The lockdown measures are continuing to ease up in Northern Ireland and for a lot of people, life is returning to a form of normality. But from March 23rd when the lockdown was announced, to today; it has been a long way and for some, a difficult one. Headliners Foyle member Brandon Harkin (17) reflects on what the lockdown brought him, and tells us in  the positives that he chooses to remember. 

'Lockdown has given me and many others an opportunity that we wouldn’t have been able to imagine.

It is true, some people are struggling to support their families due to jobs/businesses being closed, many can’t visit our dearest friends and family for fear of spreading the disease, many people have even lost their lives.

However, for those who are in good health, they have been granted a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Parents that couldn’t regularly see their children due to work, have now spent the past few months together bonding, something they normally wouldn’t have been able to do. Students who would have been crippled by deadlines and exam stress have been relieved, allowing them to now have much more time to prepare or reconsider their options for the years to come. Some lucky few have even found love through social media, or unexpected events that led them down the path to their newfound happiness.

Even though we are more physically separated, we have become connected in ways we can’t explain through this tragic experience; and as a result, everyone has stories to tell, stories of doing something that we wouldn’t have done normally, without the opportunity lockdown provided.

Part 1: The Fairy Garden.

For me, it all started when I had the idea to make a “fairy garden” out of natural and recycled materials. I went outside and looked for some things that I could use. I found several large stones, soil and an old children’s swivel chair – I remember a time when I used to hide from my younger brother in that chair. Then, when I figured out what I’d do with the chair, I thought that I should get my younger brother involved. It took some convincing (and chocolate) to have him help. 

What we did was clean the old chair and move it onto the driveway, next to  the other plants. Then we stacked two or three of the large stones in the chair, at the front, to make a sort of filtration system. From there, we poured soil into the chair. That was the easy part. We then used my brother’s excellent creativity skills to decorate the inside of the chair with some of the smaller stones we found, some small plants and some toys my brother donated to the project.


My brother is dyslexic and spends a lot of his time in front of a screen, whether it be for gaming, schoolwork or T.V. shows. My family struggles to get him to move away from those screens, so to see him so happy by simply moving stones from point A to B put a smile on my face.

We were so proud of ourselves that we posted a picture of the finished product on Seesaw – a website that my brother and his classmates use to communicate with their teacher.

Part 2: The train, the chainsaw and the gnomes.

Even in these closing days of lockdown, as life is returning to an altered normal, we should all strive to remember the stories and lessons learned during this time of uncertainty. From the basics of home learning to the creativity of boredom and the freedom of labour giving way to further human interaction with friends and family. One of the stories I’ll remember is the day where I made a wooden train.

This story needs little context. Where I live, there are many trees in the back garden that provide us with privacy from the wanderers who use the nature trail. Recently these trees had become too large and needed to be trimmed. As a result, we had to cut down large portions of wood and mind you, these trimmings were several feet long and at least a foot wide at their thickest.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to explain is that we had a lot of timber laying around, and we needed to do something with it, which is where the idea of creating a train out of wood came from.

During one of our actually sunny days, I went outside and started to look around at the varieties of wood available to see how I could make the train. After careful consideration, I chose toe timber that would be most appropriate and started to saw a foot-wide piece of timber with a handsaw. Needless to say, it took half an hour. It was not fun. When my father came to check-up on me, he saw me trying – and failing – to cut a second log, a bit smaller than the first. His only response was to give me a chainsaw, explain how it worked and then excuse himself, leaving me to my own devices. It was a lot easier after that.

So, in twenty minutes I had my three train cabins. All I needed now was twelve wheels and to hollow out the cabins to accommodate the soil needed to plant some flowers/bushes in the finished product. The wheels were the easiest part, I simply needed to grab the thinnest of the timber that we had on hand, and chainsaw twelve thin pieces.

When it came to hollowing out the logs, it was only a matter of inserting the chainsaw into the logs four times to get the shape that I wanted. I then split the rectangle that I made into six smaller sections. From there I found my father’s hammer and crowbar. I used these tools to snap off the sections of the log. This process was repeated with every log and I went through varying levels of frustration.

Writing this out makes it sound really easy, but the sections often snapped in awkward angles, forcing me to chainsaw more sections to smooth-out the innards of the logs. But I persevered and attached the wheels to the hollowed-out logs with screws to make them look more like the cabins I imagined. However, some of the cabins just didn’t look right. Something was missing.

I experimented for a while, using some of the things around the back garden to modify the cabins. I eventually settled on using one of the large sections that I cut out of the logs as decoration and sat it on the middle cabin; and it somehow worked, making it look more like a train car.

The second thing that I settled on was using one of my extra wheels – I had those just in case something went wrong – and a split log that I made when I was initially practicing with the chainsaw to make a conductors quarters which I placed in the first cabin.

Once I was satisfied with the look of the three cabins, I added some of the plants that I had in my greenhouse or in one of the overcrowded plant pots to the train. I feel like these really make the train POP and stand out more. But something still felt lacking, even after the plants were rooted in the train. That’s when I realised that a train needs passengers, and we recently got three garden gnomes, so I added them to the now completed train.

To end this piece before I start rambling like I did in my drafts, I’m simply going to say that I’m glad that the train and the fairy garden turned out so well. I’m happy that life is returning to normal, one shade at a time and I hope that someone else shares their lockdown stories. Everyone has one and nearly everyone likes to hear them. Thank you for reading.'

This story was produced by Headliners Foyle member Brandon Harkin as part of our series #LifeInLockdown. During the pandemic, Headliners has been conducting online sessions with the young people to stay connected and encourage them to share experience and create projects. More stories can be found on our website and on Soundcloud.

Thank you to The National Lottery Community Fund for making stories like Brandon's heard.