By Alexandra O’Brien
As the coronavirus pandemic creates uncertainty about when life will return to normal, it’s easy to feel alone, isolated, scared and anxious. However, there’s a heartwarming new movement emerging seeing neighbourhoods connect in new and often virtual ways.
It’s hard to know what to do at times like this. It’s easy to fall into a sense of despair as we are all bombarded with apocalyptic-type news and are faced with unprecedented times of isolation, social distancing and being confined to our houses.
While we all feel somewhat hopeless as this crisis unfolds across the globe, in many ways, we are now being called upon for local responses. And boy oh boy is the beautiful side of humanity shining on through.
There are heartwarming stories of virtual and from-a-distance neighbourhood connections blossoming, where local communities are coming together to support each other, and the we-are-all-in-this-together vibe is revealing one big silver lining to this pandemic.
Where once the daily chat to the barista, high five to a workmate, kiss to a best friend, hug with a family member and catch-ups with loved ones were the norm, we are now faced with having to readjust to a new norm with social distancing measures in force.
While video calling and connecting using the many apps and tech available as a way of communicating is au fait to many, it’s easy for many to feel alone, isolated, down, immobile and hopeless right now.
Like a rainbow coming through the other side of a storm, however, you don’t have to look far to see “virtual and from-a-distance neighbourhoods” emerging in full force, ensuring that no person is left behind.
As the pandemic grips the world, it has never been more important for individuals to come together and support each other. Here are some great – and often free – ideas here on how you can reach out to people in your neighbourhood.
1. Teddies, rainbows, notes and messages in windows
Whether it’s coupling your essential daily exercise with going on a bear hunt or a rainbow trail, or popping a bear or rainbow in your window, all over the world people are going on one big “support hunt”, sharing bears, rainbows, holding up signs or placing notes of hope on streets and in parks to remind people that we will ride out this storm together. Connected and supporting each other from a distance during shared experience.
The Teddy bears are said to have begun in Wichita, or maybe Philadelphia, no one is quite sure. What we do know is that it started as a way to distract children from social distancing, and it’s now cheering people up and connecting the human race worldwide.
2. Lending a hand to vulnerable neighbours
All over Australia people are creating ways to spread #viralkindess and #mystreetsupport groups to connect neighbours and ensure vulnerable residents are looked after, have someone to check in on them, have the groceries and supplies or anything else they might need to get by.
From a simple phone to call each day to check in on someone, to picking up the weekly shopping or medication, nothing is too big or small.
There are also social media platforms you can use to check in on vulnerable people in your area. Take Nextdoor, which is usually used for buying and selling, advertising lost pets and advice on tradie recommendations. It is now being used to offer help to people self-isolating and the vulnerable who are unable to go out to run basic errands, or who are struggling with loneliness due to social distancing.
Similar to Facebook, on Nextdoor you can see posts from people in your area. You can search posts and filter by suburb.
Some generous users have made public offers to grocery shop for those who can’t leave their houses, walk the dogs of those who have been isolated and even deliver toilet paper to elderly or disabled people who can’t find any in supermarkets.
Nextdoor is even recommending people start virtual coffee groups over Skype or send messages to neighbours you know are alone to check how they’re doing.
In addition to Nextdoor, you can also try One Good Street that aims to foster community connection by getting neighbours and communities to help ensure the elderly in social isolation don’t go days or weeks without seeing or speaking to anyone.
There’s also Gather My Crew, which is all about setting up a roster system to help people in your neighbourhood who are doing it tough.
3. Virtual and by-distance catch-ups, quiz nights, dance classes and singalongs
From virtual quiz nights via video meeting app Zoom or wine nights with the Houseparty app, neighbours, friends, families, strangers and workmates are connecting virtually to socialise, have a giggle or enjoy a spot of culture together. Some are even taking to their doorsteps, footpaths and balconies to “meet-up” with neighbours.
Take fitness instructor, Janet Woodcock, 54, in the UK who came up with the idea to hold a communal street dance session each day for the residents of Springbourne in Frodsham. She leads her entire street at 11am daily in social distancing dance.
— Elsa Williams (@elsalwilliams) March 31, 2020
Here in Australia, in Sydney’s Waterloo, tenor Tomas Dalton and baritone Tom Hamilton, took to their balcony during self-isolation for a tear-jerking performance of “I Still Call Australia Home” with their neighbours. Residents of the surrounding apartment building joined in and waved torches and phones in solidarity.
A video was captured by a fellow neighbour and went viral, with Aussies both at home and overseas saying it made them feel connected to their home and people.
Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has launched a YouTube channel, The Shows Must Go On. Over the coming weekends, a number of his beloved musicals will be screened for a limited time.
He even put a call out on social media for people to film themselves singing parts of his famous Jospeh and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and then combined snippets from the entries to create a new music video bringing people together from all over the globe in a virtual singalong. You will not be able to watch it without tearing up.
There are examples like this all over the internet with museums, galleries, theatres and more streaming shows online.
And while we might not be able to physically come together to commemorate ANZAC day with official plans cancelled, there’s a social media movement emerging. Using the hashtag #musicformateship, it has musicians challenging each other to learn the Last Post in time for ANZAC Day so that neighbourhoods across the country can observe the day while in self-isolation.
Who are the vulnerable people?
Here are the people who are considered to be vulnerable according to experts and the Government’s health website:
- People aged 65 years and over with chronic medical condition
- People aged 70 years and over
- People with compromised immune systems
- People who live alone
- People living with a disability
- People living rough
- People who are susceptible to or suffer from mental illness
- People who are self-isolating
- People who are suffering from another illness
It is very probable that each of us knows one, two, three, and maybe even more vulnerable people. So do what you can to find out who in your neighbourhoods or circles might be vulnerable in these times and do what you can to help. A simple note in the letterbox or a drive by and wave could make someone’s week – even month – right now.
With the anxiety surrounding the pandemic situation, we all need that connection in one way or another, that extra person checking in and asking if we are ok. So do what you can to check in with your people. Reaching out could be as simple as sharing memes, writing daily WhatsApps or text messages, recommending some Netflix shows or walking routes.
And remember, #WeAreAllInThisTogether.
Originally published as Virtual neighbourhoods blossom amid virus panic