As part of our open call to Share your Story, we received this #SpiritOfLockdown account from Frauke. Frauke set up and managed a local Whatsapp group in her community which Basil the dog played a big part in, keeping spirits high and helping forge community bonds.
Setting the Scene: Life pre-Covid
I am a Street Champion with Oxford Together and actually started the street WhatsApp group before Street Champions was a thing.
When we were starting to become aware of Covid as a problem, around February time, I was concerned about my neighbours’ vulnerability and worried by the thought that something could happen to someone, they could need help and no-one would know.
Enter Covid: The early days of lockdown
I printed out flyers, telling people they could contact me, giving my landline and mobile numbers. There was a good response. My street is a cul-de-sac of semi-detached houses, mostly privately owned, a few multiple occupancy, and quite a few elderly people including some who have lived there all their lives. There’s 60 households, and of those about 20 signed up. I also got some texts and a call from people to say thank you, that they didn’t need help but it was nice to know the support was there if needed. Then I heard about Street Champions, and thought I should sign up so the wider network was aware there was provision in the Street.
The street was quite active in the first lockdown, everyone cheering each other up. They joined in the clapping for the NHS on Thursdays. One man in particular, Martin, who has a beautiful little dog called Basil, posted a joke and a photo of the dog in the WhatsApp group nearly every day.
One day, Martin posted a photo of Basil next to a cake because it was Basil’s birthday, and they had an impromptu birthday party for Basil in the street – any excuse for a gathering!
Occasionally when things were quieter on WhatsApp a useful prompt to get conversation going was a – ‘What’s Basil up to?’. Somehow the dog became like a street mascot and a sign of joy for people.
Things petered out a bit towards the end of the year, but then one evening in advent I had a knock on the door and it was Martin and Basil, both in Santa costumes, doing the rounds with presents – something Martin did off his own back. And then another neighbour suggested carol singing, so a few of them did that as well.
Taking Stock: What I’ve learnt
One thing I have realised over time is that initiating is one thing, but it needs buy-in from other people. I feel responsible in some ways, for example as a WhatsApp admin to keep the chat active.
We’re now discussing the possibility of a street party and have formed a little planning committee – Martin offered his garden as a place to meet and chat about it, and the vicar put the application for the Council in. There’s been a positive response to the street party so far, even if it’s just everyone bringing their barbecues into the street!
However, during the run-up to the party there will be other things needed like knocking on people’s doors to drum up some support. Often it tends to be the four from the planning committee who have to prod people, remind them they have to pitch in if they want things to happen!
As the community spirit grows natural connections tend to happen more:
- An elderly Asian lady who is single connected with another Asian lady who is on her own – they’ve now bubbled up to go for walks together almost daily.
- People used the WhatsApp group to share things – one person shared that they’d just got a new TV but their old one was working fine and did anyone want it. Next thing you could see a huge TV “walk” past the window as its owner carried it down the road to a neighbour.
- Someone else offered to keep their car boot open for people to fill with food, and then took it to the food bank at the end of the day.
- Neighbours are greeting each other more, and more people know each other’s names.
Overall I’ve been pleased to see the community come together and the sense of community growing, and think other people are starting to appreciate that, too.
I’ve been inspired by my upbringing and also my faith – I see God at work in the mutual help and support people have give each other, in being a good neighbour.
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