Oldham’s Lockdown Museum: One Year in Rabia Begum

It is a whole year since lockdown began in the UK on 23rd March 2020. Soon afterwards, we began Oldham’s Lockdown Museum. The project asked local people to send in pictures and tell us what they were doing in a time of monumental change. Over the coming months, photographs poured in and together they create a fascinating and sometimes moving snapshot of Oldham during lockdown. The Lockdown Museum tells amazing stories of how people came together to help one another, adapted their lives and businesses and found the strength to keep going in the most challenging of times.

To mark the anniversary of lockdown, we have contacted some of the contributors and asked them to reflect on the last twelve months. Here we look at how a young artist and activist kept positive by strengthening links with her community.

No. 7, Rabia Begum, artist and activist

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself and or your organisation. Who are you, what do you do? Where are you from?

Hi, my name is Rabia Begum. I work as a freelance artist, activist, and board member on Manchester Climate Change Youth Board. I am currently based in Liverpool (term time) studying Art & Design History and Psychology at Liverpool Hope University, but home for me is Oldham.

  • Thinking back to 2020… What were you doing in March, when the first lockdown started?

I was working as a Visitor Experience Assistant at Gallery Oldham. Volunteering with a local group called Miftaah Initiative, raising £600+ for solar powered water filtration systems in Gaza. Muslims globally shared their first Ramadan in a global pandemic and for many we could reap rewards fasting in the privacy of our own homes without having to worry about physically travelling outside for work/ studies and being grateful for another day. I also wrote my first article for Art UK!

  • What suddenly changed for you when the first lockdown started? How did you adapt?

Going from keeping myself super busy and on the go to staying at home, sharing my personal space with family, and navigating a balance between work, home, and personal time.

The absence of my sisters presence is felt greatly this Eid due to lockdown restrictions. Going through the family album, I found this photograph of my sister and I on Eid day in 1998, Osborne Street, Westwood. We lived in this house for a few weeks as our family home was undergoing renovation. Mum noted how we had both hand-picked the traditional South Asian dresses from a popular fashion shop, Modhubon Saree Centre, located in the heart of Westwood.
  • What helped you through it, personally and professionally?

I kept myself occupied through Ramadan by virtually attending webinars and series by Islamic scholars or online platforms, learning more and praying,. Helping my parents around the home and queuing for family food shops when everyone was ill as well as supporting my father who’s mother and sister passed away. Group chats/ Video calling cousins and friends was a collective therapy of sorts.  Physically when we were able to do so, going on walks and exploring new green spaces.

Small businesses have had to adapt to the Lockdown restrictions… my friend, a local business woman, ensures her customers are not missing out and still have the option to order cupcakes with a special Friday bake sale. @wonderlust_bakery. They specialise in delicious buttercream/ fresh cream cakes. I hand-painted this
  • What has changed between the first, second and third lockdown?

We have experienced three different lockdowns with varying time scales and loss of lives. Each lockdown has presented its own issues. The most recent lockdown in winter has affected many significantly as seasonal affective disorders and the shock of more deaths, surpassing 100,000 has taken its toll.

  • What, if any, have been the positives?

Spending quality time with family, having to live a slower life compared to being on the go pre-lockdown, ability to fast during Ramadan at home, moving away from home to study and knowing that help is out there.

During the Easter break, I was going to visit one of my close friends in Bristol. However when lockdown restrictions were imposed and many people furloughed, my friend and I discussed how we could use our time to read more and connect through our love for reading. She is writing her very first novel, inspired by Haruki Muraki’s book 1Q84, I look forward to catching up with her in person and hopefully read a sneak peak of her first book!
  • What are your hopes for the rest of 2021 and beyond?

Working on my mental health, continuing to study and graduate as well as working on climate crisis projects.