Neighbourhood Spirit In The The Days Of The Coronavirus Lockdown

“Hmm, where are they going this time?”. One of the many parts of every day life affected by lockdown and COVID-19 is the changing relationships many of us have with our neighbours. Being forced to stay home and worrying about our family’s health is simultaneously making our worlds smaller and more divided. Before COVID-19 hit the U.K. I knew my immediate neighbours and a couple of other people in my street well enough to say “hi” to, mostly due to them taking parcels in for me. Now I know more about my neighbours than ever before, we have developed a sense of community, but many people are finding they are starting to spy on each other and are finding it hard not to judge those who appear to be breaking the rules.

A front window with some rainbow artwork, a drawing of balloons and a birthday message and an easter egg
Artwork in the window is one way of connecting with neighbours during these difficult times

The UK Government have made it very clear that to save lives we should stay home as much as possible and we are only expected to go out for a handful of now well known reasons: limited exercise, to purchase essential items, for work when the job can’t be done from home and for medical reasons. There is also an exception in the law which makes my eldest feel very special: children are permitted to be moved between households of separated parents. We should all be following social distancing rules and if showing signs of the coronavirus then we must self isolate.

It wasn’t long after PM Boris encouraged us to keep our distance from others that we had a leaflet through the door from “Natalie and Larraine” looking to set up a Neighbour Support Group for our road. They encouraged people to get in touch with them and to join a WhatsApp group so that everyone could get help if they need it. 

Having a WhatsApp group of 40 odd people united only by address has seen several messages sharing “fake news” and memes of the type I tend to ignore, but there has also been sharing of more useful information like where to buy eggs. That particular conversation resulted in an unexpected hand delivery of eggs which is just a small example of the kindness that is taking place up and down the country right now. A thought I’m very much trying to cling on to as the other social impact of lockdown is that it encourages us to become suspicious of others.

Thankfully the majority of us are following the guidelines around social distancing. We have given up our freedom at an unprecedented level because we believe this will keep our friends and family safer, make our lives return to normal faster and reduce pressure on the NHS, ultimately saving lives. We miss our friends, family and normality so it’s perhaps not surprising that those who appear to be breaking the rules are being judged harshly. We have become a nation of curtain twitchers wondering why Dan from number 36 has taken up running for the first time in his life, why number 12’s car isn’t outside their house for several hours each day and if that garden make over is really essential work right now. While I’m keen to give Dan the benefit of the doubt (maybe he used to go swimming everyday or it’s the one thing keeping his mental health in check) the reports of people having guests visiting or flocking to beaches, parks and beauty spots seems harder to understand. We have become suspicious, anxious and almost fearful of others. There are reports of key workers getting messages left on their cars or, worse still, reported to the police as their neighbours mistakenly believe they are breaking lockdown rules. We have become resentful of those, who through unnecessary interactions with others, are potentially extending the period of lockdown.

On the rare occasions I have gone out for a walk with my children I have been focussing so hard on ensuring they stay out of the way of people walking past that I nearly forget the importance of smiling and saying hello to the people we see. As we all become increasingly physically isolated, a simple smile (from a 2 metre distance away) can help bring a much needed connection with others. 

My road’s WhatsApp group is helping to combat the negativity I see on the news and social media by creating a greater sense of community. While I am generally trying to get Baby Boy to sleep/ back to sleep at 8pm the encouragement for everyone to clap for the NHS/ carers means I can even hear the clapping from the back room of our house. Standing on the front step and seeing others who have been hiding behind closed doors is probably doing as much to challenge people’s sense of isolation as it is showing appreciation for key workers. (I’m trying to ignore whoever it is nearby who feels the need to let off fireworks each week; scaring animals and risking injury doesn’t feel like an appropriate tribute). 

Anyway, back to the positive impact of our group: it has encouraged households to put rainbows in their windows for the rainbow trail, teddy bears for a bear hunt and new art work each week to provide something for children to look at as they go on their permitted daily walk. Most touchingly a recent comment that it was a little girl’s 4th birthday on Good Friday led to multiple residents creating posters and signs saying “happy birthday” as well as a delivery of cards to make her day a little bit more special. With a similar aged daughter myself I felt for Ivy who no longer had her birthday party to look forward to and I hope that us all waving at her as she walked past made some difference to her day. My children waited at the window excitedly and were unexpectedly rewarded by having sweet cones left on the door step, so the happiness spread even further.

Everyone is longing for connection with others and we are finding new ways to do it. I am longing for that day I can leave my house without worrying about where I am going, how long for and if I accidentally get within sneezing distance of someone else. Until then I will keep looking out for the kindness of others and try my hardest to remember we are all in this together.

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