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Women in Lockdown: A Digital Archive

In this photo essay, three Sheffield Feminist Archive organisers share their own memories of lockdown – and call for submissions of written, recorded or visual material capturing women's experiences.

How has your life changed since March 2020? Sheffield Feminist Archive is documenting women and feminists’ experiences of the pandemic – and we want your stories.

Women in Lockdown is our project to build a digital archive that preserves and shares our experiences in all their uniqueness. We're looking for written accounts (scanned or typed), voice recordings (anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes) and visual representations (photos and artistic impressions) that respond to the last 18 months.

In this photo essay, three of our project organisers share their own memories of lockdown.

Walks and wild swimming Image 1

Lucy's Memories: Walks and wild swimming

My dad and I haven’t always gotten on well. After he and my mother split up, our way of rebuilding our relationship was by walking together, so he was thrilled when I moved to Sheffield and the Peaks were on my doorstep.

During the first lockdown especially, I’ve really missed this time together. He comes to see me in June 2020, and on the first properly warm day of the year, we walk out to Ringinglow. He keeps forgetting about the two-metre rule, so when we stop at Forge Dam, I sit on a separate bench at a distance. For the time being, taking his picture is the closest I can get to him.

Walks and wild swimming Image 2

31 July 2020 is one of the hottest days on record. My housemate and I trundle along the Rivelin Valley looking for an opportune place to set down our bags, peel off our clothes and go wild swimming.

We’ve been walking for well over an hour, all heavy limbs and skin slicked with sweat, but our reward is well worth it. We find a swollen pocket of the river and get in. The water’s so cold that it takes my breath away. For the first time in months, my racing mind slows.

Claustrophobic Surroundings 1

Laura's Memories: Claustrophobic surroundings

I’ve spent the pandemic living alone in a four-walled studio flat, where the oven, sofa, desk and bed are little more than arm-width apart. Even the view from my window is a reflection of my own building, distorted by the glass of the abandoned neighbouring offices.

And so, with each lockdown a new sense of claustrophobia was generated. Restrictions fluctuated, the sticky humidity of the summer turned to bitter frost and ice, and any sense of structure was at best fleeting.

Claustrophobic Surroundings 2

When restrictions first began to ease, I clung to the outdoors.

Weekends were reserved for exploring unfamiliar trails with friends. My only aim was to weave through the wilderness until exhaustion, in an attempt to stretch the boundaries of my cube-shaped home as far as possible before returning.

I continued this habit for months. It was strange to watch the seasons change in a year that felt like it was immobile and suspended in time.

Looking back at pictures from these walks, each image recalls a different state of mind brought on by a variation in weather, mood, restrictions and workload. The photograph here captures a time leading up to an uncertain Christmas. It feels eerie, slow and peaceful to me. A quiet moment amongst the chaos.

Weekend walks Image 1

Jenny's Memories: Weekend walks

Friendship has sustained me during the pandemic, and I cherish walks like this one as an opportunity for a catch-up with close ones.

Our plans are at the mercy of the weather this September afternoon, though we determinedly ignore the grey crowds looming ahead as we saunter carefree down winding paths. Ivy, wearing her pastel pink wellies, is the only one of us in appropriate footwear for the inevitable onslaught of rain.

I pause to capture this sweet moment. I begin to feel revived as we walk and talk, winding further and further through the stately grounds. Naturally, we each arrive home soaked.

Weekend walks Image 2

June 2021 arrives and the weekend walks continue (as does the pandemic) – only now we’ve got our sights set on steeper hills.

The trails merge into one another in my memory, but these snapshots recall independent moments of bliss. Here, feet aching, legs covered in nettle stings, we’re exhausted from our accidental off trail adventure, but then there’s this spectacular view that makes it all worth it.

Only a short distance away, the delightfully sparkling and shallow Burbage brook offers the ideal spot to cool down with ice cream.

Your local feminist archive needs you!

If you’ve got a story about your experience of life locked down in Sheffield, we’d love to hear from you. How did life change for you when the pandemic hit? Which moments stand out to you? How are things now?

Want to get involved? We welcome written reflections and audio and visual submissions. Please email your contributions by Wednesday 1 September 2021.

If you’re not sure whether your submission fits the brief, or if you’d just like to reach out and say hello, please get in touch.

For more information on Women in Lockdown, including how to record your written or audio account and how we’ll use your data, head to our website.

Learn more

Sheffield Feminist Archive is a community archive project, working in partnership with Sheffield City Archives to document and share grassroots feminism in the Steel City.

Since 2015, our volunteer organisers have been recording oral histories and archiving material that speaks to women’s and feminists’ lives.

SFA’s feminism is intersectional and encompasses all self-defining women, including trans* women. We welcome submissions from women of all ages and backgrounds.

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