Oldham’s Lockdown Museum: Collecting Covid-19

Many people imagine that looking after a museum collection is about looking after things and keeping them unchanged for years to come. Perhaps surprisingly, it is also about recording change and building for the future by reflecting what is happening in the here and now. Few, if any of us have seen changes of the magnitude of those that have occurred in the last twelve months. So, like many museums across the country Gallery Oldham has been collecting Covid-19 material that will show future generations how Oldham lived through the global Coronavirus pandemic. 

Being in the digital age has made it possible to capture people’s everyday lives; their thoughts and emotions with real immediacy through our Oldham’s Lockdown Museum initiative. Behind the scenes we have also been collecting some of the objects of lockdown and recording the stories they can help to unlock.

We have collected a variety of objects that show how people adapted to the crisis and came together to help one another, as well as photographing the changes in our own buildings: the appearance of screens, hand-sanitising units and new signage. As the rainbow pictures appeared in our windows, people did their utmost to support the NHS and offer practical help. For example, we have collected some of the items local businesses and individuals produced. From high-tech, 3d-printed visor shields to lo-tech draw-string bags, made by Oldham crafters and distributed to NHS staff to transport and wash their surgical scrubs.

As you might expect, we have things like hand-sanitiser; briefly so hard to get hold of, but now absolutely everywhere and we also have a selection of government letters and leaflets. Not only those starkly announcing the strange new world of ‘lockdown’, back in March, but also the more recent vaccination callouts. At last bringing us hope of escape from a way of life few of us ever expected would last so long.

Image of scrubs bag made by local volunteers for staff at Royal Oldham Hospital

We are taking a moment or two to look back on a year of change: a time of hopes and dashed hopes, great pain and sadness and above all uncertainty, the COVID crisis is not quite over yet. We will continue to collect and record change, whatever the future brings. Now that people are beginning to reflect on the past year, we are revisiting some of our donations and collecting the stories of the events of the last year in the form of interviews and oral histories. If you have objects, or stories related to the COVID 19 crisis that you would like to offer to us for our collecting Covid-19 project please contact me at: William.longshaw@oldham.gov.uk      

Take a look at Oldham’s Lockdown Museum.