Just over a year ago, on 21st May 2020, Birmingham Museums launched its Life on Lockdown project. At the time, we’d been in full lockdown for two months and we were all still reeling from the implications of Covid-19 and what it could mean for our future.
When we launched the project, we wanted to find a way to capture some of the feelings and changes that people were experiencing, so that in the future we could tell this story. We didn’t know what our own future would look like – all our museums were closed and most of our staff on furlough – and like everyone else living and working in the city we were having to find new ways to work, educate our children, shop, exercise, and most importantly, stay connected with one another and stay mentally well.
We wanted our Life on Lockdown project to be part of that. While it was so difficult to see people, while we were only allowed outside for an hour a day, and were separated from, and worrying about our loved ones, we wanted to provide a space where people could share what they’d done, seen, and felt, and know that others were feeling the same.
What did we get?
We could only collect digital content due to Covid restrictions, and we had no expectations for what we’d get, or how much. The city, and the world, had bigger issues, but we were overwhelmed with the responses and the feedback we got. In total, we had well over 400 submissions in a six month period, and everything went straight onto our Flickr page where we built up a snapshot of our city in lockdown. Pictures of rainbows and empty streets were followed by shots of nature and creativity. There were photos of babies born in lockdown, videos of children saying their first words and a magazine made and written by home-schooled children.
At the same time, there were also stories of loss – funeral wreaths, grandparents seen at a distance, poems about confusion. We reached out to local organisations to capture the experience of Big Issue sellers, Syrian refugees, and English Language Learners. Everyone’s story was important to us. Over time we could see how the community of our city found ways to come together. Food banks and soup kitchens helped support families in difficulty, people of faith found new ways to come together and neighbours helped each other out.
We ended the project six months after it had begun, with our 400+ photos, videos, poems, artworks, songs, performances, and stories creating a snapshot of 184 days from lockdown, to the easing of restrictions, to Tiers; from a heatwave through to winter. While we looked as if we might be coming out of lockdown when the project ended, 8 months on life is still not normal, and may never be, but we want to celebrate and thank everyone who helped us capture Birmingham during the first stage of the pandemic. Without your contributions, we couldn’t tell this story.
What next for the project?
All the content from the project is still available online on Flickr, and visitors to Thinktank can now see a display featuring many of the images we were sent, alongside the Life on Lockdown film we made with some of your contributions.
But the project doesn’t stop there. In the display you’ll also see some objects – a facemask designed in Birmingham for people with beards to wear; a print of Forward in Unity, a graffiti piece in Digbeth by Gent48, a well-known local artist; and embellished facemasks made as a socially distanced art collaboration between three sisters. Now that we can move beyond digital collecting, we want to use this display as the start of collecting objects to help tell the pandemic story further. We want to ensure that in the future people can see the story of Covid-19 in our museum, hopefully when the world is a little safer than it is now.