Understanding new forms of care in times of an pandemic

Early 2020, the Covid-19 global pandemic quickly spread and affected the lives of billions around the globe, including the members of the Reach Network. We felt a strong need to come together as a community to collectively understand the changes in our societies at this unique moment in time. As a group of design researchers and anthropologists, we quickly realised that we could make use of our professional research skills to contribute to the on-going learning about new forms of care. 

From hearing the news and sharing personal stories about the increasing worries of COVID-19 at both local and global levels we had also seen the development of new forms of care. As a devoted design research community we wanted to understand and explore these new manifestations as a potential force of change in our societies whose weaknesses and inequalities had been exposed even more by the pandemic.

This resulted in the Care Capsules project, led by Reach partner The Care Lab in Barcelona and supported by Reach members from the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Indonesia, India, South Africa and Mexico. In total we collected more than 50 stories where we interviewed key workers and volunteers during the pandemic. One thing we found so far is that three types of care should be interwoven in a healthy balance: how individuals cared for themselves, for each other, and for others. Some of the other insights we discovered so far are described on the REACH website.

Alternative perspective of care 

STBY contributed to The Care Labs as well by collecting in total six stories from the UK and The Netherlands. STBY was especially curious in providing an alternative perspective of care. Instead of the ‘frontline’ messages we would already see on the news everyday. We wanted to look for subtle changes that happened in people’s lives and what kind of forms of care they practice nowadays. Emerging insights to far are:

Adapting to the new work/home and social situations: Working online and from home had an impact on both the physical space and people’s private relationships at home. For example when both partners suddenly need to work from home, and combining this with schooling their children, demands a lot of multi tasking and finding new routines to take care of themselves as well as well for others.  In addition, social norms were taken into account even more when visiting relatives that are at risk in order to protect them from COVID19.

“As a family we make sure to go outside for a walk everyday with the children.” – Occupational therapist (UK)

“I have a background in healthcare and felt the urge to help my mother but we had to avoid any physical contact. That was very difficult.” – Care professional (NL)

Inequalities are even more visible than before: Adapting to the new working situation also resulted in vulnerable communities and existing inequalities within society got amplified through the lockdown. A scholar mentioned that the lockdown definitely would have an impact on female scholars because of the child care at home. In addition, if people are already in a challenging situation at home the lockdown made these circumstances even harder because people’s regular safety networks (either through the government or socially) were not available.

Publications of male scholars are now increasing whereas women scholar publications are decreasing due to the responsibilities of child care, home care” – Academic lecturer (UK)

“The school stopped for all the children and then families are appointed towards each other within four walls, which sometimes increased the tensions between each other.” – Coordinator Refugee Council (NL)


Appreciating a slower lifestyle: Social relationships between family, friends and close colleagues were strengthened, either through spending more time together or by having more frequent and in-depth contact via phone or online. Looking back at the COVID situation until now most people shared a sense of appreciation with having a slower lifestyle. The lockdown provided an opportunity to have more time to reflect and being grateful for the things that are often taken for granted.

“Mutual support was initiated between neighbours, people offering help to each other. e.g. Street WhatsApp groups, people putting letters through each other’s door to offer help and new connections were made.” – Occupational therapist (UK)

“I am more aware now how busy life sometimes can be. With your family, work and friends. Just take a pause, take more time for each other and really be there with your head and your heart.” – Coordinator Refugee Council (NL)

A way of making sense of what’s happening

In the Netherlands we spoke to mainly social workers and they felt a strong frustration of the necessarily impersonal contact within their social care role or during life events, such as attending a funeral/cremation. In the UK there was a stronger sense of community initiatives and involvement but also a concern about the lack of governmental outlines for providing appropriate care to the elderly. 


Being involved in this project was a way for STBY to make sense of what’s happening in this surreal situation that was slowly dominating our daily lives. It was an opportunity to actually step out of our own bubble, both professionally as personally, and trying to understand how other people are coping during this pandemic in their everyday lives. 

This project is still ongoing as we move into 2021, when the Reach Network will keep enriching the data as the pandemic continues to evolve around the world and shape our collective lived experiences. We look forward to publishing our conclusions and findings, as well as reaching out to find potential collaborators interested in developing specific opportunities for new care solutions & strategies that help build community resilience to global crises.

Care Capsules part of social innovation conversations

Social Innovation Exchange (based in the UK) included REACH Network’s Care Capsule work as a resource in their global Wayfinder project focusing on shaping social innovation in urgent times. Reach partners hosted an event in September for Wayfinder where care was discussed along with observations and insights emerging from the Care Capsules research. This discussion was part of nearly 100 global conversations that contributed to a collection of stories and an understanding of current themes around social innovation.

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