Lessons from lockdown: The changes we'll keep

Helen Steemson (right) with her wife Keren and son Zebby  during lockdown Level 3.
10:05 am on 23 February 2023

Lockdown has been an extended period of reflection for New Zealand's team of 5 million. RNZ visual journalist Claire Eastham-Farrelly and her colleagues captured socially distant 'door-traits' of New Zealanders during a unique moment in history and In Depth reporter Teresa Cowie asked what changes they'll be locking in from lockdown.

Helen Steemson: Having fewer choices is freeing

Helen Steemson (right) with her wife Keren and son Zebby  during lockdown Level 3.

Copywriter Helen Steemson (36), right, with her wife Keren and son Zebby (3) - North Shore, Auckland Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

My pre-Covid life was so busy and so full of choices and so full of things that I needed to control, things that I needed to juggle and be in charge of because I’m a business owner. Lockdown just removed all of those choices and all of that responsibility, or most of it anyway. Looking back on it now, I feel like that has actually been so healthy for me. I've struggled with some anxiety in the last 12 months and I feel like bizarrely lockdown has seen me be my most mentally well that I've been in a long time. It forced me to see what is nurturing and nourishing for me. So like, rushing around malls to pick up an item and then having lunch in a busy cafe and then driving around Auckland on a weekend was not nurturing and nourishing. Spending time at home digging out the garden, jumping on the trampoline, building lego is. So it might just be that I recalibrate the way I use my recreation time. I suspect making the change will be almost impossible, but maybe understanding what's been really good for me can help me scale down my life a little bit.


Marisa Yeung: We appreciate Grandma so much ... and her cooking

Portraits of people in lockdown. Marisa lives in Christchurch and misses being able to get fresh food

Retiree Marisa Yeung (61) - Ilam, Christchurch Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

A couple of weeks before lockdown we were on holiday overseas, Vietnam, Cambodia, and then when we were at Singapore, on our last stop, we realised we would have to hurry home. My elderly mother-in-law lives with us [Marisa, her husband and son] and we had to make plans to send her to family in Auckland so we could keep her safe while we self-isolated. It was only meant to be two weeks, but when we went into full lockdown she got stuck up there. It’s been so long now. My son’s been complaining about my cooking, he’s naughty, yeah, but honestly, Grandma's cooking is the best. He's got the golden tongue, he says, “Grandma's cooking is the best, everyone says that.” When I cook he says, “When’s Grandma coming back?” - the cheeky boy.


Joe & Kelly Taulangovaka: Homeschooling has taught us so much about our kids

Portraits of people in lockdown. BJoe and Kelly Taulangovaka and their children photographed at their home during lockdown Level 3.

Glazier Joe (35) and finance assistant Kelly Taulangovaka (41) with Siiali (9) and Lilyana (6) - Woolston, Christchurch Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Kelly: Working from home and homeschooling has actually been a huge benefit, because before we didn't know much about what they do at school. They don't tell you, they get in and go, "Um, we read a story," or something like that. And they learn very, very differently to how we used to. I want to be able to hopefully work at least one day from home now. Dropping the kids off to school and picking them up would be amazing, I love seeing their wee faces light up when I do, compared to when I’m dropping them off at out-of-school care at 7:30 in the morning and picking them up from there again at 4:35pm. Also, I don't actually get to see the teachers or anything. It would be better for me because I'd be able to gauge where they are at school and probably bond with the kids more. 

Joe: I’ve loved having more time to interact with the kids, getting to know them better, having time to do hands-on stuff. We’ve been baking and building scaffolding ramps, for them to do jumps off with their bikes. They’ve got to know how to use hammers and saws - they were loving it, eh.


Victoria Vincent: Turning the lens on myself 

Portraits of people in lockdown. Victoria Vincent at her home during lockdown Level 3.

 Victoria Vincent (42), photographer at A Beautiful Photo - Nelson Photo: Supplied

The lockdown was a time of reflection about my artistic practice as a photographer. With my studio closed for the duration I had to find a new person to sit for me, and that person was me. And the thing is, I discovered it was petrifying being in front of the camera. Taking a self-portrait I felt a lot more vulnerable than I thought I would. I know very well that this can be such a confronting and daunting experience and I know exactly what to do to make this an amazing experience for my clients, putting them at ease, having a laugh; but when it came to photographing myself it was so much harder that I thought it would be. This experience of stepping onto the other side has scraped away an extra layer of understanding of how my client feels - their vulnerability, their courage. I thought I understood it before but now it’s just all so much clearer to me.


John Tava'e: I want to see more of New Zealand

Portraits of people in lockdown. Zumba instructor John Tavae at his home where he now runs his classes online.

 John Tava'e (55) Zumba and HIIT Instructor, Auckland Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

I’m actually quite proud of New Zealand in terms of how we’ve taken this pandemic on. I’ve been reflecting on how we, as a community, stood by each other with no gripes about this and that, especially when you see other countries that have, you know, the dramas that go on. Here the government put things in place and New Zealand just followed. It’s made me want to see more of our own country. My wife and I, we travel overseas a lot, she’s in the airline industry. I think we have this tendency to travel everywhere else in the world, but we don't realise how much we have here in our own backyard. We'd like to go back down to the South Island, maybe down to Dunedin, even locally around Auckland, probably go up north, Coromandel, Mount Maunganui. Just some of those places you would like to get more time to visit.


Creating a new bond

Portraits of people in lockdown. Claudia and her five flatmates at their Wellington home.

