ZCD Architects’ Dinah Bornat reflects on the first week in lockdown


Dinah Bornat


Monday’s announcement of lockdown came as somewhat of a relief to our family as needing to shield our eldest was complicated in a semi ‘normal’ world. Her younger brother needed to get set up with schoolwork and her younger sister is twiddling her thumbs after the shock of suddenly leaving school and without any A-levels to revise for. Lots to adjust to.

At work we had cleared the office before the weekend, giving everyone a computer to take home. We’re small and pretty good at working out IT ourselves. Our wonderful year out student set us up on google chat, so we’d started the week with a morning meeting and are now trying to make sure we do that every day. We’ve talked a lot about how everyone is coping and are hugely relieved that the furlough scheme will be able to catch us when we need it.

Uncertainty and a lack of funds meant that some of our work was evaporating, but not all. On site it throws up some challenges about how to continue our role safely as contract administrators and the team has been advising our clients on preparing for site closure.

Meetings and deadlines in our calendar had disappeared in front of our eyes and by Tuesday were being replaced by a dizzying number of video conference calls. By the end of the week I’d tried out at least three I’d never heard of the week before and was delighted I might never need to use Skype again.

On Wednesday I had my first online design tutorial with my student from Oxford Brookes. He seemed happy back at his parent’s house and had been able to complete a surprising amount of work, which was great to see.

One of the more interesting challenges has been how to adapt our engagement and consultation work. In the middle of the week we started to have a number of conversations about how to use existing online web facilities such as Commonplace, Zoom, Whereby and Livestorm, promising to test them out between us. We’ve been thinking about how to represent design proposals and how to collect feedback.

We are specialists in engagement with children and young people, who we usually say are not at all ‘hard to reach’. It turns out that they are now, as many of them don’t have Wi-Fi at home”

We are specialists in engagement with children and young people, who we usually say are not at all ‘hard to reach’. It turns out that they are now, as many of them don’t have Wi-Fi at home and can’t start the morning with a Joe Wicks workout or stream box sets at the end of the day. We’ve had several conversations about how we can we reach young people, which have become very difficult as we started to understand how some families are trapped in overcrowded flats, scared to use the lift, often vulnerable and worryingly isolated. You feel quite useless working from home and wish you could be doing more.

By the end of the week we had started to look at new ways of working; using video on WhatsApp and thinking about how we can carry out engagement by phone, supplemented with worksheets sent out in the post.

With primary schools we need to look at Google Classroom and we are thinking about how to reach out to the schools we are already working with, perhaps offering to help them with additional resources they might need in coming weeks too. This could even stretch to new schools who might find it helpful too.

I’m sure like many, we ended the week with a beer on google chat. After food and sleep, staying in and staying connected now seem the most fundamental needs.