Isolation? Or Community getting back together again?
5 years ago I moved from Feltham to Staines, to an end of terrace house in a crescent with about 70 houses. Because I spend the majority of my time at work, or rushing around like everyone else at weekends, I have never got to know who lives near me other than to nod at my immediate neighbours if they happened to walk past as I got in or out of the car!
I live next to a lady who I will call Sarah, who is 89 and as a bright and independent as anyone half her age, but her house is behind a wall and she has no view of the road or people coming and going. She also doesn’t have any family near – she rang me a week or so ago (as we had exchanged phone numbers in case of emergencies) and I suggested we meet outside, each day, for a cuppa and a chat with the lady who lives opposite, whose family moved into the house when it was built in the 30s. So, for the 10 days since then, no matter what the weather, we have sat outside and chatted, each of us sitting on the boundary of our own properties so that we are safely distanced. This was originally to break up the day for Sarah, who wouldn’t otherwise see anybody, and on some days, may not speak to anyone. We have had such lovely chats since, I’ve learned all about the characters who used to live on the street, the history of the area, and in particular Sarah’s very interesting career, life and travels (she still goes on at least 2 cruises a year). I have told them about St Saviour’s, and the foodbank, and I have brought them home flowers and hot crossed buns as little treats. It has been so lovely to get to know these ladies, and now on a Sunday we meet with a glass of wine instead of a cup of tea! Long may it continue as we become friends and share our lives.
For the past 2 Thursdays we have all stood outside, and clapped the carers in our community – the first time I had ever seen most of my neighbours was on that first Thursday evening.
Last weekend, the first in ‘lock down’ I received a note through my door asking if I’d like to join the Crescent WhatsApp group – to support each other. And I thought ‘why not?’ And since that time many of us have lent things, dropped shopping off, or just shared little jokes and stories. Yesterday, a sunny Saturday, we received a message to say that it was a neighbour’s 85th birthday – Phyliss. She lives with her husband, who has Dementia, and sadly doesn’t know her; and with lockdown her family can’t visit. So we were asked if we would drop a card through her letterbox, or if children would draw a picture – and between us she received about 50 cards and gifts throughout the day (each one reminding her to wash her hands after opening!). At 6 p.m. we gathered, safely distanced, in front of her house, her next door neighbour called her to go outside, where she was greeted by a group of people she didn’t know, singing happy birthday to her! Which she found pretty overwhelming – but so lovely to be able to share a bit of joy with her on her special day when she wasn’t able to see family.
Every day that WhatsApp group is active – we are finally putting faces to names, and greeting each other, from a distance. At a time when we are all described as being in ‘lockdown’ or ‘isolation’ my experience has been quite the opposite – I feel freer, and more part of my local community. I appreciate being part of a community that I didn’t really even think of before. My house was just in a road of other similar houses – but I never thought about who lived there or whether our lives ever over-lapped. For people who are well, this time could be quite liberating and perhaps a time when communities will become much stronger and more supportive of each other. We are looking forward to a street party!
As I type this my son has come in from work (at Tesco) with bouquets of flowers that were being given away by Tesco at the end of his shift, and bags of potatoes that were surplus and he is now going out putting them on the doorsteps of houses for our neighbours. Would he have done that 2 or 3 weeks ago? – absolutely not!
And now we have a suggestion that we colour flags from the countries our families are from, so that children can try and identify them, and pictures of Easter eggs so they can do a virtual Easter egg hunt if they go by and see who has the most in their windows. A community coming together.
There are many challenges at a time like this, when we all know people who are ill or recovering, people who are lonely because they can’t go out, people who struggle with their mental health when told they can’t leave home, and of course parents with children who they are trying to entertain or teach! We know people who are caring for others in the most difficult of circumstances and life for many is hugely challenging. Not everyone will enjoy this renewed sense of community but for those who can, for those who see neighbours reaching out, I would say – respond, get to know them, join in and let’s hope for a world where we all remember how important it was to be part of a community. A blessing that we all enjoy as members of St Saviour’s but for many, that has become a thing of the past. It is lovely to see it being reborn!
Written by Elaine Hand