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During lockdown, Zachary discovered the powerful reach of the written word

Lockdown Stories: Zachary Omitowoju

Zachary Omitowoju kept himself busy during lockdown through writing and volunteering. It would help define his second year at university.

I have always loved writing because of the flexibility it offers. You can write whenever and wherever you like. Writing became even more important during lockdown as it became a coping mechanism that helped me connect with the world while I was isolated in my room. I wrote screenplays for my ‘Writing for the Media’ module inspired by songs. In particular, I wrote a screenplay called Sympathise, Recognise, Apologise, based on the song The Good Side by Troye Sivan which is about two lovers trying to keep their long-distance relationship afloat. I loved the module and got a 2:1 which I am extremely proud of.

Elsewhere I wrote poems for WRAP. WRAP stands for Writing, Reading and Pleasure and is a programme at Nottingham Trent University that provides writing workshops, book groups, meet ups, masterclasses and talks from readers and authors. If there is an opportunity to celebrate words and voices, WRAP will be part of it. Through the programme I have read out poetry to the likes of Derek Owusu - who signed onto Stormzy’s #Merky Books - and got to attend an in-person conversation event with Musa Okwonga.

During my enforced solitude I wrote letters to pen pals across the world. It felt therapeutic to connect pen to paper, something we rarely do nowadays. But I’ve always enjoyed writing letters. I wrote my first one in Primary School and still have vague recollections of sending letters to Santa at Christmas. During Secondary School, we were encouraged to write to our parents every Sunday, even though we had phones.

Although lockdown imposed restrictions it also created opportunities, in particular the time to connect with people who have been an influence in my life. I wrote to one of my former secondary school English teachers, Dr Catherine Robinson, who had encouraged me to apply to be a Youth Board Advisor Member for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. I was successful and she was really proud.

I even wrote an acceptance speech for my graduation, even though I know you go on stage, collect your certificate, and leave. But that does not matter, writing it was cathartic and helped me reflect on everything that has happened during my degree.

In addition to writing, placements played a vital role in helping me cope with lockdown. I took every opportunity I could and never anticipated they would be so useful as well as fun. I discovered the folklore of Maid Marian and Robin Hood during my placement with Dawn of the Unread and how these stories are being updated to appeal to younger audiences. I worked at a local feminist organization called ‘Yes She Can’ as a support officer and gained experience in video editing. At Djanogly City Academy I worked as a photographer and helped non-native speaking children learn English. It was here I met Salma who has since became a close friend. We would go on to work together during another placement, the Global Lounge at the Clifton Campus. My final placement was with the Nottingham Creative Writing Hub which was an absolute lifeline during the pandemic.

Lockdown could have been a lonely experience. Instead, writing provided a connection with the world and the placements motivated me to try different things, meet new people, and taught me the importance of learning new skills as well as improving old ones. Now when I think of my second year at university, I am amazed at how much I did when everything supposedly stopped.

'Degrees of Isolation' is based on the experiences of University students who were interviewed between 2020 and 2022’.

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