On Saturday morning, Lucy Coleman, 36 from Middlesbrough, packed her bags and drove for two-hours to Lincolnshire to see her partner, Phil Bellamy. They’ve always had a long distance relationship and seen each other at weekends and on days off, but lockdown has kept them apart for months.
“I was weirdly nervous as I’d hardly seen anyone in ages, but it’s really exciting to be back here, and we’ve just gone back to normal life,” she says. “We’ve had a brew and we’re sat in the garden. He’s done the Iceland shop online, and tonight we’re getting a takeaway from our favourite place.”
Reunions such as this are taking place across England this weekend, after Boris Johnson announced that people living alone or as single parents are allowed to combine with another household to form a “support bubble”. The new rules mean they can go inside each other’s houses and stay overnight without maintaining physical distancing.
As well as reuniting couples, the change means some grandparents have been able to hug their grandchildren for the first time since March.
Josie O’Brien, who lives on her own in Lancashire, is spending the weekend with her daughter Emma Rawlinson, and grandchildren, Harris, four, and Rosa-May, two. “It’s a wonderful feeling. The last few weeks I’ve been saying ‘don’t go near me, keep two metres away’, but they came running up to me and threw their arms around me. Human contact is a basic need, and having that has made such a difference.”
Any multi-person household will only be able to join with one single-person household, and some say this means choosing between family, friends or sex. “A guy I was seeing wants to be in a bubble with me, but I’ve never liked him that much,” says 34-year-old Louise from Manchester, who lives alone. “But it’s like everyone’s come out of the woodwork. Friends who haven’t been supportive at all are now asking if I want to be in a bubble. It feels way too late.”
The new rules are designed to alleviate loneliness among adults living alone. Some say lockdown had begun to take its toll. “I lost my mum on 24 March, and I’ve not had any human contact until this weekend. It’s been very lonely, and my mental health has been affected,” says O’Brien.
Her daughter, Emma, says it’s been difficult. “It’s been really tricky to see that the one person struggling the most was probably my mum. The kids missed her a lot, but being back together has been wonderful. We immediately felt like a normal family unit again.”
Victoria Benson, chief executive of Gingerbread, the charity for single-parent families, says that while some will benefit from new rules, the majority still have real worries around how they will care for their children while schools and nurseries stay closed.
For Coleman, the pandemic has given her time to reassess what matters to her. She’s been furloughed from her pub job, and although she’s enjoying the break from work, being separated from Bellamy was harder than she expected. “The only thing I’ve been unhappy about this whole time was not seeing him,” she says. “We’re used to being independent but I really missed him, and I won’t take him for granted any more.”
Louise says that although it’s nice to have options, the thought of being stuck with one person for the next few months feels strange. “I’ve already spent three months on my own, and I’m sort of over it. If anything, I’d rather see my ex-boyfriend, but neither of us want to get on public transport. I’m considering buying a car,” she says.