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All Over The Country, The Kindness

I think a benefit of lockdown is the creative spirit has been absolutely amazing, the ideas people have come up with.

I’m the area coordinator for Neighbourhood Watch, for Barton, Risinghurst and Sandhills. I’m also a trustee at Barton Neighbourhood Centre and the Barton Community Association, and joint project manager on an underpass mural project, which is ready to go as soon as the lockdown is lifted. The underpass needs repairs and we want to brighten it up to make it into a nice place for people to use, to encourage people to walk and cycle. We’ve got the themes already from the local community, and we’re going to do two art workshops for people aged eleven upwards, so we might get some things coming into the design connected with people’s experiences of lockdown. The project has involved a whole range of people, anybody can join because it's accessible. I think that's the key thing, that it's open to everybody.

I moved into Barton three years ago and we had some antisocial behaviour in the street, creating a very bad, tense atmosphere. I became a Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator to resolve that, talked to neighbours and set up a WhatsApp group, and we supported each other. I linked in with the Neighbourhood Police who were absolutely brilliant. Now the street’s so lovely. Neighbourhood Watch has had a reputation for being busybodies, so I’m trying to get the message across, it's not actually about that – it's about improving your neighbourhood and being friendly and kind and helpful. I knew that people just thought Neighbourhood Watch was snitching, so I had to think creatively about how to present it. I invited people to draw pictures for my Neighbourhood Watch banner and I got children at school to come up with names for what they thought a good neighbour was. I was not just using my ideas but other people’s ideas too, as a way to engage them. I think it’s important that you're working depending on what is needed in your street or area. You need to know what's going on, and that's why I get out in volunteer settings, because I think it's really important to be meeting people in the community so that you can have those conversations.

Since lockdown, we’ve been supporting each other in my street. Because I have the Neighbourhood Watch scheme, we were ready to go immediately with helping, and so was the Community Centre. Then the Council set up the Local Hubs, and Oxford Hub has the Street Champions, so I registered as one. The Hub contacts Street Champions about somebody who needs help with shopping. From doing Neighbourhood Watch, and as a Trustee, I have contacts, so I made sure the Street Champion was connected as soon as possible to those groups that needed help. Everyone since lockdown has really got into action to help, there's been such a good community spirit throughout the city. We’ve helped in my street with some people who have been in self-isolation. We’ve got a WhatsApp group and we message each other on there. Through meeting people who are doing voluntary work and having a chat, I’ve been able to invite them to join so I’ve been increasing the numbers as well, we’ve got 85 people in my group now. I know there's lots of different volunteer groups in Oxford, a huge amount of people have come forward to volunteer during this time, and it might be that people want to continue doing that, because you can get involved in lots of fun things when you’re volunteering.

I’ve discovered since lockdown, through posting on my Neighbourhood Watch Facebook group, that we’ve got some dressmakers in the area, so we’re making scrubs laundry bags for Townsend House, a local care home. And I’ve been helping down at the Community Centre with the food bank. The service has shifted because the Community Centre had to close. We normally have a Jobs Club and an Advice Centre, there's a GP’s surgery and a Community Library, and the Council have their offices upstairs as well. There’s always people coming in and out of the Community Centre, to use the library, go to the cafe, pop into the office for a chat, or go to one of the many different clubs and classes that go on there. I hope it will go back to that because it’s something we all need, that social interaction. I’ll continue with my Facebook group for the Neighbourhood Watch, because social media has become a very popular way of getting information and advice. I think both will continue alongside each other, we need both now.

I’ve found the different public services really good to work with. There's been the local councillors, who are really good if I need any advice or something doing, they're really quick to get it sorted out. The Neighbourhood Police Team are brilliant and I’ve got a good relationship with them, so whenever I’ve needed to communicate or pass on information it's been very quick to get things done and resolved. Barton’s been mentioned as one of the best organised areas for lockdown, because as soon as the need was there Sue Holden, the secretary of the Community Association, had the list of people, and was working from home and coordinating it all so anybody who was self-isolating, vulnerable, or in need, they had food boxes being delivered from the beginning. They had the food banks before, but the need has grown, it's in the several hundreds. Lockdown happened and the need was immediate and getting all the logistics of who needed the help and all the registering at the start was quite difficult. But now we’ve got the routine going of these services, and people know who is who now, so it's really well organised. We’re brilliant around here, I’ll tell you.

The hubs have been able to connect with people who maybe weren’t on the list, or even at street level people haven't needed to register because we’ve got schemes running through Neighbourhood Watch, so it's gone directly to the Coordinator. There's been this amazing help there at different levels. We’ve really worked well together, and I think the fact that people linked up and worked together was thinking outside the box, because it would have been quite easy to say ‘No, we’re doing this, you aren’t involved.’ To make this a success we needed to unite as one group that's made up of different groups, like a big hub which is made up of little hubs.

It’s such a friendly atmosphere, even just walking to the shops, people are communicating more and smiling and saying ‘Hello.’ I’ve had conversations with strangers, that's one of the changes I’ve noticed that I’m really enjoying. I’ve met some volunteers, too, people I’d never met before, so it's been really lovely to meet new people. I suppose we’re going to have a bit more of a bond now because we’ve been doing this. I think it's shown how well we all work together and get on, that's what it's brought out – how good the relationships are within the group at the Community Centre.

For me personally, lockdown has given me a routine that I can keep varied and interesting, because I like to be busy. I think that's a benefit of doing the voluntary work, you're still being sociable, and busy, and for a good cause. I’m usually the type of person that rushes around, all over the place, so at the same time it's been very good for me to have the restrictions, because I have to stop and sit down. I’ve been feeling more relaxed because of it, and I’ve been able to use my skills in the volunteering, so actually I do feel happier, in a strange way.

I think a benefit of lockdown is the creative spirit has been absolutely amazing, the ideas people have come up with. I used to work in primary schools, so I know what it's like to be understaffed and not have resources and still have to do a really good, excellent job. We’re having to use what we’ve got, you know. It reminds me of my childhood when there was more space to do stuff and more time, and you felt safer sending your children outside to play. We used to take old sheets and my mum’s second-hand dresses, dress up in old net curtains and make camps in bushes.

On a political level I’m hoping it will have shaped people’s consciousness, and I’m hoping with central government, it shapes their consciousness too, so that in the future people will be more focused on a sharing, generous society. I think it's all over the country, the kindness. The advantage of lockdown not just suddenly ending, it being more gradual, is that I don't think we’ll just jump back into our habits. I would like to see the sharing and caring continue, from central government down to people on the streets.

Edited by Sofia Smith-Laing


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