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OU research supports society as we move through the pandemic.
Key areas of research are Health & Wellbeing where we consider the effect of COVID-19 mainly on people’s mental health; Inequalities where we highlight the experiences of already vulnerable groups such as children and people with disabilities; Online Learning and Education where we look at the opportunities to deliver more learning online during the pandemic.Read about our COVID-19 research
This video tells the story of a group of OU-led advocates and researchers who helped displaced people, whose situations were made even more challenging during the pandemic, find their voice. Learn more at cov19chronicles.com.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the fear and uncertainty of confinement has been a brand-new experience for many of us. But for people who’ve fled from persecution and war, detention and long periods of restricted movement are sadly all too familiar. Covid-19 arrived in the UK at a moment when the UK government’s hostile environment policies led to growing hostility towards forced migrants.
Since then, covid has only exacerbated the challenges and inequalities that forced migrants face. Misinformation has fuelled racism and the demonisation of migrants in the media. But also, new forms of solidarity have emerged across social boundaries. In order to challenge this hostile environment, a group of Open University researchers alongside artists and activists and international collaborators, got together and we created a project called Covid Chronicles From The Margins. We invited migrants from across the UK and indeed the world, to make creative use of their smartphones during this period of confinement and to share their pandemic experiences through poems, songs, photography, video, diaries and artwork. Our website, Covid Chronicles From The Margins, is the result.
The thing that really stood out was the level of inequality. Not in terms of like, within the UK but also in terms of what is happening to other refugees, like in other places versus the UK.
It’s different stories, different situations but most of them, they are being connected by the fact they are suffering, and this suffering comes, in a way, from discrimination, inequalities and as well their own sense of loss. Their feelings were the same, despair, isolation, sense of loss, bereavement, a continuous bereavement during all the year. This project is a way of coping, as a way of expressing their emotions and their needs.
This project has mainly taught me that, you know, art is not only about creating patterns and making beautiful things. It’s also about spreading love and happiness and making others smile. All the children all over the world have been through a lot since last year. Our weekly sessions from this project, I think they provide an emotional outlet. It’s lovely to see, you know, what these sessions can do and what such a project can do for children, for the community.
Working with Covid-19 Chronicles project as a researcher is a great opportunity to work with amazing researchers and I learned a lot from them. I also had a chance to get in touch with many asylum seekers and refugees in the UK and all around the world. Personally, I believe this project can make a change, to show many documents to politicians and different departments relating to refugee and asylum seeker issues, to review their policy and do urgent acts to make a change for a better life for them.
Covid Chronicles project gave me an opportunity to reach out to those who are normally voiceless in public. Often, we address issues related to their material living conditions, but the project was a great opportunity to discover their creativity and feelings. Some women explained how badly they wanted to be heard. To be able to share their story was like a therapy for most and they explained how relieved they felt.
Working with the Covid Chronicles and collecting all these various narratives, stories, images, has really revealed in detail, the inequalities of a system which seems designed to demonise and isolate the asylum seeker. Having such a wealth of material enables us to see racism, casual cruelty.
What we didn’t anticipate I think is how having these materials online would stimulate contacts from much further afield. I think that’s been the surprise for me, that these global connections, they were there from the start but they were kind of… but now I think, we’re actually being contacted and that for me has made a big difference to the whole idea of Covid-19, it’s become truly global.
Researchers from the Children’s Research Centre discuss their collaboration with the psychologist-led organisation, Children Heard to explore children's thoughts, feelings, and experiences living through the coronavirus pandemic worldwide.
A team of us from The Open University’s Children’s Research Centre and the psychologist-led organisation, Children Heard collaborated to analyse international survey responses in four languages from 240 children aged between 3-12 on their thoughts, feelings and experiences of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. The report argues that children's voices are missing from the pandemic-response and that they have questions which remain unanswered.
As researchers, simply saying that we are going to listen and be reflexive isn’t enough. My experiences of doing research with children as co-researchers taught me that it takes time and attention to hear what children are saying. Ironically, I found myself writing a reflexive memo asking “why was I so charmed and delighted by one of my co-researchers engagement in the research with me?”. Why was another co-researcher’s response so unexpected? However hard I tried, I couldn’t escape my social conditioning as an adult, whose instinct it was to protect, make allowances for co-researcher’s lack of experience of the world and so to be delighted by insightful responses. It was only over the course of a year or more that I was able to truly respect their research offerings as those of a citizen of the world, just like me. Children whose concerns about covid was for their communities, how other people were coping and how their governments were responding to the pandemic for them.
What was most impactful for me from our analysis of the survey findings was the direct nature of children’s questions. These were some of the questions posed by children aged 8-12. They were answering a survey online, but they could equally have been in the room with policy makers and decision holders asking their questions. Children knew what was happening in the pandemic and their questions for decision-makers remained unanswered. Their questions are important and showed a nuanced understanding of not only their own situation, but also demonstrated a deep concern for those in power. I’m not sure many adults would have asked about optimistic visions or shown the same concern for the difficult decisions that were being made. Where are the places children go to have their questions answered? Parents and caregivers don’t always have the answers, and unlike like Norway and New Zealand where the governments held press conferences for children, there were no authorised spaces for children to take their questions and have them answered. As we report in this research, the pandemic was not only a global leveller but a generational one. The big question for me remains, why don’t decision-makers listen to children? What could we as a society have gained by taking the time to invite children to share their questions, listen to their concerns and for their questions to be answered? As a Children’s Research Centre, we will continue to lobby for organisations to work together to prioritise listening to children.
To me, the narratives, insights, and observations children share with us demonstrate that children's honesty and sensitivity is a particular strength. Children show willingness to express their feelings. They make their struggles and experiences visible which to me is courageous and shows openness that is often, in my opinion, missing in a public discourse. Children are not afraid to ask questions and be part of conversations. It is now up to us how we engage with and respond by acknowledging and co-shaping such conversations in our homes, schools, communities as well as at a government level. Also, what strikes me, is the 'us' that children keep coming back to in their narratives. The 'us' is however also something that is often pushed aside in our responses to the impacts of the pandemic. Children emphasise the importance of relationships and communities for our health and wellbeing and show that if we are to thrive post pandemic we must learn to help and care for each other.
This research led to multiple assets, a project report and an affiliated child-focused poster for practitioners and researchers to use in their Covid-recovery work with children. We have also co-hosted Children aged 0-11 and Covid-19: A Conversation Event, attracting 200 attendees from across the third sector, public services and higher education, with keynotes from Professor Carol Robinson and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. A key element of the online event was the curation of a virtual and interactive Research Gallery, showcasing the work of 25 other research organisations, and we are looking ahead to organising an international conference later in the year.
Responding to our project report’s recommendations, we have mobilised an online resource with our sister centre CCW, called the Our Voices initiative, to enable practitioners and children to research together. The aim is to facilitate children’s voices in research and offer them a shared space where their questions can be aired and conversations had.