How Lockdown Turned My Bustling Seaside Resort into a Ghost Town
I was sitting in the living room with my parents when the news of the first lockdown came out. The three of us, clutching onto coffee cups like lifelines, stared up at the screen as history unfolded before us. There’s something chilling about your mind being stuck in a loop of paranoid questions, and ours were: How did this happen? What’s going on? What do we do now?
The COVID-19 lockdowns in the UK were some of the hardest moments that many of us will have had to deal with in our lifetimes. My father battled with the possibility of losing his new job, my mother had to be strong to keep the family together, and my sister had the experience of her last year of secondary school taken away from her. I missed out on my second year of university, lugging a suitcase between home and my city of study as the government forced us in and out of lockdowns.
To stop the spread of this virus, the UK was plunged into a national lockdown on March 23rd, 2020. All shops and businesses other than a select few such as supermarkets were forced to close, and the rule was to stay inside unless it was absolutely necessary to go out. My quaint, little seaside hometown in the south of England became a ghost town.
Situated on the Jurassic Coast — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is Weymouth. Home to 53,000 people, this coastal town is famous for its family-friendly beach, tranquil harbour, and its many pubs and restaurants serving British staples like Sunday roasts and fish and chips.
March regularly brought us cold, easterly winds that would keep away most tourists. Of course, if you were brave, that didn’t bother you — Weymouth is a haven for walkers in the colder months. The famous stretch of sandy beach that turned into glittering pebbles the closer you got to the white cliffs of Bowleaze, is a route that brings peace to many. On an overcast, drizzly day like the one of the lockdown announcement, it was just you, the sand, and the waves.
Stepping out onto the cobblestone walks of my town centre in that fabled month of March felt like I was trespassing; like I shouldn’t have been there. The windows of shops that this town fought so hard to keep open in the winter months were boarded up and vacant. No comforting lights, no bundled up old ladies weaving through the racks in charity shops for a new coat. Coffee machines sat silently in the local coffee shops and restaurant managers hauled plastic crates of soft drinks and tonics onto the streets, wondering when they would next be able to see their bar full of people again.
On the other hand, the beach welcomed more locals than ever before. Unsure as to what to do with themselves, they flocked to the sands in the dreary weather and just walked — spending time with each other in a way they had never done before. For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic brought us together and got us communicating in ways we seemed to have taken for granted. Strangers offered each other hopeful smiles and struck up a conversation. Everybody had something they wanted to say.
Despite the renewed sense of community, it felt wrong to meet up with friends that you had to keep at a distance and sit down on the wet grass together, talking about the pandemic. Being in the town and not stopping for a coffee or a bite for lunch was difficult for me to get used to for sure.
As the months of lockdown dragged on with seemingly no end, hope that the dusty shops and cafes could reopen soon began to diminish. Walking past them after a new announcement hurt a little more each time, and there wasn’t even anyone on those cobbled streets I could share that feeling with. By now, the dog walkers had reclaimed their beach as the initial sense of drive was gone. Most of us spent our time indoors, watching the constant rainfall from armchairs and sofas, and wondering when this would be over.
I chatted with new neighbours, walked the same routes more times than I can count, and found a shopping trip to Tesco unbearably exciting. I also struggled a lot with health anxiety, depressive episodes, and extreme loneliness. As humans, we’re meant to be around people and be social, and going against that felt bad for my soul. Protecting the vulnerable and stopping the spread was the most important thing, but I believe everyone brushed over how vital it was to consider peoples’ mental health from the very beginning. Another future lockdown might not be an option.
When they finally announced that restrictions were easing, I sobbed. A breath of fresh air; a breath of life enveloped everyone in the house. We had kept up with the death, suffering, and anguish on the news for months, and now our little slice of hope was here. It would be a slow and cautious process, but it was finally here.
Our community was closer than ever before. People looked happy to even be outside, surrounded by others. Restaurants were booked up every night, people flocked to the beach again and the enthusiasm to support local businesses was at a high.
The lockdown may have put my little hometown in a place of tough survival, but it got through in the end.
Photos by the author