Brief Encounters: An Interview with Daniel Astbury 

After moving back from Myanmar at the start of the COVID crisis, Daniel Astbury found life in the UK strange. 

D: I came home, and this project came out of arriving back. I have a good friend of mine, Buzz Bury, and it’s very rare that we are in Blackpool at the same time. He told me that Left Coast have a project. I’d only been back a week or two, and it was already strange, as the UK was only just going into lockdown. I remember going through London and being at Euston station, and there being 7 people. It was just really eerie. I came back to Blackpool and to my family house. I remember the first Thursday I was home, my Grandma saying, ‘Right it’s time to go outside,’ and not knowing what she meant. And confused, I just grabbed a pan and went outside and thought, ‘oh right- we do this for the NHS?!’ It was weird. 

Then, I heard about Leftcoast’s project and I just thought it would be interesting to do something. 

A: So, the people involved are key workers?

D: Yeah, most of them. The majority of the people are key workers, and from the moment I got involved, that was the point; they need a voice. They’re front line, but all the policy was made without their input. That was the source of the anger; yeah, we’re banging pans and clapping, but we’re also not giving PPE to carers. As a government and a nation, we made some really bad moves. And I know hindsight is a luxury, but if you look at what other countries did at that time, we could have learned from that. I was getting really angry with that, but rather than just sit and be a keyboard warrior, I thought I’d like to use design to speak to key workers. There was this funny moment. I was clearly seeing through tunnel vision and I kept thinking, ‘How do I get to all these key workers?’ Then the doorbell rang, and it was a nurse for my mum upstairs… I’d sit back down and again think, ‘How do I get key workers?!’ Then realising… wait a minute….

Paste-up posters photographed by CJ Griffiths Photography

A: They keep turning up at my house. (laughs)

D: Yeah, they were coming about 6 times a day.

A: How involved were they with the actual design process?

D: The nurses who I spoke to were talking to me as they were caring so I would take notes on their insights to incorporate into designs. The carers had more input because the majority of the time it was the same people, so we built a friendship as they were taking care of my Grandad. From that point, I told them about the project and found out if they were interested in getting involved and three of them wanted to take part. With one in particular, David, we had 4 consultations and some online Zoom design sessions. He designed the ‘not happy’ and ‘isolation normal’. (Insert images) We would design them together, starting with discussion which I’d then use to create an image. He’d then give feedback and suggest changes.

A: So, it was a collaboration?

D: Yeah and these are the other two main contributors, Michael and Dom. This design (‘Bound for the Front Line’) was from a conversation we had. He always wore these sneakers whilst caring and they were always pristine. I asked him to write about what his experience of working was at that time and he said he was happy to be on the front line of this crisis, whereas I was hoping as a teenager to go and be in the army. However, he had an injury and changed his plans, but he loved his job caring. He’s only 18 and takes amazing care of everyone he supports, and I just thought wow I would not have been mature enough to cope with what this job entails generally, but especially during a crisis. So, the designs we came up with, I tried to keep it as it was; I didn’t want to polish it. 

A: Where have these designs been displayed?

D: They are on social media but also, we posted them across the promenade and in Stanley Park. I chose the prom because it’s Blackpool, and it’s also where I went every day for my hour’s allotted exercise. There is a plan to put them on to Leftcoast’s website with instructions for people to paste their own.

These designs are from the hand of Buzz (See anti-littering posters). He came up with this; we were going for these early morning bike rides, and we just saw piles and piles of rubbish. We went from ranting about that to thinking how can we use design to combat that? We came up with a series of posters and put them around the prom… littering was the angry subject of the moment.

A: I think lockdown definitely heightened people’s emotions.

D: It’s funny now but I look back on these posters that we made not that long ago, and I remember me and Buzz being livid with people.

A: Well I guess people used to go to work and offload and have a little moan, but when you’re home you don’t want to be bringing down the mood at an already difficult time.

D: Exactly and there was already stress in the home and you don’t want to be shouting at each other. There’s a lot of uncertainty. As much as people tried to be positive and stay hopeful this could be a time for change, over time things haven’t really seemed to improve.

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