Research Revealed, S01E02: Falling Out of Love with the UK

By Jenny Frost - 21 April 2023

Episode two of Research Revealed shines a light on the impact that Brexit and lockdowns have had on people in the UK. Represented visually through art, it provides a powerful insight into the emotional wellbeing of EU citizens in modern day UK and Europe.

Episode one highlighted RGU’s School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, focusing on a research project that aims to tackle the global issue of a lack of safe, reliable drinking water. In it, lead researchers discuss the intricacies of the project, who's involved and how natural, existing material could be key to helping millions of people.

For the second episode of Research Revealed, the spotlight spans towards the impact that Brexit and lockdowns have had on people in the UK. Represented visually through art, it provides a powerful insight into the emotional wellbeing of EU citizens in modern day UK and Europe...

The research, carried out by Lucia Ruggerone, lecturer in sociology, and Charlie Hackett, researcher at Gray’s School of Art, is a unique study to explore the emotional wellbeing of EU citizens living in the UK and with care responsibilities both in the UK and in Europe. The team created a visual tour of participants’ emotions and found Brexit has caused a profound and lasting impact on EU citizen’s sense of identity, something only heightened by the Covid imposed lockdowns.

Their work has been published in a free and fully downloadable book, as well as now featured here as part of Research Revealed. Prior to filming, both Lucia and Charlie spoke about their research project.

Lucia Ruggerone, from RGU’s School of Applied Social Sciences, said: “Having secured funding from the British Academy in 2021, we set out to explore the emotional wellbeing of EU citizens living in the UK and with care responsibilities during the lockdowns imposed by pandemic.

We wanted to understand the feelings brought on by the ‘double whammy’ of Brexit and Covid, and to find out if and how EU citizens were able to cope, emotionally and practically, with their situation and changed citizen status.

“Our study focused on middle-aged EU citizens, as they represent a 'sandwich generation’, likely to have attachments and bonds within the UK and in their European home country. Those interviewed came from a range of countries including Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Denmark, Switzerland, and Latvia.”

Unlike other social studies that have explored people’s attitudes post-Brexit, participants were sent a mixture of art materials and asked to produce artworks to show their emotions. The participants artworks were the starting point to open-ended discussions on Zoom, and included collages, drawings, photos and videos. One participant even selected a piece of classical music to represent their mood and feelings during lockdown.

The research identified recurrent themes, representing the feelings and moods that the participants experienced. These included a heightened sense of loss, guilt and vulnerability, among others.

The downbeat atmosphere, as reported by many, was not only due to the pandemic and its lockdowns, but also due to the feeling of rejection for many who had elected here as their 'home' of choice yet were faced with a post-Brexit reality.

Others mentioned the emotion of love and losing it for the UK, while others felt torn, helpless and even angry.

Feelings of nostalgia also resonated, with many highlighting the sense of displacement caused by Brexit and the pain of the forced isolation from Europe imposed by the lockdown periods. In some of the artworks produced, the houses or specific rooms pictured, signify a sense of entrapment, whilst many hinted at the nostalgia they felt for their native countries.

Fellow researcher, Charlie Hackett, of Gray’s School of Art, added: “Using artwork gave the participants agency to lead the researchers in understanding their experiences of applying for settled status and living through Covid. One artwork can sum up the six years between the Brexit referendum, pandemic and leaving the EU.

"Their artworks showed symbols of impending doom, such as a Damocles sword, drawings with bridges that had collapsed into the sea, impenetrable channel crossings between the UK and Europe, staring googly eyes that represented xenophobic tendencies with people feeling they were being watched.”

Reflecting on the significance of the research, Charlie and Lucia said: “It was an emotive piece of work, undoubtedly inspired by an autobiographical note [Lucia is Italian]. It was great to investigate what other Europeans felt about these two major events and to explore with them their vision for the future.

“It was also rewarding to hear some of them say that the participation in the project was somewhat therapeutic, giving them a voice which they felt they had lost”.


RGU’s research is focused on making a positive impact on the world by applying collaborative interdisciplinary research expertise to improve quality of life, deliver innovative solutions for business and industry, and contribute towards global sustainability.

The University’s research strategy is focused on growing the quality and impact of its research excellence around four key themes - inclusive and creative societies; the environment, energy and sustainability; health and wellbeing; and living in a digital world.

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