29 Apr Good Neighbours make Good Friends – Inspiring stories of Southend street connections during the pandemic
During the past year, thousands of street-level Whatsapp and Facebook groups have sprung up around the UK to support each other within our neighbourhoods and protect the most vulnerable. Sometimes called Mutual Aid groups, they have been a lifeline for those who are self isolating or living alone, and have been fantastic for creating meaningful relationships during a time of uncertainty. Although there was a focus at the start on ensuring vulnerable shielders were able to stay at home by helping with things like food shopping, the groups also created wonderful events, decorated their streets and made new friendships.
For some, being able to ask for help from their nearest neighbours has been essential when it comes to picking up prescriptions or doing the food shopping. Some of our local groups have gone above and beyond, putting on regular doorstep coffee mornings and organising Easter egg hunts.
Elaine from Pentland Avenue, Shoebury, was already a member of a strong street Facebook group that had been running for a few years already. With around 100 members prior to the pandemic, they were ready to take action when lockdown hit in March 2020. The group was opened up to extended families of residents, as well as those not familiar to social media via leafleting and doorknocking. They have worked very hard as a community to overcome the misery of lockdown by growing and sharing food, and having social distanced doorstep coffee chats, which were especially beneficial for those living alone. Once a fortnight, a box is left out for neighbours to donate produce to a local food bank. Elaine says “we hear from further afield how people would love to have the same support and friendship where they live. This has been a whole road initiative where we all pull together! I’m very lucky to live here!”
When lockdown hit Tilly from South Avenue, Southend, she “dropped a note through the doors of 90 households in my section of road, suggesting to get together in a WhatsApp group. The idea was that we would be able to support each other during this time”. The group quickly grew to 40 strong and “conversations go from friendly banter to shopping help, to offers of toys and furniture going spare. Someone even arranged an Easter egg hunt for the kids!
During the rare occasions that we see each other on the street, we talk to each other more now, and it feels like we are all looking out for each other a bit more.” The residents of South Ave are now planning a street party!
Many residents got in contact to offer help to their next door neighbours without the need for a whole street group, as Katie from Marguerite Drive in Leigh found, although the groups can instead be used for coming up with more fun creative events that bring the whole community together. By posting notes through neighbours letterboxes during the first lockdown, a Facebook group was started for the street which was used to organise Christmas lights. These cheered up so many people during the dark winter lockdown and also raised money for Southend Emergency Fund.
Many of the street groups organised lively VE Day parties complete with bunting and live music. At Christmas, Pentland Avenue was lucky enough to have a beautiful carol concert from a musician neighbour’s front garden!
Many of those who have started a street group are natural Community Connectors, which is a project run by SAVS and Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to encourage healthy conversations and keep residents safe during the pandemic. By hearing about these hyper-local initiatives, we can build a picture of the support across Southend and help to shape the covid recovery by talking to well-connected residents.
Community Connectors receive a weekly newsletter from us, are invited to events, and share information with their neighbours to create kinder, safer communities.
You can sign up as a Community Connector here –
If you’re inspired to start your own street-level project, visit the Livewell site below for tips and guidance:
You can also upload existing initiatives to the Good Neighbours website:
Or contact Steph, our Community Connectors Officer at SAVS to chat about what’s going on in your neighbourhood, and to receive advice and support!