Lockdown: the best free online experiences to stave off boredom

Rupert Jones and Patrick Collinson

As millions of us try to find things to keep ourselves and our kids occupied during the lockdown, the good news is that many companies have decided to put some of their previously paid-for online content and services out there for free. So if you are trying to stave off cabin fever, maybe give one or two of these a try…

Free comedy

Lots of big names including Robin Ince, Al Murray and Josie Long are playing the Stay at Home festival from yhe Cosmic Shambles Network. All the shows, for now, will be live only and free to watch, though donations are being encouraged. Check cosmicshambles.com/stayathome.

Free theatre

The BBC has announced a number of theatre productions as part of Culture in Quarantine, its “virtual festival of the arts”, including new filmed recordings of Mike Bartlett’s play Albion, Emma Rice’s Wise Children, and six Royal Shakespeare Company productions including its 2016 Hamlet and 2018 Macbeth.

You can now also stream a National Theatre Live production on YouTube for free every Thursday and on catch-up. For example, One Man, Two Guvnors – starring James Cordenstreams from 7pm on Thursday 2 April, and is available until 9 April.

Meanwhile, Hampstead Theatre in north London is streaming its hit 2018 production I and You, starring Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), on Instagram for free – but only until 10pm on Sunday 29 March.

Free gigs

Rock legend Neil Young has released the first instalment of his Fireside Sessions via his Neil Young Archives website: a six-song acoustic set featuring classics such as Sugar Mountain and Love Art Blues.

The Montreux jazz festival has just made more than 50 festival concerts available to stream for free, including performances by Ray Charles, Wu-Tang Clan, Johnny Cash, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Deep Purple and Carlos Santana. You can access them for free for 30 days. Go to stingray.com/FREEMJF1M and enter the code FREEMJF1M.

Free exercise classes

Fitness guru Joe Wicks has become the “PE teacher for the nation” following the runaway success of his daily YouTube workout, livestreamed by more than 6 million people in its first couple of days alone. Although they have been designed as an alternative to school PE lessons, Wicks says they are suitable for all ages, and even adults can get involved. Tune in at 9am each morning for a 30-minute workout.

The NHS also has 24 free instructor-led videos covering aerobics exercise, strength and resistance, and pilates and yoga. They range from 10 to 45 minutes long, and are available at nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-fitness-studio/

Meanwhile, Hollywood actor Chris Hemsworth (Thor in the Marvel movies) has made his health and fitness programme Centr available for free for six weeks. Normally the app costs up to £22.99 a month. (You will need to enter your credit card details but you will not be charged during the six-week period and you can cancel at any time by switching auto-renew off.)

Free art exhibitions

Galleries may be shut but plenty have opened their virtual doors, and some have organised special events. For example, you can watch My Body, My Archive, an online-only performance by the Congolese choreographer and dance artist Faustin Linyekula filmed in the Tanks at London’s Tate Modern.

And while the doors of London’s Royal Academy are temporarily closed, you can still experience its exhibition on Belgian artist Léon Spilliaert via a video tour of the galleries.

Free digital books and magazines

Audible, part of Amazon.com, has released a collection of hundreds of free audiobooks for children kept home from school. Go to stories.audible.com/start-listen

Libraries have of course been shut across the nation – but already have in place easy ways to download e-books, e-audio books and e-magazines. Download the free app provided by the library and have your library card membership number ready when logging in. But after that, there’s a vast array of choices – and when things return to normal, you can carry on using the app to find titles, reserve and renew, all straight from your mobile.

Free maths lessons for kids

A girl learns maths at home during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

The former Countdown star Carol Vorderman has made her learning programme the Maths Factor – an online maths tutoring site for four- to 11-year-olds – free for everyone (usually it costs about £2 a week) for the duration of the UK schools closure.

Free language lessons

Rosetta Stone is giving free access for schoolchildren to use its language courses for the next three months, saving parents the usual £50 fee. Go to rosettastone.co.uk/lp/freeforkids/. “Children can continue to expand their horizon by learning a new language, and parents can ensure that the kids are using their time wisely,” says Rosetta Stone.

Free opera and ballet

The Royal Opera House is closed – but in the meantime it is offering free online broadcasts that you can access anywhere, at any time across the globe. A range of ROH productions can be accessed for free free via its Facebook and YouTube channels. It is also offering a free 30-day trial on Marquee TV, an arts streaming service.

Each day the Metropolitan Opera in New York is making a different presentation available for free on its website, although the window to watch it for free will only last for 23 hours. Go to MetOpera.org

Free data

British Telecom says it is removing all the caps on its broadband packages, so that “every customer has unlimited data during this time”.

For BT landline-only customers, it will also cap the charges of calls to all UK landlines and mobiles to £5 a month, “so they can make the calls they need to without worrying about their bill”. This does not include international calls.