“Wow,” what a journey it has been. As we look back Its hard to believe it’s only a week ago that Neighbours Apart -Working Together started out. We had a purpose and determination that whereever possible this would be a neighbour led group built through relationships, trust and community spirit…we weren’t sure what would happen but we were sure, now was the right time!
In fairness, the idea had probably been brewing for a while. Through working together, Alison and I came to realise that whilst we have experienced different pathways in life our sense of community spirit connects us and influences our work. I grew up in Barrow in Furness, a working class town with a huge community spirit and enormous pride, this is my town and I know everyone and they know me, I know what will work and what won’t ; Alison comes from a small rural village in the Yorkshire Dales, where villagers help and rely on each other in order to get by, community led initiatives and spirit are the backbone of village life. So together we shared our learning to start my neighbourhood group.
Covid 19, provided us with an opportunity, to try something different however it was the kindness of my neighbours that inspired us to turn this into action.
I had been self – isolating after returning from a residential course where other delegates had later reported showing signs of Coronavirus. My Mam was also self- isolating, so Alison helped out doing the shopping and dropping it off on our doorsteps.
After 14 days, I stepped out of my front door to talk to Alison, my neighbour from across the road shouted out of her bedroom window “you’re alive then!”. She told me she had noticed my curtains were drawn and had seen Alison’s car. My neighbour then shouted across the road to my next- door neighbour, to tell her I was ok; she in turn stood up to talk through a half open window.
My neighbours talked about being worried about me, the dilemma of wanting to knock to check I was ok but also not wanting to disturb me if I was ill, not to mention lots of discussion about the fear of catching Coronavirus if I’d had it.
My neighbours had clearly been worried about me and looking out for me from across the road. Prior, to this its worth mentioning, I hadn’t spoken to my next-door neighbour and now here we were the four of us talking through half opened windows and at social distance of 2 metres. One thing that connected us that evening was, my neighbours had shown me they cared.
This was the inspiration for Neighbours Apart -Working Together, a group for neighbours to help and look out for each other during Covid19. Alison and I spent time thinking about and preparing how to make it happen. We knew it was important we built it through trust, relationships and community spirit. So, I wrote a hand written letter and I asked my neighbours to help me to make it work.
Where are we up to?
We have set up a neighbourhood WhatsApp group focused upon the key concept of trust and neighbours wanting to help each other, we work on basic principles of citizenship, but also showing awareness to statutory requirements. We, like a few older neighbours struggled with setting up social media, so with help from techno savvy younger neighbours, we got there. Neighbours also offered to pop by elderly residents’ houses to let them know and pass on messages. Neighbours are posting offers of shop runs, dog walking and offering each other food and items for example free eggs left on a window sill from the allotment, washing powder and free books. It is interesting how quickly the offers became reciprocal. Thanks to a kind donation 10 households received help with gas and electric and Spring Mount Church donated amazing food hampers.
Neighbour’s have shared their own personal stories of delay in benefits, furlowing, zero-hour contracts and the impact of undertaking school work with children who want to play out in the sunshine. Support and kind words have been offered and comments about strength and staying motivated frequently expressed. During the early hours of the morning there is a hive of activity on WhatsApp, maybe a sign of the unease the virus is having on our sleep patterns.
The on line art activities have been popular with neighbours across all ages and creativity has bonded the community together. I didn’t know there was a budding artist inside me but through the painting, me and the kids have found new ways to have fun.
However, what is truly inspirational is how my neighbours have got behind this idea and are now actively making their suggestions work and also finding other creative ways to connect. For example a neighbour drew a dinosaur and posted it on what’s app, after much chatting online the group decided to call it , “Coronasaurus -Rex” who has now been adopted as our neighbourhood mascot. My neighbour is now kindly drawing the “Coronasaurus -Rex” for other neighbours, who are decorating them and putting them up in their windows. Some neighbours are offering to help other neighbours paint our mascot because they are too busy at work but still want to feel a part of what is being created in our community. The art work looks awesome and is another way of emotionally connecting across the distance. The children are shouting and pointing out there is a dinosaur, “roar, roar” the sound of children laughing in the street again is uplifting.
What have we learnt so far?
At the start of this journey we didn’t know each other as neighbours, people were strangers but they did show they cared.
The fear of Covid 19, keeps us physically apart, however the day when my neighbour shouted “you’re alive then” created the opportunity to do something different. This Pandemic is still real, however the Coronavirus is maybe a little less scary because like our “Coronasaurus -Rex” we now have something that is starting to grow that is bigger than the virus and can help us all get through … our relationship with our neighbours!
By Dean and Alison 3/5/20