For many people, seeing their local community come together has been the silver lining of an otherwise bleak period. Whether through mutual aid groups, shopping locally or spending more time in the community, people reported an increased connection with their local areas. People were more likely to have got to know their neighbours, have shared experiences like the weekly clap for the NHS, and volunteer to help those nearby. While not universal, experiences like these provided hope for many, even in what seemed like the darkest times.
Read people’s thoughts about their communities through the pandemic below.
“I have spoken to neighbours that I’ve never met before. We have a “kerbside cocktail” hour every Saturday, all maintaining 2m distance.”
Woman, 60s, South-East England
A dominant theme in people’s responses was that they have grown closer to their neighbours. Many explained that building relationships with their neighbours or making pre-existing ones closer was one of the main positives of lockdown for them. Often these relationships were with neighbours that they had not interacted with previously, but because of the lockdown they had taken the opportunity to check-in on each other and build relationships.
“We have with our neighbours, friends and the people we have known in the past have all become collectively concerned for each other’s well being. We have become stronger and closer and have vowed to be a close knit group when all this is over.”
Woman, 60s, South-East England
“Our road has really pulled together, sharing shopping, giving things away and supporting those in need.[…]The Thursday clap has really brought people together as a community – as has our regular Friday socially-distanced drinks party in the road ‘Gin by the bins’.”
Woman, 40s, London
“We formed a street based Whatsapp group at the beginning of lockdown and we keep in touch on an almost daily basis. Where we can exchange and swap ideas, update on available slots for supermarkets, and make sure everyone is doing ok. On VE Day we had a very socially distant street party which helped our community come together even more. We also found that Clap for Carers was such a socially unifying event.”
Male, 60s, South-West England
“During lockdown and especially through involvement with the community network either as a volunteer or recipient of help, many residents have encountered other residents from all socio-economic groups and learned a great deal more about who their neighbours are. There is a strengthened sense of community – whether this is because of the unique situation of everyone being at home or because a village is a manageable settlement in terms of its size, time will only tell.”
Woman, 60s, East of England
For some, the strengthened community spirit they felt marked what they hoped would be the beginning of a new, united country: one that could overcome generational and socio-economic divisions. The almost instant proliferation of mutual aid groups, many hosted on WhatsApp, restored people’s faith in the power of people coming together: something many hope will continue beyond the pandemic.
One woman, in her 60s and living in the South East of England explains the mammoth effort her and others in her community have made to respond to all the wider challenges associated with the pandemic:
“In our village, the entire village had been leafleted by volunteers with offers of help for shopping, collecting and delivering prescriptions, or a friendly phone call within 3 days of the pandemic being declared.[…] The resourcefulness of ordinary people has been amazing […]I personally have either collected prescriptions or bought shopping for 20 people. Most of those are elderly, living alone and self isolating and one is younger but clinically vulnerable. All are lonely and really welcome the chance to have a socially distanced chat on the doorstep.”
As she explains in more detail, these types of volunteering have got stuck in with other local public services to help support frontline staff.
“I have also driven someone to doctor’s appointments twice per week, taken someone else to a hospital appointment, sourced hearing aid batteries, organised a delivery of incontinence pads, sourced and delivered reading material, posted parcels, and twice ensured that someone’s rent was paid (their money – my trip to the post office).”
Yet not everyone felt the same, and those that felt an absence of community felt it keenly.
“Realised that there is no sense of community round here. The turnout on the weekly ‘clap for carers’ was pitiful (never above about 40%) and the last one last week was awful: low turnout and disrupted by teenagers playing football and shouting and swearing while the clap was happening (which meant it was even shorter than usual).”
Man, 50s, Yorkshire & Humberside
“I think tensions have been brought out in the neighbourhood with everyone being stuck in their houses all the time, and on hot, sunny days there have been some problems with consistently noisy neighbours (who maybe weren’t so obviously noisy before!) It is understandable that these tensions have arisen given the circumstances, but sometimes it’s difficult to empathise when a couple of households are making it intolerable for the whole street.”
Woman 20s, East Midlands
“VE Day was one of the most challenging days for me. […] I live on my own and I saw reports in the media showing how lots of streets were throwing socially distanced parties for VE day and thought perhaps I could see what was going on in my area.[…] I went out for a walk later in the afternoon but my street was completely empty. I walked down every street on my entire estate of around 260 houses and only saw 4 people, all in different streets and no signs of any street parties (except for one house which had a flag in the window and small bit of bunting down the side of the house – perhaps they had their party earlier in the day).[…]I was feeling really down by the time I had walked round the estate.”
Man, 60s, South West England
“When we were able to go out for walks/cycles around the local area we started to appreciate even more the beauty of where we live and there was a sense of pride locally in protecting that environment”
Woman, 40s, West-Midlands
An unintended benefit of lockdown was the chance for people to reconnect with their local areas. People told us that they’d shopped more locally, committed to supporting local businesses and thought more about their local area. Some called for an increase in local decision making power, having been so impressed by their community response.
“I have learnt to appreciate my local community and surroundings a lot more, to use and support local businesses and to be grateful for our outdoor space and countryside. I have reassessed my views on what is important in life.”
Woman, 40s, South East England
“We found that because we were unable to get slots from supermarkets for online deliveries, we found alternative suppliers – our diet has improved enormously. We eat good quality fruit and veg, from a supplier that used to deliver to restaurants but has changed its customer base to residential customers now. We also eat much more fresh fish – also delivered by a previously catering based fishmongers. And we have meat delivered from a local butcher. Each of the companies we have chosen to use is local, and we have recommended them to so many of our neighbours.”
Woman, 50s, London
“[Mutual aid groups are ] a fantastic new way of operating and a new level of engagement has been achieved that neither government or local authorities have tapped into. A massive missed opportunity for the future.”
Woman, 40s, London
“One of the things this crisis has shown me is that the Leader of our Council has been an invaluable advocate for local people, which indicates how important local-level knowledge is in making good decisions.”
Woman, 60s, South-West of England