In the 10 years he has lived in his house in Wavertree in Liverpool, Greg Schofield is not sure he had ever gone into the alleyway behind his rear garden, an unlovely strip of weed-strewn cobbles where some neighbours kept their bins. Though he and his wife are close to their immediate neighbours on one side, there were only two other families in the street they knew to say hello to.
Come lockdown, however, something changed. Someone set up a WhatsApp group and a couple of neighbours asked if anyone was up for tidying the alley. After most of the 14 households in the block turned up, each clearing their immediate patch, “It got people quite excited,” says Schofield. “People began to see how nice the cobbles could look without the weeds.”
Guy Called Greg (@guycalledgreguk)
Highlight of lockdown has been transforming our back alleyway with our neighbours into a community gardens space.Neighbours we didn’t know have become friends, so great seeing people come together!everything has been upcycled! @LivEchonews@BBCNews @bbcmerseyside@BBCNWTpic.twitter.com/whNbKhTkp2June 1, 2020
From there, it snowballed. Someone brought a bench from work, others made a planter out of old pallets, and friends of friends donated plants. The alley is now a beautiful space shared by a group of new friends who are already making plans for a Christmas grotto. “It’s made me think, I wish this had happened sooner,” says Schofield. “It’s been the highlight of all of our lockdown experience – a moment of goodness that’s come out of a bad situation.”
In a strange and unsettling time, many people have been experiencing something similar: a greater sense of neighbourliness, new friendships forged and new communities stitched together. Across the country, people who previously shared only a postcode have joined together in pavement aerobics classes, singalongs and distanced street discos. Others, less visibly, have texted neighbours, dropped off shopping or simply shouted good wishes from a distance.
This is not just anecdotal. Pollafter pollconducted during the lockdown has underlined the fact that the enormous suffering wrought by coronavirus in Britain has also provoked a period of unprecedented neighbourly connection. The Office for National Statistics has been tracking the virus’s social impact weekly. Figures published last weekshowed that 71% of Britons were confident that if they needed help during the pandemic, other members of their community would support them, while 67% said they had checked on a neighbour in the past week.
What’s going on? Is coronavirus making us kinder? “I think it’s frightened us,” says Pam Mackay, a retired teacher from Edinburgh who has been at home alone during the lockdown. “I think it’s made us recognise that community is really important. We want to have a sense that there are other people there for us.”
Mackay, whose husband died a few years ago, has been shielding due to a health condition, and says the lockdown has provoked an “absolutely astonishing” bond between neighbours who previously stuck to polite but distant hellos and now “can’t do enough to help”.
On Tuesday, her 70th birthday, she found that one neighbour had hung bunting in her garden, and at least a dozen more gathered in the street, appropriately distanced, to sing Happy Birthday. “I just feel that I am part of a village in a way that I never was. And I hope – I hope – that it doesn’t stop.”
Her experience is not universal, of course. As the briefest glance at social media reveals, plenty of people have struggled while being confined to home next to neighbours who are antisocial or disobeying lockdown guidance. A poll by Ipsos Mori and Kings College London found that almost one in 10 people had reported someone to the authorities for breaking the rules.
But that study’s findings overwhelmingly show that we are much better at living in community than we sometimes believe, says Prof Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at KCL which commissioned the research. Almost two-thirds had offered help to friends, family and neighbours in the previous week – a figure that has risen throughout lockdown.
Importantly, stresses Duffy, this is not a new thing. Studies before the arrival of the virus show that “we have got this reservoir of helpful behaviour between neighbours and communities which is there, but just not very visible. Definitely, the levels we are seeing now are higher than in ‘normal’ times, but we have an underlying propensity to [help each other]. The crisis has just given us a way to express that.”
Via The Guardian
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