The Class of Covid are graduating - here's what uni looked like for them

By Hazel Shearing
Education correspondent

  • Published
Related Topics

When Harry Sweeney started his photography degree, in 2019, he assumed his camera roll would be full of gigs and nights out with friends from the University of the West of England, Bristol.

Instead, he kept a "visual diary" of life stuck in a student house during the pandemic.

Harry's cohort have spent all of their three undergraduate years grappling with the fallout from Covid-19.

Days before graduating, he reflects on what this looked like for him.

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
Harry's housemates, George and Sam, also worked remotely in his second year

"We have had a completely unique university experience due to Covid-19," Harry says.

He stayed with his parents, in Essex, during the first national lockdown.

And when he returned to Bristol, in his second year, most of his work was done online, feet up on the coffee table, in a house he shared with friends.

"I probably went into uni a handful of times in second year," Harry says.

"We just spent lots and lots of time on this sofa in the living room, basically... we kind of just worked constantly in here in the kitchen."

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
George, James and Carys turned the lounge into a bar

With bars and clubs closed, the housemates used their imagination to replicate the nightlife they thought they were going to have.

"In second year, we had a pub crawl around the house," Harry says.

"We had a little kind of bar in each room - so we had a sports bar, my room was a jazz bar."

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
Harry drew inspiration from Renaissance paintings of desired and valuable objects, to capture the scarcity of some household staples during the pandemic

Trips to the supermarket were halted by bouts of Covid, Harry says, which became "routine".

"I can't remember how many times we had to isolate," he says.

"You'd be like, 'Let's go online and do some food shopping.'

"I think humans are quite good at just quite quickly adapting... you get into these routines of how to deal with stuff."

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
Another housemate, Noush, styled George's hair

Then there were the do-it-yourself haircuts while salons were closed.

"That happened quite a lot," Harry says, gesturing at the photo of one housemate plastering dye on to another's hair.

"His was very, very yellow for a while.

"We walked past someone on the street and they shouted, 'You need more peroxide.'"

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
Harry wanted to portray the feeling of being on his phone late at night and feeling overwhelmed by the public-health warnings

Harry remembers going on his phone at night and "seeing that every five posts would be about Covid".

"We were just being constantly bombarded," he says.

"This amount of information, like rules and stuff, being constantly in your face is very unhealthy really."

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
Harry captured key workers outside his bedroom window

But working life continued for others outside of his student community during last year's lockdown.

"I was trying to, in a way, document the work that was considered key work and how it had to carry on," he says, "but we were based inside.

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
As a photography student, being unable to use facilities in person was frustrating

"There were definitely times when it felt, like, claustrophobic - especially if the house was messy.

"There was a real sense that what we were getting from the uni experience was not what we were paying for... but I feel the tutors did the best with what they had."

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
George and another housemate, James, were counting down the days until clubs reopened last summer

Despite the difficulties, Harry would not change his university experience.

"Even though a second year was strange, and it was a struggle at points, I was lucky enough to have great housemates," he says.

"I was so excited for the whole build up to [last] summer, knowing that we could go to clubs again.

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
Harry wanted to capture the feeling of excitement when nightclubs reopened

"Honestly, it made you so much more appreciative of seeing your friends again. It made you more mindful in those moments."

Image source, @harrysweeneyphoto
Image caption,
Harry looks back on his photographs as "life affirming", such as this one of friends Izzy and Erin

Harry sees his photographs as "optimistic" but also an attempt to "communicate the feelings of alienation and anxiety many of us are having" after missing out on so much.

Image source, Kathryn Lattimore
Image caption,
Harry before the pandemic

"I wanted to capture the mixture of the excitement of coming out of Covid but also how it has left its mark on us," he says, "the sense that we are being faced with the reality of adult life with what seems like less preparation than generations before us."