Fife in Lockdown: collecting future history

Like many other museums all around the world, the OnFife team set out to create a permanent record of the difficult times we all experienced during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although still fresh in our minds, the pandemic will one day become an important section in history books. Our museums’ Collections team has therefore collected objects and archival material linked to Covid-19, including a self-test lateral flow kit, a face covering, and a bottle of hand sanitiser produced by a local distillery.

In addition to that, we also set out to record individual Fifers’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences around what they were going through. This material has now been processed and compiled into our “Fife in Lockdown” digital archive.

On 26 March 2020 OnFife started a campaign, inviting individuals to email their lockdown experiences to the museums’ Collections service. In addition to that, our colleagues from the Exhibitions team, Local Studies, Archives, Creative Development, and Young People’s Service helped us spread the word about this project through their networks. Here are some examples of what we collected.


Documentary images

We were sent an array of photographs of various signage and imagery we became familiar with during Covid. The signage reminded us to stay safe, keep our hands clean and sanitized, and keep our distance from others. Variations of these signs were used all around the world – which is a mind-boggling thought! I wonder what memories these images will evoke in 10-, 20- or 50-years’ time?

Photos of Covid-19 floor signs (for example, keep distance from others; one-way arrows and so on). The second photo shows signs made by residents of a small village, asking people not to congregate on the path as many of the locals are elderly.

Photos by Jennifer Kelly

Another iconic group of images we received were linked to the NHS. Including photos of the NHS rainbow – a symbol of resilience and hope.

Photo of a wooden bench with Bless the NHS sign attached to it. Various other decorations, including the rainbow, are surrounding the sign.-

Photo and text by Niamh Conlon: “This bench was created by one of our neighbours. It was taken during lockdown on one of our once-a-day walks. We were lucky in that we had access to green space”.

From communal support for the NHS to isolation – those who had to spend time at a hospital during the pandemic often found it a lonely experience.

Selfie of a woman in hospital , wearing a face covering.

Photo and text by Clare Whiston Fisher: “Due to COVID issues in hospital I could not be accompanied in the ambulance by a family member and wasn’t allowed visitors”.

Painting of a young woman wearing scrubs. Her face is lined with red marks - from wearing the face covering.

Photo, painting and text by artist Katy McKidd-Stevenson: “I saw Emma’s (a cardiac scientist) photograph on social media, her selfie which she took showing the marks left by the masks she had to wear on the ward for Covid safety – I loved her poor wee face, and wanted to paint it, so I contacted her and asked her permission, which she gave”.


Many Fifers were kind enough to share their lockdown thoughts and feelings with us, spanning from a couple of paragraphs to hundreds of pages. Here are some snippets from them. Which one of these experiences do you most identify with?

“Was able to buy yeast again today. It has been impossible to find for at least a couple of weeks; it’s odd how little things like that assume such importance in lockdown conditions.”

Working from home, never used TEAMs before. What is it they say about monkeys left in a room with a typewriter?

“There is some value in an ‘all in this together’ feeling and it’s likely that some at least of the beleaguered and courageous NHS staff gain strength from the visible (audible) expressions of support. I can’t pretend to be comfortable clapping on the doorstep in the twilight – but who says we have to be comfortable?”

Early on, people started colouring rainbow pictures and putting them in their windows for people to see. It helps us to feel less isolated…knowing we are all going through this together.”

My next-door neighbour often puts our bins out in time for collection day. I thanked him today and explained that I’d only brought mine back in because I’m wary of touching anything that’s not mine. It feels ridiculous to not be able to touch the handle of his bin to pull it back up to the house.

I’ve become a little bit of a therapist for some of my friends, who are feeling a little depressed during these times.

“I put on my happy face as I didn’t want the kids seeing me like that. Mums are meant to be strong and here I was weak. I also developed a guilt over feeling like this as here I was feeling like this safe at home when there were people out there risking their lives for others. I did feel better when I was up and playing games with the kids or watching movies with them but once they were in bed, I started to feel depressed again.”

