Ground breaking research is being undertaken into how families with children coped at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rosie Parnell, Professor of Architecture and Pedagogy, at Newcastle University, explains what the researchers hope to study and how you can get involved.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, homes were both ‘prison and sanctuary’. Gardens became sites for praying and playing; for eating and retreating. But for those one in eight households in Great Britain who had no access to a private or shared garden, the quality and quantity of ‘the great indoors’ became crucial.
It is well-established that the quality and quantity of domestic space impacts our mental health and levels of tension among families with children. Despite the idea that ‘we are all in this together’, lockdown experiences have highlighted social and housing inequalities.
Dwelling size, density of occupation and access to outdoor space have all come into focus. Take, for example, the impacts of space on home learning: while 17 percent of children from high-income households did not have a quiet room to study in during lockdown, this figure rose to 40 per cent of children from low-income households.
Strain on relationships
Homes that once felt adequate started to feel strained. With families juggling home-schooling, home-working and home-playing, often all at the same time, much-needed personal space was hard to come by. Lost work and income, disrupted routines, isolation from friends and family, alongside covid-related health and well-being, all played a part in increasing anxiety and tension. Over a third of respondents to the Work@Home survey reported that household conflicts had increased.
On top of this, research has shown that individuals who lose control over interpersonal interaction are more likely to experience stress and anxiety, with serious effects on familial relations, parenting and by implication, children’s psychological and social wellbeing. While parents were often burnt out by home schooling, it is now well-documented that the mental health of children and young people has suffered the knock-on effects of the pandemic. We are only just beginning to see this legacy.
However, the layout and features of some homes can play a positive role in regulating personal interactions, by adapting to new patterns of living. In other words, in some households, there is potential to adjust and reinvent existing spaces in ways that reduce the negative psychological and social impacts of living in the same space, with the same people, without a break. While this flexibility can partly rely on the amount of space available, ‘liveability’ also relies on the specific qualities of each home’s spaces.
Clearly the pandemic has made us all focus more on where and how we live, but there is still a lack of research into families’ experiences and interactions with their homes. This is where the At Home with Children research project comes in. What can lockdown teach us about the ‘liveability’ of our housing? This study aims to learn from families’ experiences so that we can identify which domestic contexts pose the greatest risks and challenges for families. More positively, the study will also document the spatial forms of resilience that have emerged – the sometimes subtle, sometimes inventive and always creative changes that families have made. How did we reinvent the humble kitchen table as office and classroom? Where did Joe Wicks run his PE class? How did people carve out time and space to themselves, for snatched moments of restoration?
Informed by a nationwide survey and accounts from child and adult family members, the research explores what makes a family home ‘liveable’. In the short- to medium-term, the project will share the ideas, tactics and spatial changes that families have found helpful at home, so that others might learn from them. The proposed ‘Home Hacks’ will form the basis of a ‘Home Hack Liveability Toolkit’ for widespread dissemination directly to families. Longer term, we hope to influence housing design policy and standards both north and south of the border.
In order for this to happen, we need to reach a wide range of households to make sure diverse voices are heard. Please share our invitation to participate in the research through your own social and professional networks. Help us do something positive with the difficulties we’ve all been through. Here is a Tweet you can copy and paste:
For more information, please visit https://athomewithchildren.ac.uk.
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