Sustainable UCL


Taking a breath during lock down

Local residents views on clean air research.

Cosmo China door

1 July 2020

When we were locked down, as well as many shops, schools and businesses closing,  much of our research had to be put on pause. Our clean air research involves many different people in our local area, and in late 2019 and early 2020, we had started to speak to residents living in and around Great Ormond Street, planning meetings. But then we all had to stay at home, and non-COVID related researchers were limited to working online. After the initial shock, we took a deep breath, and started to reconnect with each other as important reasons to continue to learn about air quality didn’t go away. 

First of all, travel patterns in the city were changing in ways that looked as if they might help sustainability. There were many reports that London air quality was benefitting from reduced traffic. Levels of NO2  (a harmful gas that cars produce) were much lower than usual - down by around 50% according to the Mayor’s new evidence. 

Secondly, people’s daily lives had been dramatically changed and so the questions we were asking were changing too. What was the experience of air quality during lockdown? NO2 was down but what about other air quality concerns? How had the local area changed? And was that OK for everyone?  How should we be engaging as UCL researchers? And how should we conduct to research involving local people? What were the best ways to be in touch? 

Luckily for us, the conversations already started made it possible for us to continue engagement online. Normally we can make contacts through word of mouth or approaching people in a public space. During lockdown, this is much harder, and for people who were ‘shielding’ (staying at home because they had health conditions that put them at greater risk) impossible. But our contacts stayed in touch by email. As lockdown loosened a little, local businesses helped put up posters to get the word out using a strapline that a local had suggested –maintaining the good side of lockdown. We have even had group meetings over video.  

Across the UK, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how we will live with COVID, and what this will mean for local areas and clean air. Just this week, one English city went back into full lockdown. And for our engagement, there is still a long way to go and new people to reach. But already we have learned that local citizens are enthusiastic to be involved in clean air conversations; will help in reaching out to others; and share experiences of living with cleaner air that can provide important input to help shape future studies.  

Join the network

Do you have a suggestion for us, or wish to get involved in UCL's clean air project? Then we would love to hear from you. Please just email our project lead, Dr Lucy Natarajan, Bartlett School of Planning lucy.natarajan@ucl.ac.uk