The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Navigating Space Under Lockdown: Key findings from DPU co-led project published

5 July 2021

The project, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, aimed to document the experiences of Black and racially minoritised young adults in England during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Given the relative invisibility of young adults in national discussions and policy approaches relating to COVID-19, the DPU has partnered with The Ubele Initiative and FOAM20, to launch the project Navigating Space Under Lockdown (NSUL), a collaborative, mixed methods research project, documenting the perspectives and experiences of Black and racially minoritised young adults (aged 18 to 35) in England, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responding to a gap in current understandings, the project explored how young people’s experiences of home, work, mobility, community and well-being have been affected by the pandemic and by prolonged periods of lockdown.

With the support and guidance of 12 peer researchers, the project reached out to over 200 young adults from across England, through focus group discussions, an online survey, a podcast series and a short film, to capture some of their diverse voices and experiences.

As a result of the research, a set of key findings have been published. Some of the key findings are as follows:

  • Navigating Space Under Lockdown highlights the deep, differentiated, impact of the pandemic on young Black and minoritised adults in England. The research points to the vulnerability of many in this demographic, marked by precarity in housing and employment conditions. COVID-19 and prolonged lockdowns have compounded these and broader experiences of disadvantage and exclusion.
  • The research also highlights the remarkable resilience and adaptability of young minoritised adults – aided by technological know-how and, in many cases, social media – in what have been unprecedented and often traumatic times. In such context, Black and Minoritised community networks have been critical pillars for young adults and their networks, filling in gaps left by government in access to essential goods and services, and support. The pilot research begs the question: how long can such networks – often most affected by the pandemic, and with limited resources – continue to pick up the slack?
  • Home and housing conditions are key for understanding the differentiated impacts of COVID-19 and associated lockdown measures on young Black and minoritised adults in England. Who young people live with, how much space they have access to, housing density and /or cost considerations have significantly impacted young adults’ ability to work (including ability to work from home), their work prospects and economic security.
  • Housing conditions have also had a major impact on young adults’ mental health and wellbeing: a source of comfort and a shield from isolation in some cases; or, in others, a major point of stress, anxiety and insecurity, especially for those in high density households / shared accommodation. Many reported feeling unsafe or unable to ‘be themselves in their own homes’, or having to hide aspects of themselves.  
  • Our research has highlighted the close interconnection between mental health, housing and work situations. Loss of physical connectivity and access have intensified this link, whilst social media was described as both a source of support and of anxiety. 
  • For many young Black and minoritised adults in England, mental health support has been difficult to access. However, with COVID-19, it has become publicly legitimate to discuss the mental health of young adults.
  • COVID-19 and lockdown experiences have played an indirect role in sharpening identity awareness for many young Black and minoritised adults in England. Coinciding with the Black Lives Matter protests, many became acutely aware of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minoritised groups. For some, this coincided with a heightened sense of disenchantment with the State and the mainstream institutional landscape, whose COVID-19 responses left many racialised minorities ‘off the map’.

For further information about the project please contact DPU's Barbara Lipietz, Daniel Oviedo or Jordana Ramalho, or Ubele's Junior Mtonga