Preparing for a second lockdown at home
- Credit: Archant
We locked down in the summer and the gardens saved us. Now it looks as if we may lock down in winter just when experts are telling us we need fresh air. Richard Burton asks: how will we cope?
For many, lockdown was never really that. It was more ‘stick around’. Days were spent opening the bifolds, taking the laptop on to the patio, turning the screen towards the flower bed during Zoom calls and ushering the kids towards the summer house.
Then the permitted stroll involved passing neighbours on loungers in front gardens and stepping off the footpath to let others pass when you reached those rain-starved open fields.
Small communities built up around smaller developments. A builder who lives in an apartment complex where I have a tenant salvaged and spruced up an old arbour and neighbours filled a car park space with giant tubs of flowers.
Of course, it wasn’t all as rosy as that, but if we are to face those sorts of restrictions again, we may well look back and see it that way and recall how we fretted over not being able to get a blow-up pool for the kids.
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On that fateful day in March when Boris Johnson gave us his “simple instructions” to stay at home, the outlook may have been uncertain but the weather wasn’t, with widespread sunshine and temperatures hitting 15C.
Very quickly, several lifestyle indicators emerged. Interest in houses with gardens - Hertfordshire gardens being high on the list - rose as dramatically among Londoners as the ones in the Cotswolds did among those who could hear the M25 in the days it had traffic on it.
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And the more we became locked down, the more we craved the outdoors. More of us jogged, more of us strolled and country walks with the family took a generation reared on Pokémon and Minecraft back to the days of Enid Blyton.
The demand for bike repairs soared. Repairs, not sales, they’d all gone by April and people were joining waiting lists or forced to drag long-forgotten “death traps” out of sheds. I recall Phil Hollins, who runs a pop-up repair service workshop in Bishop’s Stortford market, telling me demand had “gone bananas”.
“To get a new bike, you could be looking at a two-to-three month wait and it was the same with the component supply chain. Basic inner tubes at one stage were like loo rolls,” he said.
So, what will a winter lockdown look like, especially if we are expected to resist spending every hour of them behind closed doors?
Herts interior designer Kerry Laird, who runs the design department at Fishpools in Waltham Cross, said our habits had changed and it will be a tough call to change then back.
“In these crazy times we have all been given the gift of ‘time’ to really explore nature and outdoor spaces and appreciate its beauty and how it makes us feel,” she said. ”Winter is a time to bring the outside in - faux greenery around the home alongside floral candles and diffusers.”
Longer-term, she suggests: “Gardens and balconies should be seen as an extension to the inside of our homes; the two spaces should connect - extending the same flooring from the interior to the exterior if you have bifold or sliding doors is a great way to do this.”
She also suggests thinking in terms of dual-purpose dining, utilising occasional chairs that be used inside and out with weatherproof and fade resistant fabrics.
One word I don’t have to spellcheck again is wellness. While we’ve all been patting ourselves on the back about how well we’ve adapted, I’ve written endlessly elsewhere about the impact on our mental health, especially among those working from home.
That’s partly why experts insist the outdoor activities have to continue. Jenny Woodward, of the Centre for Health Promotion Research at Leeds Beckett University told the Guardian last week: “There’s a huge amount of evidence of the positive effects on health and wellbeing of being outside. Connection to nature improves mood and lessens anxiety. And as the daylight decreases, it’s extra important to make sure we go out.”
And there are practical benefits too. COVID-19 doesn’t transmit as easily outdoors and engaging with nature is known to lower the heart rate and blood pressure. Exposure to natural light is also proven to boost the immune system, improve mood and help us sleep.
That’s why Scandinavian cultures routinely see people socialise outdoors in all weathers, even freezing winter, wrapping up and gathering around small fires.
The first two months of lockdown saw an increase in purchases of outdoor living essentials such as barbecues and solar lights.
Last month John Lewis recorded an 82 per cent increase in demand for outdoor heaters compared to 12 months ago. There was also a surge in demand for fire pits, with some brands selling out as we look to make the most of the outdoor spaces that we’ve got used to.
Homebase also reported a rise in sales of outdoor items. A spokesman said: “We’re continuing to sell chimineas and fire pits online, and we’ve seen sales increase by over 35 per cent compared with last year, suggesting that our customers aren’t ready to come back indoors yet, despite the cooler and shorter evenings, and it’s a trend that’s here to stay.”
If we have to stay inside, we should at least resist the temptation to lock ourselves away. Scientists see ventilation as important to preventing disease spread as handwashing and social distancing because it stops the build-up of viral particles in the air inside rooms.
Cambridge Professor Shaun Fitzgerald, who sits on the government’s Sage environmental working group, says that could be as simple as opening a window, particularly if you have visitors.
“There’s a benefit to a bit of extra air,” he says. But you don’t have to freeze the house by opening them too wide and letting a gale in. “The bigger the temperature difference between the inside and the outside, the more airflow you will get. So you can actually get away with not quite as much of an opening area in winter.”
He recommends opening a high window and leaving it open for an hour after meeting anyone, adding that even the best-performing air purifiers are no match for a sash window left open with a 10cm gap at the top.
Scientists say you can’t measure viral particles in the air but you can measure carbon dioxide which is a good indicator. We naturally exhale CO2, and if it is accumulating in a room, so will the virus. If it is being cleared, then the virus will be cleared with it.
Outdoor CO2 levels are a little over 400 parts per million. A well-ventilated room will have around 800 ppm which is considered acceptable. Unvented rooms can raise that level to as much as 3,000 ppm, so it’s worth enduring a little breeze now and again to stay safe.