During June - November 2020 I photographed 112 of Salisbury’s children, compiling a series of portraits that chronicle how, despite upheaval and challenge, these children found real positives from their lockdown experience. Heartwarming, uplifting stories of how children discovered a love of nature, even their own siblings(!), undertook physical challenges, helped their community. Many many more, each one with a unique story.
It is a body of portraits that document a generation of children in the wake of this unprecedented event in their lives, and how the effect of lockdown has shaped their view on what is important to them and potentially how they live their future lives.
All the images of the children and their stories were published in a limited edition large-format hardback book. It is a body of portraits that document a generation of children in the wake of this unprecedented event in their lives, and how the effect of lockdown has shaped their view on what is important to them and potentially how they live their future lives.
Our concept of normality was shattered on a truly global scale. Horrifying numbers of people have died, businesses have foundered and there are unprecedented levels of unemployment. There are also as yet unquantifiable levels of poverty, lack of opportunity, mental health issues and undiagnosed illnesses lurking in the shadows.
As of January 2021, we are in the middle of Lockdown III and we are nearly at the grim milestone of 90,000 deaths across the UK. Salisbury has been fortunate (if fortunate is even an appropriate word to use), to only represent a tiny proportion of those, just 59 at the time of writing. But the vaccine rollout is gathering pace, normality is on the horizon and it feels like the first ray of sunshine on a new dawn. Although Christmas was cancelled, everyone is hopeful that 2021 w signal a return to some semblance of pre-pandemic life.
Even though 2020 saw our plans derailed - Easter/exams/weddings/festivals/holidays/Diwali were cancelled and as we were all told to ‘stay inside and save lives’, among the chaos, worry, hoarding, mourning and isolation, seeds of a transformative moment in how we live our lives were sown.
We slowed down, took a breath and embraced the ‘The Great Pause’. It gave us time to re-evaluate our priorities and a picture began to emerge of how families shifted their focus. More time together and fewer outside pressures allowed us to reconnect both with each other and with the idea of childhood.
Relentless consumerism gave way to embracing simpler pleasures reminiscent of a bygone age, enjoying the little things we have taken for granted such as the joy of nature.
We realised that self-sufficient living was more possible than we thought – we grew flowers, vegetables and learned to bake (banana and sourdough bread capturing a nations imagination!)
We became more community-minded, paradoxically bringing communities together at a time when we have never been more separated, by helping the elderly and vulnerable and applauding those key workers who cared for us in our time of need. We found solidarity and genuine human kindness.
Whilst some of us hoarded loo-roll and flour, others found a new hero in Joe Wicks, who saved the sanity of legions of parents through his online workouts for children.
Importantly, we realised there was the opportunity for reciprocal learning between adults and children. More time meant we could tap into our inner child and fire up our imaginations rather than relying on our tech-addiction for entertainment and companionship.
It truly was a pivotal time.
For me and my family it meant time together. I watched my teenage son and daughter, who before lockdown didn’t generally cross paths much, actively seek each other out and it was pure joy watching them lark about and enjoying each other’s company. Yes, of course, we all had our noses buried in our devices much of the time, but we also took time for each other. We learnt to kayak, held quiz nights, and by far our favourite, outdoor cinema nights where we watched cult movies with fairy lights, blankets and pizza. We also finally watched all the movie clips of the kids as babies, which had until then never seen the light of day. It was a content Groundhog Day of beautiful weather and togetherness.
Of course there were moments of boredom too - my business had shutdown overnight, like so many others, but it gave me time to reflect. I was struck by the stories emerging about how resilient children were being in the face of the challenges and upheavals they faced.
Since boredom breeds creativity, I set about documenting how lockdown was having a positive impact for them. If the pandemic meant I had to take an enforced sabbatical from paid work, then the time was right to use my skill to do something symbolic and create a body of work that could have meaning and context in years to come as we reflect back on how the pandemic shaped us and the futures of our children.
