The UK was put into lockdown on 23 March 2020 in response to the rapid acceleration of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) virus in the country.
At no time in living memory have the liberties and freedoms of British people in their own country been curtailed so severely. There were only four reasons to leave home: shopping for basic necessities, to participate in one form of exercise a day, for medical needs or to provide care help for a vulnerable person, and to travel to work – but only if necessary and if you were unable to work from home. The police were given the power to fine people if they left their homes for any other reason. Schools, pubs, and restaurants were closed indefinitely. All entertainment venues were closed down and all sport stopped. Places of worship were closed.
Outside their homes, people were told to observe strict social distancing rules, staying at least 2 metres apart from each other at all times. The key government message during this time was: “Stay at Home; Protect the NHS; Save Lives”. Lockdown was extended on 16 April 2020 and was then partially lifted on 10 May 2020, when the government message changed to: “Stay Alert; Control the Virus; Save Lives”.
The effect of the lockdown was profound. Across the country, many businesses found that they could not continue to function and if they could function, they could not do so and still keep paying all their employees. These businesses, as well as many self-employed people, saw their income streams fall to zero almost overnight. Employees were put on the government ‘furlough’ scheme, hoping to retain their jobs once a ‘new normal’ had been reached, but with no guarantee.
Fakenham felt the cumulative human, economic and social impacts of the lockdown as acutely as any other small town. The 800 year old market closed, family members were separated from each other, children were home educated, people worked from home, the town centre became deserted, almost all retail outlets (apart from essential services) were closed, and people began to wear masks and to purposely keep a safe distance from each other.
At the same time, though, there were more people out deliberately exercising, there was a growth of community spirit, businesses went above and beyond to adapt their practices to meet their customers needs, and to meet the shortages in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) experienced by the NHS and care services by helping to manufacture, for example, hand sanitiser.
Individuals helped their neighbours, people went shopping for one another and, unexpectedly, there was a lot of smiling. And one more factor, which must have helped many psychologically during this time, was the run of beautifully warm and sunny weather which a lot of the country (and certainly Norfolk) enjoyed.
There was a sense of everyone being in this exceedingly difficult and unknown time together. Lots of calls to “be safe”, “stay well” and “be kind” were heard and shared between family and friends. Social media became a lifeline. And key staff, those critical workers who kept the country and community going, like NHS staff, supermarket workers, postal staff, care workers, delivery drivers, the police and waste disposal staff amongst many, many others became our new champions. The Clap for Carers on a Thursday evening at 8pm became a fixture in the weekly calendar.
This photo essay, made during the months of March, April, and May 2020, seeks to capture elements of the situation in Fakenham during lockdown. The scope is not exhaustive by any means, but the images do, I hope, show the shock and fear felt by people at what was happening, as well as their enormous practicality, resilience, and good humour.
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