Sharon Bailey worked with East Durham Creates during lockdown to include local isolated adults from East Durham in her Home Alone Together project.

Previously, Sharon Bailey had been commissioned for the Home Alone project. The atrium of Castle Dene Shopping Centre, Peterlee, was transformed into a photography exhibition and performance area, which saw over 500 people view Home Alone over the course of the day.  The performance-focused on an older woman sitting in her living room, alone.  She spoke to the audience about her day-to-day experience, an experience that a growing number of older people in our communities face.  Her living room in Castle Dene Shopping Centre allowed people to view what is normally hidden from sight open to public attention. For eight months Sharon Bailey visited older people who live by themselves, stuck in their homes for long periods of time. Traveling across Newcastle, Gateshead and East Durham she photographed and recorded conversations with them, spending hours talking and listening.  She also created alongside them, making drawings, paintings, clay works, digital films, and embroidery, re-kindling skills they believed they’d lost. Then Covid- 19 happened, the pandemic meant that everyone was now experiencing isolation but for those who were already ‘home alone’ the extreme conditions of shielding and restrictions made their loneliness an even greater burden.

One of the beautiful things that had come out of the ‘Home Alone’ project was Sharon’s lasting relationship with all the people she visited, and throughout lockdown, she had kept in contact with many of them.  We invited Sharon back to East Durham to include our area in her new work- Home Alone Together reconnecting with those who had been part of the original story to see how COVID-19 had impacted their lives during the past year.  As such, the  Home Alone Together project provided an opportunity to reconnect Sharon with some of those involved in the original Home Alone project and ensure that their stories continue to be heard. Sharon also established a new relationship with those who had been in the audience for her show in Peterlee, commenting how they hoped they would never find themselves in extreme isolation- only to find that shielding meant they were.

To mark one year of restrictions and lockdowns Sharon presented  ‘Home Alone Together in Northumberland’. For five months Sharon had been writing to and calling a group of older people living in North Northumberland, she provided regular visits, letters, bespoke art packs and cultural experiences on doorsteps, journaling about the participants’ experiences of lockdown. The project worked with 9 older adults, half of whom had been part of the original work.

Due to the depth of engagement and the previous relationships established in the original Home Alone Sharon’s portraits provide an intimate look into the lives of the individuals hit hardest by Covid- 19. Combined with the powerful voiceover reflecting the voices of older people living in the community and Sharon’s own diary,  Sharon added moving visuals of nature. Sharon spent time outside, photographing and filming – the river at the bottom of her garden, the local beach, listening to the birds, seeing the small changes as winter developed into spring. Together the visuals and voices make a moving piece of art, that acts as a reminder of the difficulty and emotional turmoil many people suffered during the lockdown.