Children of Salisbury – Life After Lockdown evolved from a project conceived by Richard Bradbury who has run Children of London for several years, though I wanted my version to tell a very specific story of positivity - capturing a seedling of hope to counterbalance the negativity and doomsayers in the press. However, the main focus was to raise money for the vital work that The Stars Appeal Hospital Heroes campaign has been doing to support those affected by Covid-19 and also for Action for Children whose crisis campaign has been providing support for vulnerable and excluded children affected during this time.
As Salisbury residents, we are immensely privileged to live among the history of this affluent city and the natural beauty of the countryside around us. What is difficult to represent then, is the underprivileged, deprived and marginalised sections of wider society across the rest of the nation, and that gap in the diversity and socio-economic representation of the families in these pages needs to be acknowledged. However this doesn’t undermine what this body of work seeks to do - which is to shine a light on how humanity has changed for the better in spite of the challenges we all faced, and how that manifested in young people. It seeks to show how children were able to find hope in the face of adversity and the very obvious disruption it represented to them. They showed remarkable resilience and adaptability and like water flowing around a rock, found another path.
During the five months between June and November (I can’t count much of August as we snuck away on holiday and had to quarantine on our return) I completed more than 70 shoots, capturing approximately 30,000 images. The project represents around 800 hours of work and we have raised over £4700 for the charities. Each family donated a set amount to take part, and many generously donated extra to enable other families experiencing acute financial hardship as a result of the pandemic to also be able to take part. I am immensely grateful to all of them, it has been very much a collaborative effort and I feel honoured that they shared their lockdown experiences, both good and bad, with me.
As we close the door on 2020, everyone wants to return to normal life as soon as possible. Not all of us it want it to return exactly to our pre-pandemic lives however. We have the opportunity to instigate lasting change by encouraging our children to use the valuable tools they have learnt as they forge onwards into adulthood. Though the reality is that decades of it will be spent mopping up the remnants of the effects of this crisis, a burden no-one wants to place on young shoulders, there is hope that they will be well equipped with a desire to nurture this seed-change in our future generation of parents, industry leaders and politicians. A hope that they will build a society that values connection - analogue communities over digital ones; sustainability - regenerating nature rather than destroying it; and unity - embracing togetherness, inclusion and solidarity.
Children are our future and they will lead the way.
The last six months have been my biggest ever challenge and those who know me well know I like a good one. I want to thank my family for being incredibly supportive throughout it, keeping me on the rails when I thought I was out of steam. It has been a journey filled with laughter, tears, frustrations and a lot of discoveries. I discovered little corners of this beautiful city I never knew existed, I discovered that I really like getting in rivers with my waders on, but most importantly I discovered just how incredible and inspirational young people are. It’s been a hugely enlightening, exhausting but rewarding experience and certainly the most ambitious body of work I have ever undertaken.
THE STARS APPEAL
The Stars Appeal is Salisbury District Hospital's charity and works tirelessly to raise funds to enhance care across all Wards and Departments and to help thousands of local people have a more positive hospital experience. They have raised huge amounts of money for many projects and through their Hospital Heroes campaign, are doing all they can to help staff and patients during the COVID-19 crisis.
Their dedicated staff counsellor and mental health nurse are helping staff cope with what they are going through, Stars Appeal Wi-Fi is keeping staff and patients connected with loved ones, specialist simulation training is ensuring staff are well prepared for whatever they may face and hospital chaplains are offering comfort and reassurance. They're working to provide staff with morale boosting treats and the Stars Appeal funded garden spaces offer peace and tranquillity away from the busy wards.
The charity is presided over by The Earl of Pembroke who received a copy of this book.
ACTION FOR CHILDREN
For 150 years, Action for Children have been protecting and supporting children and young people, providing practical and emotional care and support, ensuring their voices are heard, and campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives.
Families who were already struggling to feed their children before COVID-19 hit, now find themselves unable to afford food and basic essentials. So many vulnerable families have lost their incomes, have reached breaking point and need urgent help.
Action for Children has thousands of key workers across the UK working on the frontline helping the most vulnerable children and families. They provide support them in many ways, for example, with online food ordering, providing supermarket vouchers and paying top-ups on fuel cards.
The Duchess of Cambridge is a patron of Action for Children and received a copy of this book.