It’s no coincidence that as a nation we have adapted to the current situation, as humankind have been adapting since time began - innovation is built into our genetics!

Covid-19 is an occurrence that has forced us to tap into our innovative instincts so that we can minimise potential impact and develop new ways of working and communicating. From TikTok to Zoom, virtual meetings, virtual pub quizzes and virtual fitness classes: our diaries are busier than ever.

Sunderland Software City as potatoes

We wanted to take this opportunity to speak to and highlight some of the innovative ways that businesses and people are adapting to the global pandemic:

Our Creative Nation

The cultural and creative sectors have been greatly affected by the pandemic. Forced to mass closure, venues, cinemas, theatres and creative spaces are all innovating their services. For example, Secret Cinema recently introduced the Secret Sofa: a cinema/theatrical experience like no other that you can be a part of from your own living room. 1000’s of households across the world press play on a movie and all watch at the exact same time. To enhance the cinema experience, Secret sofa includes ideas about what to wear, eat and drink on movie night. At the same time, Arts Council England has listed free theatre screenings that are taking place in theatre houses across the globe.

But the cultural and creative industries aren’t the only one’s innovating. The famous all-too-familiar nightlife scene of the North East has shifted too. Bongo’s Bingo, one of the craziest events we have ever been to, has started using Twitch to live-stream its events. You can now enjoy your Friday nights in your pj’s at home, alongside some vino with your friends online, while still experiencing the madness that defines Bongo's Bingo. Still fancy a dance afterwards? You're in luck. Plenty of North East bars and clubs such as Aveika and Xerox are now streaming their DJs online to recreate your favourite Saturday nights. 

And it's not just the bars that are bringing music online. Community groups and organisations are also seen uniting musical talent virtually. A great example is Facebook page the Lockdown Lounge who are bringing together the best talent in the North East music scene, providing epic sets from some of the local talent and at the same time raising money for the NHS.

Meg Ward, who you would typically find grooving behind the decks at Tokyo Bar is one of them.

Meg Ward, DJ

“I got asked to do the live stream by the people that run the lockdown lounge page. They’re pulling all the artists from around the North East together to do these live-streams which is sick. My main motivation was because it was for the NHS, but also, I miss DJing. It definitely made me feel good when I did it, it felt like I was back in a venue again actually playing for actual people. But it was also bittersweet because it made me realise how much I miss everything.”

You can catch Meg’s set here.

We love these ideas, and we know we're not the only ones. Some of the residents of NewcastleGateshead quayside took advantage of the new wave of live streams by holding an 'Isolation Disco' in flats along the Tyne:

Photo: The Independent

Small business owners

One major change we've identified within small businesses has been in the fitness industry. There are hundreds of examples of fitness instructors and personal trainers that are now offering at-home workouts that require no equipment, so that you can maintain your fitness levels from the comfort of your own home. Most of these workouts are free to download or take part live via social media. We spoke to one personal instructor, Jonny, who told us about the positive impact digitisation has had on his business:

Jonny Monaghan, Founder at JM Fitness

“I’ve seen this crazy period as a blessing. It’s given me and Sophie more time to improve on different business areas and put a lot more time and content on social media. Our main focus is trying to catch people’s attention with Pilates, posting more of what it is and how is benefits us. With our classes going LIVE on Facebook we can reach the attention of so many more and the response we have got has been amazing. Over the last 2 weeks we are communicating with people from all over the world: Australia, Germany and Canada. Social media has been very kind to us, hopefully all this work will pay off when things return to normal and JM Fitness will become more recognised in the fitness industry.”

But what about the businesses that are just starting out? Imagine being in the process of launching a business whilst there is a global pandemic! Well, we had a chat with local entrepreneur Jeni, who made the decision to go self- employed weeks before the government issued social distancing guidelines:

 Jeni Banks, Founder at Networkingknowho 

“I feel like social media has a completely different vibe since lock-down; instead of people over exaggerating how wonderful their lives are, we're suddenly all in the same crappy boat together. It's like there's solidarity for the first time. I'm using social for information and for that sense of community I'm used to engaging with. I'm using platforms such as Zoom and Skype to stay connected with friends & family whereas previously I'd probably just text them now and then. Plus, I'm using technology to launch and run my new business from home! Next week I'll be delivering my first remote training session; something I'd probably never do had it not been from necessity, but something that's already taught me a lot. Tech is most definitely a lifeline throughout isolation, and it allows us so many more opportunities to connect, engage and be productive with our extra time. Yay tech!”

Innovation across both the nation and generations

But it’s not just people in business that are thinking innovatively about new processes and ways of working, we all are!

Digital inclusion has been high on UK Government’s agenda for a number of years (see here & here) and one of the biggest challenges that everyone is facing is how to engage with digitally inactive people to teach them skills that will not only help with day to day life but also improve social mobility and employment opportunities,

However, because of lockdown, we are now seeing people that would ordinarily dismiss technology use it as a way of staying connected with friends and family; attending doctors’ appointments, doing their shopping and even virtually attending their regular clubs etc. We spoke to one of those organisations who is now using technology to engage with its members:

 East Durham Dementia Friendly Choir 

“Our choir leader Bethany is the driving force behind this. 

We’ve all embraced the technology and all of our choir are over 50, the oldest member is 88 and she manages fine. 

The joy on everyone’s faces is plain to see, especially for the people who live alone.”

 You can see the amazing video they created to say thank you our NHS heroes here.

We also spoke to some of our own friends about how they have used technology to keep in touch during lockdown. Here's what they had to say:

“I got my parents set up on facetime, my mam hates social media but is finding it a right laugh keeping in touch - they’re both in their 70’s". I usually only use social media to see what’s happening in the world (I’m nosey) however during this time I have used in to do my usual fitness classes, pubquizzes and to keep in touch with my friends & family. I’ve also been introduced to Zoom – something I had never heard of or would have used usually; it’s been amazing setting up coffee mornings and virtual nights out with my friends.”

 Social media has become a life-line for many, and the use of applications such as FaceTime have actually played a part in strengthening relationships, that feeling of we are all in this together and the want to help and check on peoples welfare has become a top priority for most.

All in all, we think that it’s fair to say that sometime humanity can be great, that people will find new ways of using technology to support and connect with each other and that we can truly call ourselves a more tech savvy nation.


Honourable mentions

Finally, if you’re still looking for some inspiration during lockdown, here’s a roundup of some of our favourite things:

Photo: Sunderland Echo