St Albans: Covid and the cup of tea

A chair, a cup of tea and a camera were photographer Haley McHaffie's tools in her voyage through the thoughts and feelings of a small English city facing the gravest crisis of our times. Her photo series tells countless moving human stories, saved for posterity, frame by frame.

What do the British do best in a crisis? We drink tea.

The urge to document this strange time happened very naturally. With a flask of tea in one

hand and my camera in the other, I used daily walks to visit friends from a distance.

We’d sit opposite one another on the edge of the roadside and talk about our shared fears

and anxieties.

Neil and Family. Photo by Haley McHaffie, 2020, all rights reserved.

Francis. Photo by Haley McHaffie, 2020, all rights reserved.

Talking was good, I needed to feel like I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. Seeing people from a

distance for a few minutes gave me purpose and broke up the monotony of the day. That’s

how Covid and the cup of tea started.

Daily strolls around residential areas prompted questions in my head about how people

were coping. What were their fears? How were they adapting to this unprecedented

situation? What did they plan to do when this was all over? The only clues into other

people’s lives were the sounds of laughter from children and the odd rumble of a vacuum

cleaner from an open window.

Like all towns the eerie stillness meant I could take portraits in the road, this added to the

strangeness of the situation. Empty car parks and deserted streets felt like the new normal

and became the backdrop to the series.

Izzi. Photo by Haley McHaffie, 2020, all rights reserved.

Lexi and Liam. Photo by Haley McHaffie, 2020, all rights reserved.

I asked only two things of my subjects, bring a cup of tea and a chair to sit on. This request

revealed a little bit about each person I photographed: from a stormtrooper souvenir mug that held memories from times gone by, to full blown statement mugs wielded by the

‘queen of fucking everything’. You’d be surprised just how much a mug reveals about


Whether my sitters were friends, family or complete strangers, capturing unconscious

gestures like a hand on a partner's shoulder or a shy toddler hiding behind a father, were the

important yet subtle interactions between families and couples that brought the portrait to


My hope for this documentary series is that it will become an historical document, a record

in time of what our lives were like during lockdown. In twenty years’ time when we look

back on this moment, we can say we did our best to protect our families. We reconnected

with one another and found a way through this pandemic with the ones we love.

Haley McHaffie is a photographer living and working in St Albans in the UK. You can see the other photos from the 'Covid and the Cup of Tea' series on her website or Instagram.

One of Haley's photographs from the project 'Monty and the Shoe Tree' won the People's Choice Award at the British Photography Awards 2020 and has been published in Portrait of Humanity 2020.

How do you experience living in your city under Coronavirus? Share your story and join us to Spread stories, not the virus.

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