December 1, 2020

The loneliness of living in the lockdown city

Diana Omokore Image copyright Brother Bear
Image caption Diana Omokore is one of only a handful of students living in a Leicester hall of residence

For many Leicester residents, the news the city was facing an extended lockdown was a source of frustration. But for those already living in isolation, it means wondering how their world can ever return to normal. BBC News meets them.

“Usually it’s very loud and full of people all the time and I find it a bit annoying but now I think I really miss it.”

Since the start of lockdown, medical student Diana Omokore, 20, has been, she believes, one of the only students remaining in a Leicester hall of residence built to accommodate 600 people.

“I don’t have an address,” she says. “My address is halls.”

Image copyright Brother Bear
Image caption Diana is working on the frontline during the extended lockdown

As a care leaver who spent her final teenage years living in a hostel, rather than foster care, Diana has no home to go back to when times get tough.

“Perhaps if I’d been placed in a foster home until the age of 17, I would be in a much better position because I would still have links with those people,” she says.

‘Six months of being alone’

As it is, Diana has regular counselling and chats with friends over Zoom and food packs left by charities.

But, since the start of lockdown, it’s the human interactions she has been missing.

“It’s really tough,” she says. “I didn’t realise how isolating it would be. I usually get a lot of support from the university but, because uni is shut at the moment, the support is limited.

Image copyright Brother Bear
Image caption Diana hopes to use her skills to care for others “going through difficult times”

“I’m finding it very challenging not having that home to go back to.

“I go for walks. Sometimes I just go for a drive, just to keep my mind off things.”

Diana went into care in her late teens. As an outstanding student, her situation was not picked up on, she says, until things reached “crisis point”.

“My school didn’t see the signs because of how driven I was,” she says. “I was a very high achiever – I saw it as a way out. I decided I would go to university, buy a car, get a mortgage.

“I kept thinking that as long as I stayed focused, I would be ok.”

Inspired by some work experience at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Diana plans to use her medical studies to work in paediatrics – and help other children “going through difficult times”.

She is currently working on the frontline, doing home care for people who are isolating, and says that while the extended lockdown is “a stressful time”, it reminds her there are other people who need help too.

“For me, normality won’t be normal until September and that’s pretty much six months of being alone,” she says.

‘I’m too frightened to go outside’

Image copyright Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland
Image caption Janet Perkins says she is fearful of leaving her home

“This morning, I got up early to put the dustbins out because I thought it was Friday. Then I realised it wasn’t. I’m losing track of time – I’m losing my marbles.”

The passing of time has become confusing for Janet Perkins, whose Braunstone home falls just inside the Leicester lockdown area.

Janet, 68, is a full-time carer for her husband Robert, who has leukaemia and son Damon, 29, who has autism.

She says the family has barely left their home since lockdown began, relying on food parcels dropped off by Age UK Leicester Shire and Rutland, and she cannot picture them leaving their house again.

“I’m frightened to go outside my house, especially when you see people walking down the street in big groups,” she says.

“I’ve not been to the shops since March. I would rather go without.

“I was born just after the war so I know how to make a little go a long way.

“I don’t even hang my washing out any more. My husband is housebound, so none of us go out – other than to put the bins out.”

Janet’s fears centre on her family’s health conditions, which she says makes them vulnerable.

“I’ve got four other children, but they’re all front-line workers so we can’t see them,” she says.

When Leicester’s extended lockdown was announced, Janet says it only increased her fears.

“The extension bothered me a lot,” she says. “It’s depressed me something bad. I don’t think I am going to go back outside again. I’m just too frightened.”

‘I can’t help miss my family’

Image caption Dawn Alejandre-Grau says her “active, sociable life” has come to a halt

“Everything was just beginning to feel a little bit more like normal and now, suddenly, we are in lockdown again.”

Despite living alone, Dawn Alejandre-Grau’s life has always been very active and very sociable – until the coronavirus lockdown happened.

“I would go and see my sister every Wednesday, meet up with a friend for a cup of tea on Thursdays but I haven’t been able to see anybody for months,” she says.

“Normally I’m a very sociable person. Everybody knows me on the dog walk and, in normal times, we stop and have a natter but you just can’t mix with anybody at the moment.”

Dawn’s 60th birthday, at the start of July, was a rather muted celebration.

“It was extremely quiet,” she says. “Normally I would have seen my brother and sisters. We did a video call but it wasn’t the same.

“My sister is locked down in one part of Leicester and I’m in another. I’m here on my own. I’ve got my dog and it’s nice to have some company but I can’t help miss my family.

“I’m feeling quite upset since they announced the extended lockdown. I want things to look forward to, but I don’t know if I can build my hopes up.”

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