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Recording People’s Stories of Active Leisure during the Pandemic – Martin Hurcombe, University of Bristol

Like many people, I have been working from home for over a year now. Before the pandemic, my typical workday involved either a long bike ride into Bristol or, more usually, a decent walk to my village bus stop and then a walk up Park Street to the University of Bristol where I work. I’ve stopped wearing my sports watch with its nagging step counter which tells me to move as soon as I’m sat in a Zoom call (so most of the day) as I can no longer meet its needs. I do virtually no incidental walking these days. But, this has had the advantage of making me appreciate every single step I am able to take beyond the house. It has reintroduced me to the pleasure of walking for the sake of itself rather than just as a means of getting from A to B.

I have also been fortunate in being able to continue to work. My research focuses on the stories we tell about sport and exercise, so I was doubly pleased (as both someone who loves being outdoors and as a researcher) when I saw how much time so many people were now spending exercising outdoors. With my colleague Melanie Chalder, we’ve set out to capture as many of these stories as we can and to preserve them for posterity in the hope that we have witnessed an important change in the way that we live our lives in what may also be one of the few positives to come of the pandemic. The project, which we are running with Knowle West Media Centre, records the surge in walking, running, cycling etc. from the first lockdown to the present. As well as recording the stories of a group of volunteers (some of whom are walkers), we’re collecting social media posts, photos, videos or any other media recording people’s outdoor adventures and experiences.

From this we want to create a digital and freely available archive of people’s stories and experiences so that we can learn some immediate lessons from them, but also so that we have a historical record of how the pandemic transformed lives in the area and our relationship to the world around us. Ultimately, we plan to use these stories to evaluate the physical and emotional benefits of active leisure, but also the difficulties of maintaining levels of activity since lockdown ended

If you’d like to find out more, visit our project page here.

We’d love you to share any of your memories or stories of walking during the pandemic, so please get in contact with me and Melanie via email sml- if you’d like to donate something to the archive.

Martin Hurcombe is Professor of French Studies at the University of Bristol. His current research explores the relationship between the way we talk and write about physical activity and how this this shapes our understanding of and attitudes towards it. He’s currently writing a history of the relationship between the sports press in France and cycling.

Published in
Sun 2 May 2021
Last Updated
Tue 5 April 2022