How will the new 'rule of six' affect the way we socialise?
We interview a sociologist and a private party planner about how the new rule of six will affect the way we socialise
Many of us are expected to throw in the towel, swapping life in the new diluted version of London for one in idyllic countryside, where the lack of buzz and slower pace of life are all part of the charm. In the meantime, we’re getting our fix via Instagram, where the #cottagecore tag – selling us honey-coloured fields, blooming gardens and the rustic apparel needed to complete the look – has seen a spike in searches and posts since lockdown.
But how is this uncertainty over how we can and can’t socialise affecting how we mingle, and the types of gatherings we plan with friends and loved ones? And do the new rules imposed by the government really have our best interests at heart?
‘While there has been a lot of focus from the government on the economic side of the crisis – getting people back into restaurants and cafés and pubs – there has not been sustained attention given to the future of social life and the public realm,’ says Dr Emma Jackson, a senior lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths University of London.
‘Access to people and spaces beyond the immediate household is important to people’s lives for a multitude of reasons, including religious, social, work and emotional. There is so much that is valuable about socialising that cannot be boiled down to economic value,’ she adds. ‘I'd like to see the same attention given to supporting libraries and community centres through the crisis as we have seen given to encouraging people to eat out.’
Jennifer Wadsworth, owner of wedding and events planning company Olive Sky, has a slightly more positive outlook. ‘Socialising has a new lease of life! In years gone by it has been taken for granted, unintentional and constant. Now socialising is treasured, design-led and gratefully received,’ she says.
Weddings have, for now, been spared from the new regulations, but guest numbers remain legally capped at a maximum of 30. Many couples who had been planning a far larger celebration have opted to move the occasion to a later date, in the hope that restrictions will have lifted by 2021. As for those who have gone ahead and tied the knot with a reduced party of onlookers, are there any new trends emerging in how the celebrations unfold?
‘As events become more intimate following the reduction in numbers, there is an emphasis on personal, thoughtful touches for each guest,’ observes Wadsworth. ‘Tailoring menus, placement, music and decor to the particular preference of the guests has become much more popular, as has more adventurous food, now that we aren’t catering for the masses,’ she reveals.
For many young adults who would normally do much of their socialising at house parties or in nightclubs, the new measures must feel devastating. Has the virus signalled the death knell for late-night partying?
‘I hope not! I don't think the need to get together and dance will disappear, but it is hard to see how clubs can reopen fully without a vaccine,’ reasons Jackson. ‘It may be that more outdoor raves spring up [and] we might see more outdoor music venues too,’ she predicts. ‘While these adaptations are encouraging to see for the future of live music, it's hard to see how these kinds of arrangements could replace the atmosphere and experience of more traditional venues.’
Tricky, too, will be planning where to socialise once the weather turns. The unusually warm spring followed by a balmy summer has been a blessing in a year that’s required us to socialise almost exclusively outdoors. What will the return of drizzly days and chilly nights mean for our social plans?
‘As the summer sneaks into autumn, we will be focusing on culinary experiences, and maybe even some silent discos to replace the usual after-party,’ says Wadsworth, revealing what could become a trend across the private events industry. She also believes people will continue socialising outdoors where possible, looking to their winter wardrobes to help them adapt to the cooler weather. Wadsworth adds that she and her team will continue helping clients with the logistics around ‘appropriate table configurations’, also offering them ‘bespoke, softly scented hand sanitiser and handmade, embroidered silk face masks to make everything feel a little nicer.’
Jackson, who witnessed her local allotment become the social epicentre of the community during lockdown, believes people will always find a way to socialise, even if it means doing so in smaller circles. ‘It was really interesting through lockdown to see the allotment becoming more and more important to people as the opportunity to be in other social spaces beyond the home disappeared,’ she recalls.
‘[The new measures] might mean that people stick to living more local lives and hanging out closer to home, or at home in smaller groups,’ she says. ‘This also links to changes in work life; if, for example, a lot of people continue to work from home and don't return to central London in droves, they might be more likely to socialise nearer where they live.’
So, are these new ways of socialising here for good, or are we likely to revert back to ‘old normal’ traditions if and when it’s safe?
In Jackson’s view, this will depend as much on whether institutions survive further months without the business as on our appetite to get back out there. ‘We will have to see which spaces and places survive this crisis. If a lot of nightclubs, cafés and cinemas close down, it will take a while to build that social sphere back up again,’ she points out.
At the same time, Jackson is confident that, as social beings, our desire for face-to-face contact isn’t going anywhere. ‘Maybe I'm being a romantic humanist here, but I can't see online contact replacing in-person contact,’ she says. ‘For many people, video calls and endless Zoom meetings are ultimately exhausting and unsatisfactory. We are social animals and a new social realm will emerge.'
Wadsworth is hopeful for an eventual return to the old ways of socialising, too, but believes there is some good we can take away from this experience. ‘I truly hope that we can learn from the lessons we have been taught, by appreciating the time we have with loved ones,’ she says. ‘However, once a vaccine comes into force we, like everyone else, can’t wait to celebrate properly en masse with friends new and old.’