Exploring the recent COVID-19 health pandemic and its impact on the feeling of loneliness in the UK. A specific look at isolation in Brighton, impacts of remote learning at University of Brighton and how we can support environments that offer connectedness – finding ways fro balanced wellbeing. This article also features institutional and charity resources on how to cope with loneliness and isolation.
In the interests of physical public health, the COVID pandemic has bought about huge changes to daily life in the UK. Transitions to digital learning, remote working environments, spending more time in our own domestic environments. They could all sound like positives, but it is clear the mental wellbeing of many UK adults has been shaken. According to the Mental Health Foundation’s recent survey of UK adults which took place nine months into COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, 24% of UK adults said they had feelings of loneliness in the ‘previous two weeks’. Following government restrictions, the UK currently tackles its third ‘lockdown’, as the BBC recently reported 3 million positive cases of coronavirus. A rapid vaccination programme has now been rolled out with over 3.5 million people being vaccinated to enable a recovery for the country. However, this lockdown is proving a more sombre affair in contrast to sunnier situations of previous lockdowns; colder, darker, winter days, detachment from face-to-face interaction and heavily restricted living could see the feeling of loneliness rise past its current rate of 1 in 4 UK adults. There is only so much companionship that can be achieved on a fancy dress zoom quiz.
The Mental Health Foundation have a wide suite of resources on how to look after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak – take a look here.
Brighton… Destination Alone
Although the majority of Brighton’s bustling streets and world-famous Lanes are closed for the foreseeable, you only have to go out for one of your daily government approved outdoor exercises along the promenade to see people making the most of the sea air and wintery sun sets. Independent coffee shops such as Wolfox continue to stay open, offering caffeinated takeaway cups. There does seem to be an optimistic warmth to the city despite East Sussex remaining above the UK national average coronavirus infection rate. Maybe the positive defiance of Brighton, known internationally as a destination for fun and vibrant night life is prone to turning a blind eye to more melancholy matters. Amongst its regency facade of enjoyment however, it is easy to find solemn characters and destitute lives throughout the city.
According to Google Trends, across the entire UK, Brighton has the most Google searches of the word ‘lonely’. Brighton’s liberal mindset and disparate levels of affluence may have fostered an environment where the lonely are simply left to their own devices. Nestled between the vast green South Downs and the English Channel, and seemingly cut off from the hectic day-to-day life of London just an hour away, the isolation of some of Brighton’s residents could be more of a reality than first imagined.
Maybe though, the people of Brighton are simply more aware of loneliness and are more prepared to be pro-active in finding help. Local pensioner Pat O’Byrne, went viral a couple of years ago after posting on Facebook to find a companion to simply share a roast dinner. Pat’s optimistic online outreach for fellowship is the type of connective spirit that is much needed in current times.
University of Br-isolation
As a mature student joining University of Brighton to study an MA, aside from the move to the seaside from the capital city, my motivations for going back to uni were largely academic. But for many young adults finishing school last summer, their move to a new city was an exciting start to their adult life, hoping to create connections and relationships that could frame the future of their lives. Instead, those that have moved to Brighton have been faced with increased isolation of being away from home and stuck in halls, due to the delivery of a fully remote learning programme (excl. some sciences and teaching courses). For those that have stayed at home in Brighton to commute to campus, the potential meeting place of lectures has been replaced with slightly soulless on-screen scenes.
No Students Union to pretend to be good at playing pool. No on-campus coffee shop to read for upcoming assignments. No corridor banter. No being taught by lecturers within a specific faculty location. Even the library is now solely running a ‘click and collect’ book service. It is (almost) all shut. I can’t help thinking that students may feel a little short-changed, not only for the financial burden of paying £9k a year fees to be taught explicitly over Microsoft Teams, but also the all-important social factor of heading to University.
But it’s not just all about the social life, students at the University have been increasingly anxious about how coronavirus will impact their learning experience and outcome. The good news is that University of Brighton have implemented a ‘no-detriment’ policy in the effort to allay worries of students’ assessment performance. All communications regarding how learning experience has changed, along with updated institutional policies can be found here.
A recent student feedback survey by the University identified that connecting with other students and taking care of their wellbeing are two of the hardest things about university life at the moment. In response to this, Brighton Students’ Union have put a programme together, highlighting some of the resources, services and online events that can help stay connected. “Belong at Brighton Extra” will be active online every day with practical pointers to make things easier; ways to meet new people; and shining a light on some of the support on offer – connect by using the hashtag #belongatbrighton on social channels – or find out more here.
If you are a student at University of Brighton and feel your wellbeing is currently being affected, you can reach out to someone specifically and get help with a range of specialist student support services – find out more here.
Meal for One
Pubs have always been a centre for gatherings; a place for work colleagues to meet, friends to natter or to speculate over whether Fulham will grab a point against Brighton and Hove FC. In short, pubs are a meeting house for all, from city dwellers to rural communities, but what happens to these communal meeting houses are closed?
The UK events economy has been hugely affected by the current pandemic, an industry that is reportedly worth over £70 billion. It is estimated that over 400,000 people in the events and catering industry have lost their jobs in 2020. Job security in this sector continues to remain dubious with little Government support currently on offer.
All the Clubs are Being Closed Down
The nightclubs and venues that supply a much-needed dose of good times and dancing to their patrons haven’t had a great deal to celebrate about recently. As the windows of clubs and independent venues are now covered with closure notices, forlorn ex-club goers continue to crave live music and collective energy of crowds. Dancefloors, places for unadulterated togetherness, have been stripped and changed to online events ‘we moved it all online as of March’ (Alex Turner was right).
The buzz of strobing lights and letting loose has been diluted. The 10pm curfews have become bedtimes, usually the time when taxis would be called to head out into town to start the night. It’s important not to lose sight of the places and people that help us to connect. The Rossi Bar in Brighton (Smaller sister venue to The Green Door Store) is part of a national initiative launched by Music Venue Trust to prevent the closure of hundreds of independent music venues, who without financial intervention, will not be able to support the UK’s music scene. Grassroots venues like The Rossi Bar, play a crucial role in the development of British music, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and performance skills. The #SaveOurVenues initiative has currently raised £3,286,889 in donations across over 236 projects.
To help keep venues like this alive and share support you can find out more here – donate if you are able and share the message of solidarity.
Finding Your Way
The way coronavirus has impacted us collectively, compounded with our own individual challenges has meant the past 12 months have certainly been memorable. But if you’d rather forget this situation, just remember that a global health pandemic doesn’t come round all too often and we can overcome it, together. But first it starts with you, be kind to yourself, give yourself a break and find your own balanced energy – this way you can channel your natural inner kindness outwards towards others. Stay connected through digital technology, use it as a tool for togetherness but remember to step away from your devices now and again. My digital detox once a week can be challenging, juggling uni work, keeping in touch with friends, working at my writing job, let alone keeping up with The Crown on Netflix – but it is important to find a lifestyle balance even within the same four walls.
I spent the first lockdown living in the West Midlands, the second in London and this most recent lockdown in Brighton. With the South Downs on my doorstep and the beach down the road, you can probably guess which is the most pleasant experience. But, wherever you are, take a walk, read a book, think creatively and take each day as it comes. In this time of online connection, where people can feel the most disconnected, just reach out… you never know where it might take you… you never know how much it might help someone else.
In keeping with the theme of this article, I wanted to leave you with ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ a piece from influential free verse poet Walt Whitman, who communicates beautifully themes of togetherness, universal nature and of course, the seaside… all things that can be found in Brighton… just reach out and have a look.
You can find Joey’s previous article here.
And you can follow Joey here.