I’m a human factors expert at WSP. I live in Wigan with my husband Peter, who is now a driving instructor but used to be an HGV driver, and our two children. There’s Joseph, our 21-year-old son who works as a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO). And our daughter Katie, who is 17 and has just finished her first year of college.
Among the family, Joseph was probably the least affected by the pandemic. As a PCSO, he still had to get into his car and go to work every day. The rest of us were a bit jealous, to be honest, when we were locked down and he was still going out.
Yes, Joseph did sometimes have to bear the brunt of people’s frustrations at not being allowed to do what they wanted, but that’s part of his job. (I say that as a former police employee myself.) And although he did miss going out with his mates, I don’t think the last 18 months have had a major effect on him or changed his future much.
A positive change
For me, switching to working at home during Covid meant I no longer had a horrendous commute from our family home to the WSP office in Manchester. Having given up on the train, I was driving two hours each way. It should have taken around 45 minutes, but the traffic was always terrible. Still, I thought, at least I got a seat and a roof that didn’t leak – unlike on the train.
I’ve been more productive working at home, and I’ve still felt part of a team thanks to WSP’s efforts to make sure everyone feels involved and included no matter where they’re working. I think seeing each other in our home environments – with the dog in the background, or the kids wandering in – has helped our team get to know each other better.
Off the road
Peter has had a much harder time. Lockdown brought an abrupt halt to his work as a driving instructor, and his income. Because he hadn’t been running his business very long, he couldn’t access government support – yet he still had to pay for his car and other ongoing expenses.
Even when driving lessons began to be allowed again – and were in great demand due to a massive backlog of people wanting to learn to drive – Peter’s problems weren’t over. Having to wear masks meant it was sometimes difficult for him and his students to understand one another. Lots of students hadn’t driven for a long while: they were nervous and required more intensive tuition. And he’s had a lot of cancellations due to students self-isolating.
I think Katie has been affected the most, though, with her GCSE exams cancelled and her first year of college disrupted. For her, the GCSE cancellation felt very unjust and unfair – and very demotivating. With the opportunity to prove herself in her exams taken away from her, it’s been very hard for her to pick herself up again and to see the point of studying for her A-levels.
School ended abruptly for Katie and her friends, with none of the usual rituals such as collecting their results or going to their prom. Starting college hasn’t been much easier. With classes virtual until recently, Katie has struggled with the adjustment. When in-person teaching started, catching the bus into college and mixing with new people in a new environment felt very strange and very uncomfortable.
I think some things will change permanently for Katie. She wants to learn to drive because she’s not keen on getting back on public transport. And she wants to go to university locally so she can drive there and back and be in her own space at the end of the day.
Catering for all
As the Covid restrictions have lifted, we’ve started to travel around a bit more – including taking our caravan to stay over for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Being in a busy environment again was very strange, but it was the motorway service station we stopped at that really struck me.
Some of the shops and food outlets inside were closed, with only fast food available. We couldn’t find anything gluten-free for Peter, who has Coeliac disease, to eat. This made me wonder what will happen to service-station provision for road users in the future. Will it cater for people who have different needs? Will it help people who are trying to eat more healthily?
My background in human factors means I’m fascinated by how the pandemic will change the way people live, and I’ve seen from my own family’s experiences that those effects will be diverse and wide-ranging. For some, life will go on pretty much as before. For others, it will never be the same again.