a leeds revolution

The COVID Diaries

May 21, 2020

The COVID Diaries

It might not feel like it, but we are living through history and every one of us is playing a leading role. We’ve all seen the films, read the books and watched the plays, now the dark, dystopian fiction has become the fact, and the unavoidable truth is that our everyday lives have taken on a challenging, scary and perplexing existence, almost overnight. And fundamentally, when everything changes, we need to record how we feel, because we need to document this moment in time, and we need future generations to understand what we went through and to learn from it.

For some of us, not much is different, except there are now a lot more people sharing our same daily routines, and in some cases sharing the monotony of isolation and the torment of world-weariness and ennui. And we are also seeing a different side to people, where efforts are being made to pull together and to open our eyes to the plights of others.

But for some people, everything is different. So how do they adapt? How do they see the past, present and future in this new kind of society? How do we approach our neighbours and our community now? How do we value those employed to protect us and serve us? And if that is different now, why is it different now?

The COVID Diaries is an initiative set up by developer CEG in conjunction with Leeds City Council and a number of its services; Leeds Libraries, Leeds Museums & Galleries and Child Friendly Leeds, alongside the Yorkshire Evening Post. Together, they are providing a platform for the people of Leeds to document their experience of the current pandemic as a means of making a record of a unique period in world history and how it has affected us in Leeds, and as a means of providing resources for future learning. We all grew up learning about different periods of history; the Vikings, the Corn Laws, the Plague, the Industrial Revolution, the First and Second World Wars. Right now we are living through our own, even if it doesn’t feel like it. And with many different means through which to record it, now we can provide more personal, creative, emotional and physical evidence of history than ever before.

Perhaps the most stunning component of the Coronavirus pandemic is that it has affected everyone; no one is safe from it, anywhere in the world. A blanket vulnerability has broken down historic barriers in society that have been built up over thousands of years. Are these barriers to progress that we may now be able to overcome? And because all ages, all sectors of the community and all abilities have been affected by the pandemic, everyone deserves a chance to tell their story, and to tell it exactly how they want to.

So the COVID Diaries is a project to collect an assemblage of public submissions in any format you choose. Anything that has affected your life as fundamentally as this elicits profound thoughts and observations, and these can be recorded and performed as your personal segment of history. So your COVID Diaries submission could be written prose, a video diary, a written diary, a short film, a blog post, a social media post, a collection of photos, one photo, artwork in any format, a poem, a song, a short play or even a feature-length film. And similarly, this can be a stand-alone singular piece of work or a regular, recurring series of works. You can’t put confines or boundaries on something so disruptive and as rebellious as this. This is your chance to grasp the extremity of emotions you have recently felt and tell the world about it.

(Image credit: Holbeck Together - There have been wonderful examples of community spirit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here Leeds United Football Club donated un-used food and drink items to local organisation Holbeck Together for distribution into the community)

Everyone has different lives, values, principles, family circumstances and personal health, and all of this has been questioned and upturned in the last few weeks and months. What is important? Who is important? We have faced new and unique challenges, we have had to adapt and show flexibility, we have had to compromise and strip away what we thought was important and learn to accept what is ‘really’ important. We have had to learn about persistence, community spirit, civic pride and resilience and we have had our eyes opened to people, groups and communities who have always existed but who now share our same challenges, or even bigger challenges than we realised.

These challenges come in many different forms, such as having to work from home, having no work at all, having to occupy your time somehow before being able to justify crawling back into bed each night, having to home-school the kids, having to deal with family breakdowns. Those challenges might be being isolated on your own or away from precious family members or friends, being isolated from key care services, being unable to communicate or having to find new ways to communicate, having to deal with an addiction in isolation, or being cut off from an addiction. You might have learnt new skills or been exposed to other people’s everyday vulnerabilities. You might have questioned your own mental wellbeing, or have turned over a new leaf in how you show compassion to the elderly or the minority groups that share your community. You might have found strength in music, or sport, or film, or comedy or just talking on video or across the street with people you wouldn’t normally talk to. You might have been exposed to the prospect of telling someone they can’t be with their loved one on their death bed. Writing or recording how that made you feel, might just help you escape from or at least ease the torment of that situation. 

Children are perhaps affected more than anyone, because they won’t have fully-formed concepts of what is happening, why people are behaving differently and why they can’t do certain things. They need to be occupied more than ever, but they can also be stimulated more than ever, they might have shown amazing resilience, they might have really grown up during this period, they might have learnt new skills and a new appreciation over what is important. Even in normal circumstances we sometimes expect too much of children, and this pandemic has been perhaps the hardest test they will ever face. But maybe some positives have come out of this? The commentary throughout this has been from MPs, scientists and public figures. Now let’s hear from the future generations and how they see a new ‘normal’ taking shape.

A situation such as this pushes at the polar boundaries of emotion, which can change dramatically over the course of a day, or an hour, or a minute. From the highs of stripping life down to its bare essentials and finding a new innocence in nature and culture and relationships and communities, to the lows of the helplessness, the repetition, the vulnerability and the fear of what is on the other side of this. These are all valid emotions and important sentiments.

The aim of the COVID Diaries is to reflect what is happening now, but also to use these findings as a learning resource for many subsequent generations. As such, the results will be displayed and promoted to be enjoyed in the present, but anything submitted will also be stored securely and on the basis that it may be used now and shared again in the future.

Some amazing submissions have already been received, and it is possible that in a few years’ time the work submitted is collated into a properly curated exhibition or a book or a film. What format that takes can be decided later, when history has been made. Because who knows what the future will bring? Who knows what is yet to come? Nobody knows what is customary or routine, and every preconception we held has been thrown into a tombola, ready for us to pull out, if and when we are ever ready. We thought we knew everything, but now everything is unknown, except our own thoughts. And that’s why we need to capture them now.

Further information on the project and how to submit entries can be found at www.coviddiaries.co.uk and the project can be followed on Instagram via @covid__diaries and Twitter/ Facebook via @Covid__Diaries.