In 2020/21 we worked closely with Benfield School to find out what the experience of Covid lockdowns had been like for secondary school age children and young people, with an emphasis on Year 7 students. This particular cohort of children was yanked out of primary school, and the only life they’d ever known, overnight in March 2020.

Through activity worksheets, interviews, and drama sessions (facilitated by Woven Nest Theatre) we were able to piece together a picture of tremendous loss; missed milestone moments, grief at the sudden and blunt end to friendships, identity in flux without hobbies and routines to anchor them, and a depleting, but lingering hope that treasured rituals like signing shirts and leavers assemblies might still happen one day.

There was however, a determined resilience, optimism, and pride in things they’d learnt; doing their own washing for the first time, cooking, nurturing relationships with their family, and preparing for their new chapter at Secondary school.

The activity worksheets, though at the time only intended as a data gathering tool, provide a moving snapshot into the incredibly visual memories these children will carry with them forever, in place of the desperately important ones they’ve lost.

Alfie explores the impact of Covid-19 on a Year 6 child on the cusp of adolescence, approaching the end of primary school. Instead of experiencing the traditions and milestone celebrations enjoyed by students before him, Alfie is yanked out of school almost overnight as the country shuts down.

When he should be signing school shirts and bidding farewell to first friends, Alfie must come to terms with the immediate end to primary school and everything he knows, and instead adapt to life in lockdown.

Newcastle’s Response to COVID-19
How are teenagers coping with ‘lockdown life’?

The ‘Lockdown Life North East’ project, led by Steph Scott, was a long-term study exploring young people’s experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic across a two-year period using repeat interviews and diary methods. A short film was also made in partnership with Operating Theatre and NE Youth based on the study findings.

The film and project demonstrated that young people experienced lockdown in different ways, and these experiences altered at different stages of the pandemic. Some described many positive impacts – including increased self-confidence, better friendships and strengthened family bonds. The study also highlighted longer-term consequences from disrupted education, including missed parts of curriculum, home schooling, cancelled exams or periods of enforced isolation.

Creating resources to support families during the pandemic

Newcastle City Council public health team produced resources to help families facing higher food bills to plan meals. As well as ideas for easy-to-make, low-cost meal options, resources also included price comparisons of shop-bought products compared to home-cooked food, information about freezing food to avoid waste, and tips for getting children involved in preparing meals.

People can also get tips on how to make their budget go further, ideas for breakfast and lunch – meals which many families may not normally eat at home – and had links to different websites and apps that offer simple, healthy recipes.

Supporting multigenerational connection through collaborative volunteering app

As the COVID-19 pandemic took over in 2020, NICA saw the importance of health and wellbeing grow. Two things became more obvious: the care sector is in need of innovation, and mental health issues were on the rise. In collaboration with Newcastle Building Society, we teamed up with a tech-for-good company, onHand, to launch an innovative and convenient way to volunteer in the North East, using a smartphone app. The app flags tasks for local volunteers to pick up, and aims to help thousands of people by providing employees with a simple, safe and flexible way to make a positive impact in their communities.