Photographer captures Norfolk's year of lockdown
- Credit: Si Barber
King's Lynn-based photographer Si Barber has documented Norfolk's year of Covid, which began when Great Yarmouth's puppet man became one of the first to don a mask.
There seemed to be something of a 'phony war' about the first weeks of the pandemic in Norfolk, he writes here:
There were a few people, like Puppet Man wearing masks when they were out and about, and it seemed more of a novelty than anything else. I don't think anyone, least of all the government knew how the situation was going to play out or whether they could compel the population to observe the lockdown.
It wasn't until shops began to limit the amount of people allowed to enter and places like laundrettes where neighbours had gathered to chat were declared off-limits for anything other than their designated purpose did it feel that the regulations restricting normal life were having an effect.
The government's response to the virus was to initiate the most significant exercise in modifying the nation's public and private behaviour in living memory, and whatever happened subsequently it would be an event that would remain in the collective consciousness for many years after it faded from the headlines.
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I wondered if future generations might regard the pandemic with the nostalgic glow which often accompanies momentous events recalled by those who weren't compelled to live through them or perhaps they would know more of the painful realities as the nation tried to rebuild itself?
In the early stages of the lockdown everything looked much as it had always done but as it wore on those commonplace and everyday aspects of our world began to unravel, intruding into the consciousness. Billboard posters on Massingham Rd in Norwich, unchanged for months, were now weather-beaten and torn at by the wind. A signifier that life as we knew it had stalled.
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Even the pubs which 400 years earlier Oliver Cromwell had failed to close were compelled to shut their doors after they were deemed 'non essential'. Some like the Live & Let Live in King's Lynn kept up with customs and traditions for which they had become known and continued celebrating St George's Day.
Not everyone was on board though and some resisted the 'stay at home' message, but they said it was just a three-week lockdown and summer was on its way.
Hunstanton in August 2020 looked very much like any other year, apart from the occasional intrusion of social distancing signs. Despite its cancellation and a warning from the police a number of visitors went to Sheringham on what would have been the town's 1940s day dressed like their grandparents.
By the time the second lockdown was announced in late October 2020 autumn was well under way and any novelty in the situation had been replaced by a grim determination. In Wisbech the shops that had gone out of business had become the preserve of the young who used their precincts for skateboarding and parkour. In King's Lynn the only shops open were the discount stores and lone shoppers could be silhouetted against the afternoon sun as they walked down the High St.
Sometime between December 2020 and January 2021 lockdown 2 became lockdown 3. It didn't seem to be an event that anyone thought was particularly memorable. The days were short and cold and seemed very much the same. People were regularly wearing masks outside now, although the risk of transmission was said to be low.
Back in King's Lynn the 817th Mart which would have started on February 14 was cancelled, but the cold weather that it usually brought with it still came, whipping a freezing wind along Broad St on a Saturday afternoon.
On February 22, the news that lockdown would be gradually lifted was welcomed in North Walsham by Colin Page Confectioner and Tobacconist. Mr Page, who had remained open throughout the pandemic and had been delivering supplies to his customers, expected a gradual return to normal trade levels, rather than a stampede, but as he remarked “no one can know what the future will bring”.