Student Claudia Murdoch (22), left, and her flatmates: Evie Mills (21), student; Gillian Anderson (24), hospitality worker; Scott Barbour (24), bartender; Rose Fenton (21), student; Savannah Faure (21), student - Mount Victoria, Wellington Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Claudia: Going into lockdown we were pretty terrified, because we're a flat of six very busy people who usually have no free time. We were pretty stressed about how we would fill the time, so on the first day that we found out it was happening we came together to sort of brainstorm what we would do. Our flat’s not the prettiest, so we decided to paint it. Our flatmate Gillian went to the hardware store in the last 24 hours before lockdown and got a big tin of white paint, and so basically every surface in the flat that was white is now whiter. All the first week [we made] a Covid-19-themed board game. That was Gillian's genius too. We also did flat yoga sessions in the mornings and, when I started to struggle with getting out of bed, my flatmate Evie decided she would come into the bedroom blasting a ‘wake-up’-themed song every morning. I have just really loved having time to hang out with everyone; without it we never ever would have been as close as we are as a flat. I feel like I've got better at letting my flatmates know if I'm having a hard day, so that they're allowed to help me rather than me going to my room and dealing with it by myself. Before, half of us were basically strangers and now we're just like a little family.


Blaise Clotworthy: Accepting what I can’t change

Portraits of people in lockdown. Blaise Clotworthy at his apartment in central Auckland during lockdown Level 3.

 Blaise Clotworthy (25), charity worker and online Jazzercise instructor - central Auckland Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

I’ve really learned about being at peace with the things I can’t control. I couldn’t go into to work at my usual job, but I really wanted to give back and bring joy, so I started teaching Jazzercise classes on my Instagram to help empower and encourage people and create a sense of happiness and well-being. I feel like in the age of social media, with such a large focus on what we look like - that there are always people that are more sexy than us, that are more educated than us, that are having better holidays than us - it’s so important to remember that is just a one-sided reflection of somebody's life and what you have in your own life is enough. Every morning I would get up and I would dance around my balcony for half an hour and be grateful for the sunrise, or look out my window and see the gorgeous autumnal trees that were shedding their leaves as we moved into April and May, and kind of just go, “You know what? It's okay, I'm okay, the way I am right now, right here. And what I'm offering the world is beautiful and unique.”


Richard Kingi: Kicking bad spending habits

Portraits of people in lockdown. Richard Kingi photographed on his street during lockdown Level 3.

 Richard Kingi, (50), electrical small business owner - Conifer Grove, South Auckland Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Some of the things I’ve always done, I’ve realised I don't really need to do it. I can actually live a quieter life. I usually go out a few times in a month, to quiz nights or the movies. I bought a coffee or two a day before, but now I’m actually very happy with instant coffee. I reckon from now on I’ll just drink an instant before I go out and break my habit of spending money unnecessarily. I do need to socialise, because I live alone at the moment, but I don’t need to go out to the best restaurant or buy lots of coffees. I’ve even realised I like home-cooked food more. The other night I had Chinese for the first time since lockdown, my favorite Chinese place, and I spat it out because I'm not used to all that grease now.


Bree Felton: I’m so grateful for school

Portraits of people in lockdown. Student Bree Felton photographed outside her home during lockdown Level 3.

 Bree Felton (16), year 12 student - Mount Wellington, Auckland Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

I like school, but I think I just realised how important it was to have that sort of structured day and have all my teachers and peers around me all the time. I remember one day doing my chemistry at home and going through the PowerPoint, writing my notes and just feeling like it was not the same. It was not as interesting and engaging as it was when I'd been with all these people around me. It's sort of like that cliche, "You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it's gone" - all those things that seemed really basic and unchanging to us, like going to work and school, having fast food or toilet paper on the supermarket shelf. Having weeks without those things available as they used to be, I think everyone's just hopefully going to come out of quarantine more grateful for all those things. And I know I am a lot more grateful for all the people around me after not being able to see them.


Aletheia Elder: My work is not my identity

Cafe owner Aletheia at her cafe Hare and the Turtle.

 Aletheia Elder (32), co-owner of Hare and the Turtle Cafe - New Windsor, Auckland Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

I learned that for the last 10 years of my life, I've just been grinding away. Hospo culture has this thing where your kitchen worth is based on how hard you can work, how many hours you can take on, how little time you need off, how fast can you be? Like your whole life should just be kitchen and service. So having a moment to not do that has been helpful because before, even on our holidays, we [boyfriend and co-owner, Jamie] would be worried about the cafe and what are we going to do next and stuff like that. When there was none of that, you realise that all those other things that you enjoy in life are just as important as your work and there needs to be a balance there - and I feel like that's the gift I gained from lockdown, the cafe and serving, although I love them, they're a part of me, not all of me. 


Hadley Fierlinger: Nature is everything

Portraits of people in lockdown. Hadley Fierlinger photographed at her home in Wellington during lockdown Level 3.

 Hadley Fierlinger (49), mind-body coach - Kelburn, Wellington Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

I really appreciate how the lockdown has allowed nature to shine. I've seen about a million birds and really, my attention is just all into nature. It seems to me that it has all the answers right now. And it's like I see poetry in everything, I see the connection to the leaves and the colours and the way that nature doesn't rush through anything - it takes its time and it's not worried about the future. Every time I go on my daily walk into the Botanic Gardens, I realise that the trees aren't worried about their leaves shriveling up and dying. It's just what happens and it is such a comforting metaphor for these times of uncertainty. I think one of the things I definitely want to continue with is the longer walks I’ve started doing. It's about prioritising my time better so that I see the walk as something of value and not just sort of like, oh, if I have time, I'll go for a walk. We have plans to build a house and move to the country soon and I have never felt more certain or more sure that that is the life that I want next. I really want to have less city and more nature.

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