Equitable Spaces

Navigating space under lockdown

The impact of lockdown has disproportionately fallen on Black and minoritised ethnic young people. A pilot study shows how much work needs to be done in this area.

There is a growing body of evidence that Black and minoritised communities in the UK were negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic to a disproportionate degree. However, little is known about the pandemic’s specific impact on young Black and minoritised adults (18-35 years), echoing their relative invisibility in public discourses and in the media. In September 2020, a team of researchers from The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) joined with colleagues at the social enterprise, The Ubele Initiative, to start addressing this knowledge gap. The pilot research was funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and focused, as a first step, on the English context.

Working alongside a group of 12 volunteer peer researchers, the DPU team (led by Barbara Lipietz with Daniel Oviedo, Jordana Ramalho and Orlando Sabogal) explored young adults’ lockdown experiences with regards to home, work, mobility and accessibility, community and well-being.

The pilot project used a variety of research methods. Two focus groups enabled the collaborative research team to define common issues and experiences, which were then explored at scale through a survey. Location was a key factor, so the team used Maptionnaire, a web-based participatory mapping tool. Additionally, a podcast series recorded deep-dive discussions among the volunteer peer researchers on selected key themes raised by the experiences of lockdown. Finally, material for a short film addressing the impact of lockdown policies on young Black and minoritised adults was collected by the volunteer peer researchers. The Ubele Initiative (Junior Mtonga and Fabricio Chavarro) and the production company FOAM20 co-led on the film and podcasts.

This mixed-methods approach, including the incorporation of non-traditional creative media, meant that respondents had a variety of platforms through which to express themselves. It also ensured that the nuances in respondents’ lockdown experiences could be captured. The survey generated a rich dataset, whilst the discussions and media production shed light on the complexity of the pandemic experience.

Key themes to emerge from the pilot project include the centrality of home and housing conditions for understanding the differentiated impacts of Covid-19 and its associated lockdowns on young Black and minoritised adults in England. Given that such young adults often have to navigate precarious housing and employment conditions, the finding is perhaps unsurprising. However, in the context of the pandemic and repeated lockdowns, housing conditions became ever more significant and impacted respondents’ ability to work, their economic security, as well as their mental health and wellbeing.

Survey findings showed that 38% of respondents had to change accommodation at least once between March 2020 and March 2021. The majority experienced the lockdown in shared accommodation. 79% were furloughed at least once. 49% of respondents had changed their occupation. 46% expressed unhappiness with their work-life balance.

Shared accommodation with either family or strangers was a defining feature for the majority of respondents. In some instances, this was a source of comfort and a shield from isolation. In other cases, it was a major point of stress and anxiety, especially in high density households or households of mixed ages / multigenerational households. Many felt they had to hide who they really were. Problems with mental health were also commonly expressed. Over one third of respondents reported that their perceived depression levels were high during lockdowns; over half reported their sense of isolation as high. Meanwhile, many respondents reported difficulties in accessing mental health support, even though they recognised it was now easier, or publicly more legitimate to have such discussions.

Housing conditions of survey respondents 
33% had to change accommodation at least once between March 2020 and March 2021. The majority experienced lockdown in shared accommodation. 
79% were furloughed at least once under lockdown
49% had changed occupation 
46% expressed unhappiness with work-life balance

The loss of face-to-face interaction with peers and social networks was picked as a major effect of the Covid-19 lockdown. In addition, interaction with strangers in public spaces, work or study spaces was reported as an unexpected loss linked to the pandemic. This loss of physical connectivity was only partially addressed by social media, which was described both as a source of support and anxiety.

The pilot research also revealed the impact of Covid-19 and successive lockdowns on Black and minoritized adults’ sense of identity. In particular, lived experiences and media coverage of the differentiated impact of the pandemic on Black and minoritised communities contributed to increased identity awareness among this demographic. This came with the realisation that those who shared their identity were over-represented in essential services and the most precarious jobs – occupations that were adversely impacted by Covid-19.

In some cases, this coincided with a heightened sense of disenchantment with the state and dominant institutions. Focus group discussions revealed many cases of institutional bias or negligence; many participants felt that the government is ‘not speaking for us’ or ‘not focusing on us’. In the face of governmental failings, Black and minoritised communities have had to rely on stretched community networks for access to essential goods, services and support.

The Black Lives Matter protests, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, further contributed to sharpen identity-based discussions. For many participants, they stressed the value of adopting a racial prism to understand the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 and lockdowns on Black and minoritised communities in England.

Navigating space under lockdown has underlined the deep, differentiated, impact of the pandemic on young Black and minoritised adults in England. It has shed some light on the links between housing, work, access and mental health; and how these factors have interacted to produce differentiated experiences of lockdowns for diverse groups of young Black and minoritised adults.

The research has pointed to the vulnerability of many in this demographic, with prolonged lockdowns often compounding already-existing inequalities linked to precarious housing and employment conditions. But it has also highlighted the remarkable resilience and adaptability of young minoritised adults, aided by technological know-how and, in many instances, social media.

In such contexts, community networks have been crucial pillars, filling in gaps left by government and state agencies. An important question emerging from this research is thus: how far and for how long can these networks, most affected by the pandemic, continue to pick up the slack?


Dr Barbara Lipietz

The Bartlett’s Vice-Dean International and Associate Professor, The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Dr Daniel Oviedo Hernandez

Lecturer in Urban Transport & Development Planning, The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Dr Jordana Ramalho

Lecturer in Development Planning for Diversity, The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

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