“At home, we are feeling a kind of cabin fever, sitting down every evening to supper and then choosing a film or TV series to watch. It feels like Groundhog Day without the possibilities of improving on what went before. I’m missing weekends away and feeling refreshed by a new set of experiences.”


Helping others

During lockdowns, many of us lent a helping hand in our communities. Here are some examples:

Photo of a woman sitting at a desk, sewing.

Photo and text by Sylvia Scott: “The scrubs were sewn for the NHS early on in Lockdown, almost all the ones that I made were from recycled fabric and all triple washed at 60 degrees prior to being worn. They went to NHS doctors, and some were brightly patterned”.

Delivering food and other essentials to neighbours and local organisations in need will also bring back memories to many. Here is a photo of Becky and Gideon’s car during one of their delivery runs!

Collage with two photographs - a selfie of a young woman with a car full of bags. Second image shows the car filled with bags.

Image by Becky Salter


Creative projects

Lockdown gave many people an opportunity to focus on hobbies or even start a new one.

For example, spending time in the garden:

Photo of blooming cacti in pots.

Photo and text by Robin Arnott: “As they say, “every cloud…” and I decided that I needed a project to keep me active. With a large cactus and succulent collection, May and June are prime flowering months for the cacti but being often away in the caravan at that time meant that I missed seeing many of the wonderful blooms. My project in 2020 was to photograph every plant as it came into bloom and undertake some botanical research into their origins”.

Bumblebee on a pink flower.

Photo and text by Marjory Archibald: “Self-isolating since March 18 meant that our dependency was on caring neighbourhood and using technology. Indebted to both of these my contribution to your Project is a series of photographs sent daily by my neighbour Alan whose career was in Horticulture. Each morning a treat of spring flowers arrived on WhatsApp. Depicted here is the first bumblebee of the season on Camellia Debbie. 18 March 2020”.

Crafting or painting:

A quilt depicting a lake with a hill on the background.

Photo and text by Andrea McMillan: “I live in Auchtermuchty and there is a community shop in the next village, Dunshalt, that does a great take-away latte. I got into the habit of walking over once a week, across the fields and back along the road. That’s about 3 miles and I felt I earned my coffee and cake. There are great views over the Howe of Fife towards the Lomond Hills, and I took a photo in October 2020 of waterlogged fields. This is the result; the three birds are Pink-Footed Geese which we see in their multitudes at this time of year. The water on the field is a stitched sheer fabric”.

Painting depicting a pink elephant and a pink owl.

Photo, painting and text by Margaret Cummins: “I was beginning to feel that the inconsistent rules had overtaken my life! Sometimes so ludicrous they were funny! So, I painted this picture of a pink elephant, a pink and green owl with some poppy seeds and leaves hanging upside down and socially distancing themselves…”

Or writing short stories and poetry:

Framed poem titled The Rainbow. The poem is about Covid-19

Photo and poem by Caroline Kyle

The Fife in Lockdown archive is currently not publicly accessible but is permanently saved on our Collections Management System to be used in future exhibitions and research.

We would like to thank all participants: Marjory Archibald, Robin Arnott, Ann Bain, Martin Boyle, Margaret Braid, Niamh Conlon, Julian Crowe, Margaret Cummins, Judith Dennis, Fife College students, Clare Fisher, David Hughes-Hallett, Bernadette Kelleher, Peter Kellett, Jennifer Kelly, Catherine Kerr-Dineen, Caroline Kyle, Eunice Lacey, Penelope Lycett, Katy McKidd-Stevenson, Andrea McMillan, Linda Menzies, Gillian Paterson, Donald Payne, Lindsay Proven, Becky & Gideon Salter, Maureen Sangster, Sylvia Scott, May Smith, Eileen Louise Walls and those who wished to remain anonymous.

Your contributions will become history!



Call-out for additional participants

We are still looking to add the following memories to our Fife in Lockdown database:

  • Experiences of a first-time mum
  • Wearer of a sunflower lanyard
  • Individuals or those working with individuals for whom English is not their first language

If you wish to submit an entry, please email before 22 August 2022.

This blog was written by Kirke Kook, Collections Curator