By Emma King
The promise of normality is on the horizon once again. The UK is now in the second phase of lockdown restrictions easing, and the national picture is extremely optimistic. Over 50% of adults have had at least one dose of a vaccine and Covid-19 cases are continuing to fall, as are hospital admissions and deaths.
If lockdown lifting continues at this pace, from 21st June all legal limits on social contact will cease, allowing clubs and large-scale events to reopen in full force for the first time in over a year. In many ways, it feels almost too good to be true. But whilst we’re all desperate for this long-awaited return to normality, re-entry problems are to be expected with the reopening of UK nightlife.
I’ve been as desperate as anyone else to socialise freely again. And yet when I see the increasing number of Facebook events for club reopening nights popping up, my instinctive emotion is (somewhat surprisingly) stress. From getting hold of those coveted tickets in the first place to picturing being in a densely crowded environment again, I don’t believe I am alone in feeling anxious.
After well over a year of intense limits on social contact, it would be unrealistic to expect a perfectly smooth transition back into the complexities of a pre-pandemic social life. Day-to-day life has been reduced to a bare minimum in the last year. The societies, sports and events that once made up the fabric of our university experience, at Durham and beyond, have all but disappeared. Considering the most exciting social event in recent times has been a themed “bar crawl” around the house, re-entering the hectic social routines of normal university life will undoubtedly cause anxiety for many.
I hold my hands up and admit that (despite my reservations) I have already bought tickets for several separate events in late June. FOMO is hitting on an absolutely unprecedented scale. Each Facebook event seems like a glowing promise of the return to normal. When our social lives have been so depleted for so long, even a single night out feels unbearably precious to miss (forgetting that there will be, and always is, another night out around the corner). Witnessing frantic group chat messages trying to schedule a string of large-scale events for two months’ time when it is still currently literally illegal to socialise indoors feels totally absurd.
It’s no secret that the last year has adversely affected mental health across the population. For many, worry about the pandemic has translated into heightened anxiety in daily life. The return to crowded bars and dance floors is bound to bring with it its own renewed social anxiety. Our sense of personal space has been radically, and perhaps irreversibly, altered by Covid-19. We’ve learnt to scan for ‘social distance’ and assess risk wherever we go, and claustrophobic environments may feel understandably unappealing at this point.
I do understand why venues are selling tickets so early. Nightlife has easily been one of the hardest hit, if not the hardest hit, industry during the pandemic. Close social contact is part-and-parcel of their business, which has been all but wiped out in the last twelve months. Early-release tickets will give them the vital funds to pay their staff and reopen their venues in the first place. Of course, no one is forcing us to purchase the more expensive “Final Release” tickets. And yet it feels ever so slightly exploitative to make students part with their cash so obscenely early – especially for non-transferable tickets, locking us in with no chance of refund.
Perhaps we just need a little more time to get used to the concept of unrestricted socialising again. The next two months will be a chance to re-enter the world slowly, but surely. There’s no right or wrong way to feel about the “return to normal”: from pure excitement to mild apprehension, to acute anxiety. After a year of isolation unlike anything we’ve seen for generations, we should anticipate some turbulence on re-entry to the pre-Covid-19 social climate.
Photograph: Amana Moore.