'Paranoid and panic': study shows how some East Enders coped in Covid lockdown

People in isolation tell their stories, going on show at Toynbee Hall

People in isolation tell their stories, going on show at Toynbee Hall - Credit: Adam Isfendiyar

The world shrank for most people in the East End during "soul destroying" lockdown with some even feeling paranoid, a study by Oxford University has found.

The research was carried out by Adam Isfendiyar who toured the streets knocking on doors to take snaps and get people's stories. 

“I saw man at his window in Shoreditch just looking out and that gave me the idea,” the 41-year-old Whitechapel photographer told the East London Advertiser

“I put a message on a Covid mutual aid group and got swamped with 50 replies in just one hour from people wanting to be involved. They were anxious to tell their stories and were looking forward to when it would all be over.” 

One reply came from researchers at Oxford University’s Centre for Ethics and Humanities carrying out study with older people in isolation, so a collaboration began. 


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Their findings go on public display at Whitechapel's Toynbee Hall next month. 

Alex aboard her houseboat at Limehouse

Alex aboard her houseboat at Limehouse - Credit: Adam Isfendiyar

One of those taking part was a woman living in a houseboat at Limehouse Marina, Alex, who soon got busy distributing food deliveries from Celtic Bakers and weekly fish orders from Barney's in Billingsgate Market. 

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She recalled: “I became paranoid when we were only allowed out one hour a day. I panicked if there were too many people around which led me not to go out at all! I've stopped watching the news.  

“But who knew you could play Trivial Pursuit with your family via a video call? I'm sure my sister was cheating!” 

Lawyer Komal Patel in isolation at home in Whitechapel

Lawyer Komal Patel in isolation at home in Whitechapel - Credit: Adam Isfendiyar

Lawyer Komal Patel in Whitechapel was in isolation for the first time in her life, her days spent exercising, cooking, reading, learning a new language, practicing piano — and trying to master a headstand. 

“I didn't have a garden so restricted outdoor time was pretty soul destroying,” she reflected. “But parts of my brain that were clearly overworked have relaxed for the first time and it's made me realise how much of my life runs on adrenaline. It's nice not being in a rush.”  

Komal also spent time as an NHS check-in-and-chat volunteer to “get to know what others are going through”. The first thing she wanted to do when it was all over was “give someone a big, big hug”. That’s apart from her headstand. 


Couple in Mile End... in their bubble with little Juno

Couple in Mile End... in their bubble with little Juno - Credit: Adam Isfendiyar

A couple in Mile End spoke of their world shrinking, just Leanne, her Australian-born husband James and their little toddler Juno born a few months before lockdown.

Lianne admitted: “It has been stressful at times, but also blissful. Our world has shrunk, just the three of us in our own bubble. We take Juno for a walk in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park where we’ve been foraging for wild garlic.  

“We’ve both eaten our body weight in chocolate and drunk way too much alcohol and spent a small fortune on Gail’s pastries!” 

Family of five in Bow... front door was limit of their world

Family of five in Bow... front door was limit of their world - Credit: Adam Isfendiyar

A family in Bow kept the kids amused with Cosmic Kids yoga, running round the garden pretending to be animals and opening a restaurant for their soft toys.  

Mum-of-three Tamara went from having childcare help with her older two children attending nursery to having to entertain all three at home all day, every day.  

She’s had “domestic burnout” doing the laundry and cooking and didn't plan to be a stay-at-home mum, but at least got to know the kids well after months of intense family time.  

Tamara has also been delivering food to her elderly neighbours during lockdown. 

“They're real East Enders,” she discovered. “One guy told me about his grandfather working at the London Docks whose granddad didn't have the use of one arm. The dock supervisor insulted him one day and he punched the guy in the nose with his good arm — he was called ‘One Punch’ after that.” 

Their stories with Adam Isfendiyar's snapshots of being stuck at home during lockdown go on public show at Toynbee Hall in Commercial Street for four weeks from September 1. 

Adam Isfendiyar... photographer and acupuncturist at his own window on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch

Adam Isfendiyar... photographer and acupuncturist at his own window on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch - Credit: Adam Isfendiyar


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