3. Communities and families: experiences of social connections, looking after children and transport
Feeling closer to community
Some participants shared how they have felt more connected to their local communities throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with people coming together and getting to know their neighbours.
"The way that everyone has come together during lockdown has actually been amazing really and a real help definitely to me, to help me feel at home, in a place I never felt at home before."
"I do know neighbours now better than I did before…we've started talking to each other more than we used to."
Other participants described supporting their friends who did not have fluent English by meeting in parks to translate letters and other information about restrictions and vaccinations. It was noted that families without children who speak good English are having a particularly challenging time.
Participants also mentioned that they were aware of community groups coming together to provide support, including food parcels and hot meals.
Children and education
Many participants had children and described a range of experiences about home schooling, support from schools and balancing work and childcare.
Some participants described that "this time around", they and their children felt more confident about using technology to support learning.
"There's been a real change over the lockdown…it was really interesting listening to people's experiences because I totally agree last time a lot of my job was about helping parents to get onto Teams, or helping doing practical things like, how do I find my child's work? But the schools are on it…I'm having far less enquiries."
Others mentioned that schools were good at providing paper learning packs to those who did not have access to technology, although this view was not universal. One school was praised for focusing on the mental health of their pupils. Support from third sector organisations was also noted as keeping parents and families positive.
Other participants described the challenges their children have faced with their learning, citing a lack of adequate support and resources from schools and teachers.
"They're meant to be getting it right for every child, but they're not getting it right for any child."
"The school has responsibility to provide the materials to teach but actually under no obligation to deliver live learning…schools have been given a lot of lee-way around how they roll things out…it's not enough to give parents the material, they need to be available."
Participants also raised the issue of schools assuming that everyone has access to computers, tablets and internet connectivity.
"We still have so many parents that do not have the devices they need… There's this expectation we all have laptops and iPads and we all have limitless data- that's just not the reality. I've had one parent, anecdotally, that has four primary school aged children and she was trying to home school them with a mobile phone. Just think about that for a second… It's absolutely overwhelming that someone would be in that position."
Some participants also described struggling to balance being a parent and also having to teach their children. This view was expressed particularly strongly by those with younger children in primary school, but was also mentioned by those with older children in secondary school.
"Because our children are used to their teachers way of teaching and they'll take it differently from the way they'll take it from their own parents. I think there's a real issue that people will give up home school because their relationship with their kids is the most important thing in the world to them so they don't want their kids to remember the time when they felt their parents were really critical, when they've had their teacher had on, not their parent hat on."
"It's difficult being a janitor, dinner lady, teacher and parent all in one."
Participants who worked described difficulties making time to do their work and support their children's learning.
"I have to sit with them and work through it, which means our home schooling happens after working hours, a long day for us both."
"Even in S4, my child needs a parent on hand, hence why it's split over into the weekend."
A participant commented that some parents were not open with their employers about the challenges they face home schooling, because they were wary of risking their job and job shortages if they did.
Many participants were themselves single parents, or knew of friends who were. As such, the experiences of this group were often discussed specifically.
With regard to looking after children and helping them with school work, single parent participants felt like they were "forgotten", especially when couples can do "relays" with work and childcare. Participants described being exhausted and struggling to carry on following restrictions.
"The lack of respite is affecting single parents badly…there's been no breathing space."
"You can be really aware of the guidelines, you can try and work to them, but when you are the mum and the dad, and the teacher, how do you physically manage that?"
Participants commented that they were scared to use public transport because of crowding. The cost of alternative and safer forms of transport was also raised.
"I've got to go to the hospital next week. Now usually, I'd get the bus but see with all this covid and that, I'm scared to actually get on the bus…it comes back to the simple fact, not having money for a taxi. It's little things, people don't think. Well, people are scared to get on buses…it's the little things that seem to wear you down."
"On the expenses of going to hospital, just recently I had to go to the hospital three times in the one week and I was £26 each way in a taxi. If not, I would have needed to get three buses to get there from where I live because I can't walk a distance to get the different bus. There wasn't any help. … When I was getting discharged, my daughter was in isolation so I had nobody to pick me up."
Another participant commented on the issue of busy public transport.
"On buses, people who have to travel on buses, they're busy, they're not always quiet, there's a myth that they're quiet…there's people queuing at the bus stops and when they get on, I can see it's not easy for them to actual social distance."