Coronavirus: How Leicester coped with local lockdown

By David Pittam
BBC News, East Midlands

  • Published
Silver Street in LeicesterImage source, PA Media
Image caption,
The streets of Leicester have been described as so quiet you "could hear a pin drop"

Leicester became the first city in the UK to be put in local lockdown, meaning a delay to the easing of some restrictions that had been in place throughout the coronavirus pandemic and the reintroduction of others. But other places have followed - so what can their residents learn from Leicester?

Restaurants, pubs and hairdressers in Leicester were able to reopen for the first time since March on Monday - weeks later than in other areas of England - and people have once again been allowed to make non-essential journeys and travel in and out of the city.

However, leisure centres, gyms and pools must remain closed and, like in some other areas of England, there is a ban on visiting people's homes, either indoors or in private gardens.

Recently, parts of northern England and Aberdeen have followed Leicester in being subject to tighter restrictions.

With the East Midlands city returning to some level of normality, we asked people what it had been like watching the rest of the country move on without them - and what could be learned from Leicester's experience.

Here are five lessons from the city's residents and businesses.

Stay connected

Image source, Rosie Palmer
Image caption,
Rosie Palmer said being in a lockdown when it was being eased elsewhere made it feel like "danger was right outside your door"

"It was like we were pariahs," said Rosie Palmer, 29. "I've got family all over the country and I was seeing them going to the beach, meeting up with friends... and we were inside this danger bubble."

Miss Palmer works as a counsellor at the city's LGBT centre, which has been helping an increasing number of young people, many of whom have been feeling isolated.

"My advice is to keep talking about it," she added. "Stay connected and don't try and bottle it all up.

"If you're feeling anxious, that's OK, this is really scary.

"Get sleep, keep a good eating routine, keep looking forward - it is going to be over. In the meantime, look after yourself."

Break the monotony

Image source, Claire Stevenson
Image caption,
Claire Stevenson and her family celebrated an early Christmas - complete with decorations, mince pies and presents in stockings

The local lockdown also meant children who had just returned to school had to be sent home again.

Mother-of-three Claire Stevenson, from Knighton, works at a school and said there were "a lot of tears" as the Year Six pupils left for a second time.

The 45-year-old said lockdown had been particularly difficult for her young children, who knew friends and family around the country were able to go camping, to zoos and the beach while they had to stay inside.

To distract them, she and her husband let them repaint their rooms, cut each others' hair and even hosted a coronavirus "Christmas Day".

She said: "I can sympathise with anyone stuck in local lockdown, as we in Leicester have felt isolated and it's been really hard seeing everywhere else opening back up.

"Try and do some different things just to ease the monotony.

"And make sure you stock up on wine - lots of wine."

'Don't beat yourself up'

Image source, Blake Edwards
Image caption,
Megan Turner recognised the time off had positives but she was glad to be back at work

Megan Turner, 27, works at the Flappers and Gentlemen hair salon and had been gearing up to return to work, only to be told to stay on furlough for another month.

"When lockdown eased elsewhere my friends were going back to work and I was still just sitting at home," she said. "It was like they were getting on with life while mine was on pause.

"It can be very stressful but if it's something completely out of your control, don't beat yourself up about it.

"I felt trapped in the circumstances but running helped me - try and stay as active as you can. And I'm back in the salon now - I'm proof that local lockdown does end."

Maintain relationships

Image source, Indy Burmi
Image caption,
Indy Burmi said the problem was customers could go to where restrictions were lifted

Indy Burmi, owner of a hair salon, said the problem for him and his staff was their customers could just go to the reopened areas for their haircuts.

He said: "They'd waited four months already. Because they opened up certain places you ran the risk of clients going across the road - we had to fight against that."

He said to "keep up a relationship" with customers they could not see, staff sent out products, offered consultations over Instagram and discussed what could be done with clients' hair when they reopened.

"I've not had a break," he added. "But it worked, we're booked up for the next four weeks now."

But not all businesses have been able to hold out.

Arti Chudasama, owner of The Pantry, made the "heartbreaking" decision to close her cafe after the second local lockdown was imposed.

She did this because she said she had no idea how long it would last, and whether customers would return to the city centre when it was eased.

Image source, Arti Chudasama
Image caption,
Arti Chudasama is determined not to "let this be the end" and is working on other projects, such as a cookery book and expanding into catering

To other business owners facing tough decisions about the future, she said: "Just sit down and give yourself the time to think.

"I was going with my heart, trying to keep it going, but I had to give myself a reality check.

"It's hard, you can go into a bubble and think 'Oh my God, what has happened?'

"But if there's any way to continue your business differently, put your effort into that."

Stay strong

Image caption,
Rachael Bradley said she could understand how people in the north might be feeling as "it's difficult to see everyone else let out"

We asked some people on the streets whether they had a message for people now finding themselves facing tougher restrictions than elsewhere.

Rachael Bradley, 48, from Knighton, said: "To the people in the north, I would just send some solidarity.

"We know how it feels, stay strong, it will change at some point."

Surinder Flora, 63, from Oadby, said: "There is an end to it. Be safe, keep everyone else safe."

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