Getting outside is definitely 'in'


The outdoor opportunities of Covid-19 should be here to stay

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Image by Lucy Brown

By Lucy Cooper

When I was a child I always preferred the indoors. I would sit and read in my room or watch TV with my brother. We would play outside, of course, but usually because our mum wouldn’t let us have a snack if we didn’t spend an hour in the garden. As I got older, and the opportunity of a tan arose, I started to sneak out onto the grass a bit more. But it is throughout the last year that I have truly begun to appreciate the importance of nature and the outdoors.

Of course, you can still condemn the pandemic and its handling, and wish it never happened, whilst also seeing some of the positive consequences it can bring. There is no doubt that the advent of lockdown and the banning of indoor pubs and restaurants has given birth to a host of new and inventive ways to exist within the great outdoors. In York it is especially noticeable, with a wealth of brand-new seating areas dotted around the city, creating new hubs of activity and an ‘overflow’ of pub garden space for those bright summer days. During the winter, hospitality across the country developed covered gardens, novelty igloos, and cosy sheds, perfect for a tipple in the minus temperatures. Laugh as we might at the scenes of al fresco dining in the pouring rain, these shelter spaces have been a real haven.

Left with no other option, pubs have been left to think of innovative solutions. A personal favourite is the rise of a takeaway pint – when the pubs are full to the brim with bank-holiday drinkers, having the option to grab a drink to sit by the river seems to be the perfect solution.

On campus, the pandemic has also led to new venues and an exciting evolution of the student bar experience. It came with its bumps (no heaters in The Forest until Summer came round... brrr) but it is clear that the pandemic has led to an embracing of the space we are lucky to have on campus – whether that is a pop up park near Nisa, or a whole new watering hole on Greg’s Place. We are lucky to have the space we have, and it was especially important during the earlier stages of lockdown to have safe, outdoor spaces on campus for students to meet and relax.

When I think about my first year experience, I am astonished at the lack of knowledge I had of the city around me. I went on my first walk from my second year house (having nothing else to do in the pandemic) and I remember stumbling across Millennium Bridge and Rowntree Park. I was stunned at the beauty and the vast expanse of a city I had once known to just be the 66 bus stop, Kuda, and McDonalds. This memory was repeated again and again, as the lockdown forced me to go further and further afield on my runs and daily walks. Without the pandemic, I wonder if I would have ever found the farm paths out past Heslington, or the calm side streets through Fulford. Once I even went on a run through some fields and ended up on the main road next to Monks Cross Shopping Centre, which I had always considered a faraway, car-accessible-only spot... not a particularly safe adventure, but an eye-opening experience nevertheless.The pandemic gave me a new appreciation of the city I now call home – a city which I really love now.

With this brought new ways of socialising. My friends and I typically rocked up to the pub for our catchups, punctuated with a few pints and maybe a bowl of chips. Throughout the lockdown, especially in the wintery January, we found new ways of hanging out. I even got to tick ‘socially distanced, slightly awkward walk with random person from Tinder without a drop of alcohol in my system’ off my bucket list – a great, if somewhat desperate, moment.

But even by yourself, it is clear that the outdoors has an important impact on us. Particularly at York, thanks to our expansive and green campus, the benefits on our mental health are all too clear. Taking a moment, especially in such a stressful and confusing time, to go for a wander around the lakes -can do wonders for a brain whirling with seminar readings and dissertation literature reviews.

It is evident that our society, and how we socialise and interact with each other and the hospitality industry has adapted alongside the pandemic. Although nothing beats a cosy drink by the pub fire, I hope that these changes will continue beyond the lockdown. Takeaway pints, and picnic tables by the Minster have made this city an even more special place, and they should be here to stay