“Never known anything like it in my lifetime.”
That’s a line we’ll all have heard in the 100 days since Boris Johnson announced the coronavirus lockdown on 23 March.
Normally it’d be something your nan might say. For Telford in Shropshire, it’s true of an entire town.
Throughout the last 100 days, Radio 1 Newsbeat has been in touch with people in Telford about how lockdown has changed them and their lives.
There’s the local footballer who has no idea what will happen to his career, the personal trainer who had to change her business overnight and the rapper who thought 2020 would be his best yet.
‘A great place to grow up’
Telford has only existed since the late 1960s – built then to offer new housing to people from much busier cities. After 50 years, it’s still called “a new town”.
“It’s got a perfect blend of rural and urban,” 18-year-old Molly Morgan tells us about her hometown. “It’s a great place to grow up.”
“I’ve grown up here, my family’s here, my future’s here,” adds personal trainer Esther Williams.
“It’s got a great community. When I was younger, I’d have gone to Birmingham or Wolverhampton for the day but now there’s so much to do in Telford.”
Telford was a far more ambitious project than other new towns of the era, like Stevenage and Crawley.
The aim was for 225,000 people to live there by 1991. In 2020 there are around 155,000.
The town is cut down the middle by the motorway linking Shropshire with the Black Country. Famous brands including Hitachi take sites on the industrial Stafford Park to the east, with the world famous Iron Bridge, arching over the River Severn, a couple of miles to the south.
The idea for Telford was to bring smaller towns, like Dawley and Lawley, together into one community.
“It’s got a magnificent situation overlooking Shropshire… I think it’s got the makings of a very fine town indeed,” were the words of Alwyn Sheppard Fidler, former City Architect of Birmingham, who helped with the plans.
“Once an attractive town is built there – industry will go,” he said.
In lockdown, Telford is a community facing some of its biggest challenges – and the people we’ve been talking to spoke about challenges that will feel very familiar. In many of the stories you hear, it’s the mood of uncertainty which keeps coming up.
Esther’s personal training firm, Ruthless, takes up a small corrugated unit on the sprawling industrial estate of Hortonwood, where both Epson and Heinz have bases.
She only started her business in 2018 and its whole model was transformed overnight on 23 March when the prime minister addressed the country and told us that all non-essential businesses, including gyms, must close.
Esther’s been paying full rent on the unit during lockdown and is still waiting for the government to say she can re-open. In the meantime, her focus is online sessions and small exercise classes in the park.
“The work I’m doing is great, and I’m so grateful for that, but it’s not quite enough to be able to keep paying the rent there.”
During that first week of lockdown, Esther told her clients on Facebook: “We will be back. We will be stronger. We will be unstoppable.”
Looking back now, she adds: “I’ve never done online so I was quite nervous. I went to Zoom having never used Zoom before.
“For me, it was completely different. It was daunting to begin with but I’m so glad I did.”
You can’t help but notice Esther says “so grateful” and “so glad” a lot. She acknowledges others businesses have not had her flexibility.
Esther’s husband lost his job in sales but couldn’t get furlough as he’d only been with his company a short time.
“He’s just starting now to get interviews. The stress of trying to find a job – even a temporary job – they just go so quick. Things are getting better now. I’m just lucky I can work now and things are starting to move.”
From Esther’s unit to one of the town’s focal points – the New Bucks Head, home to non-league AFC Telford United – is just a seven-minute drive.
For the sixth tier of English football, it’s impressive. A 6,000-capacity stadium would surely be one of the bigger days out in the National League North. AFC Guiseley and Curzon Ashton are typical visitors.
AFC Telford United typically get a thousand people turning up to home games but there’s been nobody through the turnstiles since Kettering Town on 14 March – and without any income from tickets, the club’s faced desperate measures.
On a Go Fund Me page seeking donations, a message reads: “All of our income streams have dramatically reduced to virtually zero for several weeks now and it’s almost certain as a business it will take some time to recover.”
Midfielder Adam Walker says the months without football have been tough on the players too. They said goodbye to each other after a fairly regular match – minus the handshakes – expecting to see each other again later in the same week.
“And that never happened. So it’s been a big gap in everyone’s lives really.”
Adam has become something of an unofficial spokesman for the players. He says some are having to look at a career change.
“There’s a very dark mist overhead still until this is resolved. There’s massive uncertainty on how many clubs will be able to survive.”
He points to the potential impact that could have on this community.
“A club like Telford have always had a very good side and a lovely stadium. You take that away from the community and there’d be a massive hole there.”
Without the guarantees of gate receipts, the club’s been helping its players find other work, such as coaching.
“The gaffer’s tried to help players at the end of their career or maybe the younger ones who don’t know yet whether they’ll get paid for football and they might have young families.
“It’s showing them how to be employable because a lot of people will be looking for jobs in this period.
“It’s to try to help people have an income and still play football.”
There has been football on the Bucks Head site for a century, but the area’s not had the biggest live music scene recently.
“Telford has had a shortage of actual live music venues. One of the main ones closed down a few years ago,” says Tim Rogers – a financial services worker by day, who takes off the suit and tie to become rapper Trademark Blud out of office hours.
This year felt like a moment of change – with a new 300-capacity venue opening in the town’s Southwater Square.
It’s easy to imagine Southwater Square without ever visiting. Cineworld, Nando’s, TGi Fridays, all built in the last few years – all designed to give people in Telford a new option for a night out.
Tim thought the new venue was going to be a big moment for the local live scene – with the prospect of international names coming to Telford.
“It’s terrible. The most important thing is being able to deliver what you’ve produced to people and see their reactions and let them enjoy in the way you hope they will.”
He sounds undeniably flat talking about his music. He’s been doing shows online but “they’re not the same”.
“It’s not even 50% – especially with rap and hip-hop as it’s super energetic.”
To top it off, he had festival bookings for Boomtown and B-Side festival in 2020, which obviously won’t be happening.
Outside of music though Tim says he’s feeling “much more comfortable” about the pandemic – his fears of picking it up have reduced and he’s settled into working at home.
Covid came closer than he’d like though – a child in his son’s class lost his father after he contracted the virus.
For 18-year-old Molly, the latest lockdown easing is a bit of good news – she’s got her friend’s 18th birthday the week when new measures come into effect, so they’ll get a celebration.
Beyond that, Molly’s future will probably be closer to Telford than she’d been planning.
She should have just finished her A-Levels. But of course she never actually sat them and has tweaked her uni choices because she didn’t get to finish her open day tours.
Now, she’s looking at PPE (not that one, she jokes, after pulling her own face covering down) in Liverpool or Birmingham. This PPE is politics, philosophy and economics.
“I’d have been more open to going further away but without the chance to visit, I was apprehensive to go somewhere without seeing the city. I’d have been a bit more adventurous.”
Molly says she’s nervous about the prospect of her first year at university being mostly online learning.
“I don’t want to stay in my room essentially for the whole year… I’m not sure that’s right for me. I’ve toyed with delaying for a year to get the proper uni experience.”
Molly will know more when the results come in August, Adam’s keeping the training going waiting for news on the new season. Esther hopes her unit will be open for classes after the next wave of government announcements.
And rapper Trademark Blud? He’s eyeing up a plan B.
“Some of my friends are acoustic guitarists and they might get back and start gigging again. It’s maybe difficult for my genre – it’s more of a live venue, nightclub, big stage kind of thing.
“I’m thinking of working with some guitarists and going to do the local pubs. I don’t think they’ll appreciate me jumping around and jumping off the tables at six o’clock. We’ll have to tone it down I think.”