Lancaster University Management School - 54 Degrees Issue 12

materials, clearing spaces, facilitating joining a class, monitoring their child’s behaviour – and it was the children of those parents who were willing and able to do this who more typically remained active throughout the lockdown. If businesses did not have the prior relationship with parents, they were not going to step up and support their children’s participation online; those relationships and trust drove success, and many parents expressed a desire to support local businesses and were keen to try to ensure that providers survived the pandemic. Parents weremore likely to support online activities where they recognised the benefits to their children, although they recognised these benefits changed in the switch fromoffline. Mental wellbeing and a connected sense of community were key factors, with activities providing a chance for children to see their friends, even if only for a few minutes at a time. This often overrode the importance of the activity itself. One mother told us: “I don’t care about the sport now. I care about her mental health, the fact that she is getting to see her friends.” Of course, many parents worked throughout lockdown and were unable to support their child’s participation; others experienced reduced income and could not afford activities, even if fees were reduced (which many were); some families did not own enough devices with internet access; while others saw no benefit – sometimes due to a lack of interactivity or the activity not being well suited to an online setting, such as football or music groups. In other instances, it became clear that parents saw the activities pre-lockdown almost as a babysitting service – they were not so much concerned with what their child was doing, more that they were occupied. They were happy to save money when this benefit disappeared. FINDING A GOODONLINE FORMAT In general, both parents and children preferred activities that were live and interactive, where leaders could provide individual feedback. Allowing for interaction between class members was important as well, with children liking the opportunity to chat with each other, typically at the end of a session. Online classes that followed a similar structure to offline classes worked best for parents and children, creating familiarity and comfort, and for parents a continued sense of value. For some activities, this was impossible, for instance due to the need for specialist equipment, or because children were unable to physically interact (such as in martial arts). The number of people involved in an online session was important, with larger classes harder to manage, and parents feeling that their children did not receive enough individual attention and lost interest as a result in those bigger groups. Both providers and parents can see the benefits of maintaining some of these online elements into the future. Some businesses will go back to normal, some won’t, but all will be wary as another lockdown would be even harder. AN IMPORTANT COMMUNITY ASSET These local businesses are really important for the community. They give people something meaningful and enjoyable to do, something that is important for their well-being, and something that brings people together and allows them to build friendships. Any discussions about rebuilding wider communities need to consider the roles these businesses have played before, during and after the pandemic, and the sheer effort they went to during lockdown. They have shown such resilience, and they are almost unsung heroes in the community. FIFTY FOUR DEGREES | 29 Dr Helen L. Bruce is a Lecturer in the Department of Marketing. Dr Bruce co-authored the research report DeliveringChildren’s Activities During the Covid-19 Pandemic: Succeeding inUnprecedented Times, with Dr Ewa Krolikowska, of the University of Greenwich, and Dr Tara Rooney, of Technological University Dublin.