Exploring life under lockdown in Britain’s households: 3 findings from the first week of our qualitative research

Since early last week, we’ve been running our ‘Through The Keyhole’ research – an in-depth qualitative study with 15 UK households. We are focussing on the societal impact of the nationwide lockdown – exploring the British public’s lived experiences of these unprecedented events.

Clearly, we’re all still adapting to the changed circumstances. The short-term and long-term consequences of the lockdown remain to be seen. But with a full lockdown having been in place for over 2 weeks (and a partial lockdown for 3), we’ve answered 3 frequently asked questions based on what we’ve seen and heard so far from our participants.

  1. How are people doing?

After the initial shock of the lockdown announcement, we appear to be adapting quickly to the new reality. The early sense of panic, perhaps most strikingly represented by barren supermarket shelves, has subsided for many of our participants, replaced instead by new daily routines and gnawing concern.

While there are still moments of shock – not least hearing that our Prime Minister is in intensive care – many of us seem in relatively good spirits given the circumstances, and are adapting to an at-home lifestyle.

As a country, we seem broadly supportive of the Government’s approach, particularly the decision to lock down society – even if some wonder if this was done too late. One participant, who didn’t vote Conservative in December’s election, summed up their inclination to give the Government the benefit of the doubt: “I think they are managing as best as they can.”

  1. Who’s finding the lockdown most difficult?

The lockdown has had an enormous impact on the day-to-day lives of everyone. But for many of us, this has not yet been hugely damaging, even if it has come with major frustrations – such as cancelling plans to see family and losing everyday freedoms. Indeed, some of our participants have found positives in the crisis, albeit against a backdrop of worry for family and friends – such as allowing them to find time for things they’d struggled to fit in before: “The extra time is allowing me to focus on fitness as well as eating better.”

For others, however, these everyday adjustments have had major, debilitating effects. These range from terror of catching the virus among people with underlying health issues, to loneliness among the socially isolated. For all that the kindness of others and modern technology are helping to alleviate these issues for some, they cannot solve every challenge: “The other day I just felt I needed a hug…and that’s not possible at the moment.”

Clearly, too, socioeconomic factors have a huge bearing on the effect of the lockdown – with access to outdoor space just one example of how this is playing out. Gardens aren’t the exclusive preserve of higher social grades but there is a correlation between gardens and affluence, and this now represents a key dividing line in society. As one person living alone put it, “I can’t imagine how I’d be doing if I didn’t have a garden.”

  1. What might be the legacy of the lockdown?

All research agencies will tell you that Brexit has overshadowed most focus groups conducted in recent years. Perhaps more than the political specifics, group after group has bemoaned the enduring division that this has caused within British society. Client after client has asked us what, if anything, could bring the country back together.

No one would have wished it as a solution, but the early stages of this pandemic appear to have restored the faith of many in their fellow Britons. We’ve already heard numerous accounts of how everyday acts of altruism have warmed hearts in desperate times. Locally, spirits have been buoyed by neighbours offering to do the shopping, friends calling to check in and streets setting up WhatsApp groups to support the most vulnerable. Nationally, reports of heroic NHS staff and of 750,000 people volunteering to help are huge feelgood factors at a time of emergency: “I feel immense pride in my local and global community. I feel great joy when I hear the amazing selfless acts of so many people all around the world.”


There is already much more that we could write on what we’ve found out, and we’re in no doubt that we’ll learn even more from our research over the weeks ahead. We’re also sure that the picture will change as the situation develops – we’ll provide another update next week. In the meantime, stay safe.

9th April 2020