Article Text

Original research
Negotiating agency and belonging during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic: an interview study among older adults in England, UK
  1. Brianne Wenning1,
  2. Kay Polidano2,
  3. Christian Mallen2,
  4. Lisa Dikomitis1,2
  1. 1 Kent and Medway Medical School, University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK
  2. 2 School of Medicine, Keele University, Keele, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Lisa Dikomitis; lisa.dikomitis{at}


Objectives The aim of this study was to explore the agency of older adults and their strategies to restructure ways of being and belonging in a rapidly and radically changed social environment during the UK’s first COVID-19 lockdown in Spring 2020.

Design Qualitative study consisting of semi-structured interviews. Findings were derived from a thematic analysis of interview transcripts. We also established a patient and public involvement and engagement group who advised on study design, interview topic guide and interpretation of findings.

Setting Interviews were conducted online with older adults in the UK through their platform of choice in Spring 2020 in England, UK.

Participants We conducted 28 interviews (16 women, 12 men) with older adults over the age of 70 years. Our participants were mostly white, middle class adults.

Results From the data, we constructed three strategies that older adults used to employ agency and create spaces of belonging in their social networks despite lockdown restrictions. First, participants created a sense of belonging by being ‘good’ members of society who were knowledgeable about COVID-19. Second, older adults created new ways to socially engage with the wider community. Finally, older adults actively restructured social networks to preserve a sense of belonging.

Conclusions Older adults are actively and creatively carving a space of belonging during the societal upheaval in response to the COVID-19 lockdown and public health restrictions. Rather than internalising potential exclusionary messages based on their age, older adults instead used their agency to reimagine and transform spheres of belonging.

  • qualitative research
  • mental health
  • public health
  • social medicine

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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  • Twitter @BrianneWenning, @LDikomitis

  • Contributors BW: provided input in protocol writing, facilitated recruitment of participants, interviewed 24 participants, led on data analysis and manuscript drafting. KP: provided input in protocol writing, interviewed 4 participants, contributed to data analysis and manuscript drafting. CM: co-designed and co-led the study with LD, contributed to research team meetings and manuscript drafting. LD: co-designed and co-led the study with CM, developed study protocol, prepared project documents and ethics application, substantially contributed to data analysis and manuscript drafting, and is the guarantor. All authors have read the draft critically, made contributions and approved the final text.

  • Funding This work was supported by funding from the Keele University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (award number N/A). CM is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration West Midlands and the NIHR School for Primary Care Research.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research. Refer to the ‘Methods’ section for further details.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.