Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole Youth Parliament

Recovery from Covid-19: 24 June 2020

As the nation emerges tentatively from lockdown there are many conversations about what recovery may look like: what may change, what have we learnt from months of enforced isolation and behavioural change? Newspapers are full of articles about our ‘new normal’, the BBC has promoted fresh thinking through its “Rethink” series and SPC has stimulated the local debate with our economic recovery seminars, for example.

As we have that national debate it’s important that we hear the voices of young people, those who will not just help shape the future but will live it. They too have felt the pressures of lockdown, with schooling disrupted, social lives halted and friends isolated. So SPC spoke with members of Bournemouth Christchurch & Poole’s Youth Parliament, [all of whom were aged under 18], to discuss their hopes and fears for the future.

Those we spoke to wanted to see things changing as the restrictions we’ve faced are lifted. As residents of a busy city, they were anxious to see a return to public transport, maintaining the reduction in car traffic in the city centre. They urged the Council to try to maintain the higher levels of cycling we have seen in recent weeks, creating more safe space on our roads. One participant suggested businesses across the city also needed to “do their bit” to encourage more cycling and greater use of public transport.

Our participants also told us how they’d learned to value outdoor space. They hoped that in future there would be more opportunities to find quiet green space in our towns and cities. But they were also worried that we were seeing a return to ‘throw-away’ society, with people being encouraged to use disposable masks, gloves or wipes, and wanted to stress the importance of more sustainable use of resources.

Like everyone, our participants had grown used to on-line conversations with friends. But they were keen to get back to more personal interactions, back to “normal conversations” as one put it. On-line meetings may well have a bigger place in our working and social lives in future, but there was a feeling that lockdown had made us more appreciative of the people in our lives, the importance of a supportive network of family, friends and colleagues, and the co-operation and altruism many had shown. Our post-lockdown society must recognise the value of community to our wellbeing.

Many also expressed some fears for the future. There was a worry that we could see further cycles of disease, and they wanted to be reassured that we were planning to manage infections in the future without the same level of disruption we have experienced in recent months. Participants wanted to be reassured that there was some forward planning underway to avoid a repetition of recent experiences.

Perhaps the greatest concern for their generation was the impact of covid-19 on their learning. They worried about the gap in their education lockdown had created and whether they’d be able to catch up. As they tried to get back on track, our participants did not want to lose the diversity of their curriculum by being told to focus solely on ‘core subjects’.

One participant was concerned they might become the ‘lost generation’, with their qualifications discounted when they had not sat exams. That led others to argue for new ways of assessing individuals’ abilities, so their worth was not simply judged by “pieces of paper”: and all recognised this was already becoming a topic for national debate.

Whilst our conversation was brief, and included only a small number of young people, it was quite clear that their generation has firm views about how they see their future. Our participants placed real value on their local environment, wanting to see a clean, green place with less congestion and pollution. They also valued the contribution of people across society, and did not want to lose the positive sense of community lockdown had fostered.

They also had real concerns: about the risks of a recurrence, with all the disruption that would entail, the potential harm already done to their education and the worry that our path of return may mean a return to old, environmentally harmful habits.

It’s essential that those planning for our recovery from lockdown – the councils and businesses, public and private sector organisations – listen to those young voices, their hopes and their fears. Those we spoke to are arguing for a new normal, and we should hear what they have to say. It is, after all, their future we’re planning for.