From the earliest days of the pandemic, our street came together to support each other and from there grew connection and creativity
Doorstep disco - musicals week
In the weeks leading up to the first lockdown in March 2020 I was addicted to reading live news feeds, anxiety and dread rising all the time. As Covid mutual aid groups started to spring up around the UK, a few of us in our street printed some flyers for our neighbours telling them about the street WhatsApp group and suggesting ways we could support each other through whatever was coming next.
I live on a quiet street (it's a no through road) of about 45 terraced houses in a small Yorkshire town. We had an existing WhatsApp group with maybe 25% of households on it. After leafleting, most households joined the group and as an extraordinary time began to unfold, we came together with creativity, humour and a lot of disco.
Initially the group was a source of practical support - home-schooling tips, ingredient swaps (flour, yeast and toilet paper anyone?), and helping households with older or vulnerable people with shopping and errands. If someone managed to secure a coveted online food delivery, neighbours were able to add items they needed to the order. And there were a lot of memes.
The weekly Thursday claps for the NHS meant we had some fleeting in person connection with our neighbours. A couple of weeks into lockdown someone suggested we learn some dance steps to Staying Alive and dance together on our doorsteps. Another neighbour turned out to be a sound engineer and he offered to set up some speakers.
And so our weekly doorstep discos began between April and July. Each disco would be themed and soon we were rummaging through our wardrobes for costumes, party wigs and props. One neighbour designed a much admired themed hat for each weekly disco. As the weeks passed people's birthdays and anniversaries were celebrated by the whole street. My planned civil partnership was cancelled but the street held a love-themed disco to mark the date and we all dressed in pink and red and danced to a love-themed playlist.
Doorstep Disco - 70s week
Children's drawings on our bunting - 'holiday at home' and 'no sadness'
A community of creativity began to flourish. An artist on the street took photographic portraits of each household on their doorstep. Someone else created photographic collages of the discos and outfits. Another household created a spoof Strictly Come Dancing promo film to mark the tenth disco.
We started an outdoor street jazz band with two guitarists, me on clarinet and my next door neighbour on trumpet. Someone else ran socially distanced outdoor storytelling sessions for the kids. We came together and created a community garden from a slope of scrubby grass with built-in terraced seating and a crowd-sourced flower bed with food growing in pots along the sides.
The WhatsApp group was also a place for people to share ideas and our summer project was to create bunting to wind up and down the length of the street. We all chipped in. Someone ordered the materials, we all industriously cut out triangles, and then we had an afternoon where we drew mini artworks on them. We got some help sewing them all together and residents with a head for heights got up ladders and drilled in hooks.
Bird illustrations on our street bunting
Bunting themed hat
The patch of grass before
Our communal garden and hanging out space after the transformation. It's called "the moot".
Our model houses for Fun Palaces weekend (on the community terraced garden that was still being built)
In October someone we suggested we host a Fun Palace for the street. Fun Palaces is a weekend where you organise creative activities and create things with your community.
A big highlight was our window museum of curiosities, where people showcased interesting objects on their window sills. We also made models of our houses and recreated our street in cardboard. It turned out that the arts organisation Handmade Parade was making a film with cardboard models so after the weekend our houses were donated to their project and featured in their film.
I volunteered to organise a virtual art exhibition and I created a slide show set up to look like different rooms in a gallery. It turned out that the street was home to lots of creative talent and the exhibition shared images from 17 different residents. We also made a chalk timeline of when different people moved into their houses which helped us understand the street's recent timeline.
Window Museum of Curiosities
Window Museum of Curiosities for Fun Palaces
Some of our model houses appeared in this film
As the nights drew in, we strung solar powered lights across the street.
As the nights began to draw in, we started thinking about light and how we could keep the sense of joy the bunting had brought us. We chipped in for solar fairy lights and strung them across the street where the bunting had been. We began to plan advent windows, with each household unveiling a festive themed window each day in December. Every day there was a real buzz about each window with lots of people taking photos.
The run up to Christmas 2020 was once again a time of anxiety over rising numbers and unclear guidance. People's plans to spend time with their families began to unravel and many of us were facing a different kind of Christmas to the one we had planned. Our street once again came together. In our town it's traditional to go to the square and sing carols with the brass band on Christmas eve. We recreated this in the street and sang carols with the jazz band. On Christmas Day we arranged to come out on the street at midday to raise a glass together. There had been jokes on the WhatsApp about whether we should have our own Queen's Speech and two people decided to go for it. Our oldest resident Barb gave a parody speech which gave us all a laugh, followed by Liz, who spoke movingly about how the street had helped her through the year.
We didn't realise at the time that we were heading straight into a winter lockdown. The bad weather meant we didn't revive the disco idea (though we still hold them now and again) but instead there were lots of jigsaw swaps and in the depths of February a plan emerged to create Spring windows, to give us colour and hope for 2021.
Although the last 18 months have been difficult for so many, we were able to come together and use creativity as a means of support and hope. It grew organically, we didn't set out to do it. But each idea led to another one and another way of creating a sense of connection and fun, sparking new and cross-generational friendships and a street that feels very different from before.
Street Christmas Tree
Spring is coming