It’s been a busy year and a bit for the Backbench editorial team. Nothing could have prepared us for March 2020. Not only was the conversation totally and utterly dominated by COVID-19, but more people than ever were looking to write for us, hoping to cultivate their writing over lockdown. Those first few months of the pandemic went by in a weird blur (that also felt endless at the time). We all made our predictions about post-COVID Britain (anticipating its arrival rather too optimistically) and mused on how the country might be transformed by the pandemic. 

But alongside editorial work, all the team had to adjust to new lockdown lives. We wanted to give you an insight into our team at Backbench, and tell you how things have changed for us on a more personal level since that very first lockdown.

Violet Daniels

After graduating in 2020, almost immediately into the pandemic, it’s safe to say this year wasn’t what I expected, having been on furlough since March 2020. I have been mainly confined within my own four walls in a third floor flat. Which, contrary to popular belief, hasn’t been as bad as it may seem, apart from last spring in lockdown – that was pretty tough with no outdoor space. This spare time has been a necessary pause period for me because I could sit and think about what it was exactly that I wanted to do instead of rushing into some graduate job that I probably wouldn’t want too much anyway. 

All the extra thinking time clarified many things, and I’m now going into 2021 as an NCTJ student and hoping to qualify as a journalist in the near future. Personal issues aside, experiencing the pandemic has made me realise the power of media and how it shapes our perception of current events, and how important it is to get that right and hold those in power to account. Despite how tough it has been, there are many aspects of the pandemic that I am grateful for.

Daniel Clark

This last year, I will no doubt have been a feature of some of the scariest parts of people’s lives. I have cared for people with COVID-19 (mostly without realising it.) I have cared for people living with the neurological effects of COVID-19. Just how precious life is has slapped me in the face.

This has made me certain that we need to talk about death and dying. The question of what we want to happen at the end of our lives is not something that we should leave until that time comes; by that point, it’s too late or too scary to contemplate.

This year has also seen a great anger rise within me. It is clear that the elderly, as individuals and as a social group, are victims of great injustice. I am ready to fight that.

I’m also ready to fight the scourge of pornography, which successive lockdowns have given me the opportunity to read more about. Life is short, time is precious, and one should always fight for what is right.

I will write more about all this. For now, I’ve used my 200 words, and it’s time to look toward that brighter future.

Lilian Fawcett

The pandemic for me has meant many missed opportunities.

I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to my friends at university; I never got a graduation ceremony; and I might now get through an entire journalism MA course without ever having attended a lecture in person.

But the past year, defined by successive lockdowns, social distancing and endless handwashing, has also been one of – as Kylie Jenner put it in 2016 – “realising things”.

As the pandemic bred uncertainty, many of us turned to journalism to better understand what was happening. Having sought out quality journalism myself to the dispel myths and explain the seemingly endless stream of new coronavirus jargon, I’ve never been more sure that I want to pursue a career in journalism.

The pandemic has also made some issues impossible to ignore. Women’s advancements in the workplace have been decimated, while some ethnic minority communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the virus. As humans retreated into their homes on masse, the reality of climate change and the possible irreversible damage we are causing the planet were laid bare.

I hope be part of the next generation of journalists, who collectively hold power to account on these pressing issues. And if the pandemic is anything to go by, journalism can be a source of information and reassurance in times of crisis.

Ben Thompson

The start of lockdown in March 2020 gave way to some very complicated emotions.

I didn’t know what life was going to be like from that point onwards, and that was scary. Not as much was known about COVID at the time, so I did genuinely contemplate whether this pandemic would spell the end of our society. That in itself is a daunting thought.

But lockdown itself gave me time to unwind and take things at a slower pace – which I was thankful for. I do have fond memories of the first few months of lockdown, where I spent more time outdoors in the sun, exercising and making my way through my reading list.

It’s hard to assess honestly how much lockdown has changed me. In a lot of ways, I feel a little stalled. It did feel like life was put on hold for a few months, before things got back into motion.

I think the most recognisable thing I’ve seen within myself is a stronger desire to live in the moment. I’ve effectively abandoned the ‘Five Year Plan’ a lot of people construct in their minds. Pondering about where I’ll be living and working five years from now is somewhat overwhelming.

If this past year of squandered plans has taught me anything, it’s to take things in chunks and not count my eggs before they’ve hatched. 

Maheen Behrana

For me, the pandemic has been characterised by a lot of panic. As someone who likes the feeling of having things under control, it was pretty frightening to find that at every turn I was in control of precisely nothing. 

In the space of a couple of days, I found myself working from home, back at my parents’ place and stuck in the house for the foreseeable. I know I’ve been so lucky – I have a job, a supportive family and a safe place to live, but like everyone I have found the limitations on life very trying. 

In many ways, having an interest in politics has been both a godsend and a curse at a time like this. It has kept me very busy and my mind is always occupied with something or other. But at the same time, it is increasingly difficult to keep engaging with stories that offer little hope, or tell yet again of ruinous incompetence and greed.

Unsurprisingly, all of this seems worse when you’re locked down and feeling isolated. When your life revolves around a medley of screens, it’s hard to separate your feelings from what those screens tell you. But with the glorious spring sun (when it deigns to make its appearance) and the relaxing of restrictions, there have, once again, been moments of real calm and contentment. In pub gardens, or reclining by the river – suddenly, things feel like they’re getting better. I really hope they are. 

Ed Sawyer

Recently my life has been edging back to normal, but the pandemic has meant many of my plans from the past year haven’t happened. From working on the US election to travelling South America, my plans have unfortunately been hit by Covid restrictions. I do realise though that this is very much a first world problem.

Whilst furloughed during the first wave of the pandemic I experienced a huge change in pace from my usual day job in political campaigning – having worked on the 2019 general election and the beginning of the 2020 local elections. I think the change of pace may have been beneficial in some ways. In the first wave I moved back home from Manchester and was able to work more on my part-time MSc, some other voluntary bits and pieces and I took up gardening – something that has become a bit of a lockdown trend! In all honesty, this time to slow down and work on other things has probably been beneficial in the long run.

Lately I’ve been working largely remotely on this year’s local elections in England. Because this role was solely online for months, it took me a little while to adjust. Building relationships with volunteers, other staff, candidates, and journalists was a bit more challenging than in normal periods.

In my personal life, I’ve been quite disconnected from friends who live in different parts of the country, unable to see much of my nieces (one born during the pandemic) and have been unable to visit my girlfriend in Spain for long periods. This has been the toughest part but I recognise that on the whole I have been pretty lucky and that this will (hopefully) soon end.

To sum up, my life during the pandemic has fluctuated between periods of slowing down and making plans for the future between election cycles where there is always more to do than you feel capable of.

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