping neighbours

More than half of Britons (54%) say spending more time with the people in their household has helped them cope, according to the ONS.

But it is not only the closeness of those we live with that is easing the effects of the lockdown, some people have also found solace in their neighbourhoods.

Community spirit has also grown, ONS data suggests, with eight in 10 adults (80%) saying they think people are doing more to help others than before the pandemic began.

But while for some, spending more time with family is helping them survive, for others being in a confined space for long periods of time under high levels of stress is compounding existing problems.

A report by MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee has revealed a “surge” in violence in the weeks after lockdown was introduced, with a rise in killings and the number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge up 49% after three weeks.

The NSPCC, which has been awarded £1.6m in government funding, has also reported a spike in demand since the crisis began, with its helpline providing almost 3,000 counselling sessions linked to the outbreak of coronavirus between late January and mid-April.

4. Exercising outside and in

About half of us (52%) find exercising outside helps us cope under the current conditions, while almost one in three of us (31%) find indoor workouts beneficial, ONS survey data suggests.

There are also indications that some people might be exercising more than before, with separate Ipsos Mori polling finding that a quarter (25%) have upped their activity levels since restrictions were imposed.

The popularity of virtual classes has soared.

Body Coach Joe Wicks claimed a Guinness World Record after one of his online fitness classes was watched by nearly a million people – the most viewers for a workout live-stream on YouTube.

Such exercise is not only keeping people fit though, experts say, it can help us deal with the crisis itself.

“Exercise has a dramatic anti-depressive effect,” explains David Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. “It blunts the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress.”

5. Cooking, gardening and reading

More than four in 10 Britons are turning to cooking, gardening or reading (45%, 42%, 44%) – or all three – to help deal with current restrictions, according to the ONS.

News that many of us have turned to baking may not come as a surprise, with supermarket shelves stripped of flour since March.

British grocers saw a 92% increase in purchasing of flour in the four weeks to 22 March, according to consumer research company Kantar. That’s an extra 2.1 million people who bought flour in those four weeks compared with the year before.

There has been a surge in demand for baking ingredients overall, Kantar’s analysts say, with sales of suet up by 115% and sugar by 46% in the month to 22 April. More than 40% of the consumers polled by the company say they are doing more home-baking now than before lockdown.

But along with baking ingredients, people are also craving instruction. Demand for bread recipes rose dramatically on the BBC Good Food website in April, with all the top-10-viewed videos relating to baking or bread. Nine of the highest rising recipes were also bread-related, with traffic to “easy soda bread” increasing 2,700% on last year.

“The motion of stirring, beating and kneading can be meditative and the results are very rewarding, which is why we are seeing a surge in people wanting to learn new baking skills,” suggests Lily Barclay, editor of bbcgoodfood.com.

As well as cooking, gardening has also proved popular, with seed companies across the UK reporting huge spikes in sales at the beginning of lockdown, with some halting new orders altogether.

Since then, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says it has seen hundreds of thousands more people use its gardening advice pages compared with last year.

Over the past few weeks, a third of a million Britons searched for tips on how to grow potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries at home, while traffic to compost pages has increased by nearly 500% on the previous year, the RHS says.

6. Doing DIY and learning something new

With some Britons in lockdown now having more time on their hands, almost a third (32%) are using those extra hours to do DIY tasks and more than one in 10 (14%) are learning something new, according to the ONS.

The internet is awash with guides on upskilling, from home improvements, languages and instruments to dance, crafts and coding.

But other platforms awarding official qualifications have also reported a surge in enrolments, such as those providing “massive open online courses”, or Moocs, such as edX, FutureLearn and Coursera.

Many, including the World Economic Forum, believe this shift away from the classroom towards educational technology, or “edtech”, among all ages could well have changed the way we all learn and educate ourselves forever.

7. Spending more on food and shopping locally

New lockdown routines mean Britons are also changing shopping habits, placing more importance on food and cooking at home.

Figures from Kantar show shoppers spent £524m more on groceries in the month to 22 April than last year – despite the fact that the number of supermarket visits fell.

The rise is primarily down to changing habits, analysts say, as people adapt to a new way of living, with people eating fewer meals out of the house.

People are also turning to their local shops to buy essentials, with convenience stores seeing an almost 40% increase in sales, Kantar says.

However, not everyone is able to afford the food they and their family need.

The Trussell Trust reported an 81% increase in need for emergency food parcels from food banks during the last two weeks of March compared with the same period in 2019. It was the organisation’s busiest period ever.

8. Spending more on home comforts – such as potpourri, scented candles and logs for fires

As well as taking solace in food, there also are signs people have been purchasing comfort items – in a bid to create a safe haven within our own four walls, perhaps.

For example, sales of scented candles and potpourri were up 36% in the four weeks to 22 March compared with last year, figures from Kantar show.

Sales of logs and firelighters were also up by 36%, Kantar says, again suggesting creating a snug home environment has become a priority for many.

Such changes in behaviour and buying habits may be why, coming to the end of our seventh week living under restrictions, there are signs many of us may not actually want to go back to our old ways at all.

YouGov polling suggests fewer than one in 10 people (9%) actually want life to return to “normal” after the coronavirus outbreak is over.

Design by Irene de la Torre Arenas, Gerry Fletcher and Zoe Bartholomew.

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