Neighbours…everybody needs good neighbours…
Blog by Sherree Stanley Conroy, Hampshire Homes Hub Manager
I live on a suburban street of around 45 classic 1930s houses. Neat gardens out the front, trees on the verges, and kitchen extensions out the back. I have lived here for 12 years, but it’s not where I chose to live. The solid houses of this street, like so many up and down the UK, represent the safe, boring ‘adult’ world I’d always tried to avoid. Previously I’d always lived in edgy urban areas, compromising indoor and outdoor space for the busy vibe of city or town centre life, and if the home was Victorian then I was even happier.
So how did I end up living in this model of suburbia?
It’s a classic story of girl (well, middle aged woman) meets boy (don’t worry…he’s middle aged too!), falls in love and gives up her Victorian (!) villa by the beach in one of the most deprived towns in the country, and moves to Hampshire respectability. See, the boy, despite portraying himself as a bit of a rebel, had fallen in love with the worst house on the 1930’s street a decade before the girl entered his life. He’d worked hard on the house, and no amount of persuading, pleading and sulking was going to get him out of his comfort. So the girl moved in, got a dog and some chickens, and accepted her fate as officially grown up and suburban.
I can’t say I like the house any more now than I did then, but I have grown to grudgingly appreciate the solid house, its location, and the history of the area.
Like many people, until 2 weeks ago I knew the names of just a handful of neighbours, all bar one of which live either directly opposite or adjacent to our house. Beyond these households though, we knew very little about our other 40 odd neighbours.
And then the coronavirus hit.
We had already put a note through the door of 4 older people in the street, offering to add any shopping to the deliveries we already had booked, but other than polite ‘thanks for thinking about us’ calls, that was that.
One morning though, a note appeared through our door from the neighbour opposite, suggesting we all join a WhatsApp group to stay in contact and to see if people needed anything. Within a short space of time, nearly half the households on the street had joined the group. Since then I have learnt the names of many of the people I had only ever previously spotted driving off in their cars of a morning. I have also learn that real adversity can bring a community together very quickly.
There are many posts a day in our WhatsApp group. Sometimes it’s practical stuff like what the local supermarket’s shelves are looking like that day, or which has delivery slots. Often it’s jokey things people have spotted on social media and want to share to lighten everyone’s day.
- We’ve had an 18th birthday on the street, which resulted in newly made friends delivering cards to a boy they had never spoken to before.
- As a group we’ve settled a dispute over the rules of backgammon to help save a marriage!
- A plea for a very tall ladder was quickly answered, allowing a basketball hoop to go up to entertain a young lad. Similarly, another child’s bike is now running smoothly again after a tyre pump was borrowed via the group.
- Jogging routes have been shared, along with confessions of how long it has been since some people ran them!
- Before full lock down there was even the offer of the use of a 16 foot canoe for anyone brave enough.
- Offers of IT support came from my husband, and dog walking from me.
We discovered more about the street itself, including who still has bomb shelters in their garden, and the history of the builder who developed the street. We have stood and waved to one another, backlit by lights from our hallways, during the Thursday evening applause for the NHS, after which many of us have admitted to the group our tears and pride. We learnt that a surprisingly high number of our neighbours are key workers.
A question of ‘who has the baby I can hear crying? It’s making me so happy to hear such a positive sound’ revealed a newly moved in neighbour and the youngest resident. While discrete checks also confirmed that all our older residents are in contact with at least one younger household, and are safe and fed.
It’s been a revelation to come together with neighbours, remotely at the moment but with plans for a street party once we can safely come together. There are very few positive things about the current situation and it’s very easy (and natural) to feel scared, sad or anxious. However, without the coronavirus I would probably live out my life on this street never knowing most my neighbours and never appreciating how amazingly supportive and adaptive humans can be, even to relative strangers.
The power of people coming together as a community is truly awesome and when we take the time to look out for one another the world feels a less scary place.
I know that this lockdown will end, and most of us will go back to our normal, busy lives, but I am grateful to have this glimpse into a kinder, more gentle world, and my aim is to find ways to keep the new community in our street together for the benefit of all. My professional life is about supporting communities to help meet their own housing needs. It’s lovely to discover the power of the community just outside my own front door.
‘Boring’ suburbia never felt so good!