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How WhatsApp is helping

Published Apr 14, 2020 – By Fiona Forbes Hunter


I live in a classic terraced house in a street of 60. Over the years I have seen many come and go but until three weeks ago I could count their names on my fingers. So, what changed? A neighbour, appropriately from No.1, put a note through the door asking if anyone would like to join a street WhatsApp group.

After a tentative start the call soon went out “does anyone have any parchment?” What’s this, extreme home schooling? Task 1: Recreate the Magna Carta from scratch?... “I’m making banana cake”, “So are we”, “Me too”, “And me”. Had bananas been substituted for toilet roll? Did they know something that I didn’t? Fortunately, I had some to share and the reward was to be a piece of the finished cake.

Since then the online group has really got going. Teachers have shared tips on how to keep the children occupied. Cardboard has been left outside for children to use creatively and chalk provided for pavement art. From spare nappies, half a cup of organic wholemeal flour, a garden sieve, to where to find eggs someone has been able to provide the necessary article or information. All thanks to WhatsApp.

Everyone now knows to look out for Babs, Pat, Jack and Molly, collectively residents for over 195 years. I know on a daily basis the footfall of the local supermarkets and their stock levels and we all received a special alert when the long-awaited Lidl opened its doors. WhatsApp is filling me on community details that previously never existed or I didn’t know about. A local café I’d never visited will deliver essentials. Even better, the local fishmonger and butcher are maintaining plentiful supplies.

I too have played my part in this new vibrant community. I am fortunate enough to have milk delivered. The milk company’s range has increased considerably but either they are out of stock of what I want, or my milkman has become more perverse. I received twice the amount of milk, ordered kitchen foil and received cling film, ordered granola and received porridge (which was really very nice). I now look forward to each delivery as a lucky dip and a quick “does anyone need …..?” on the message group ensures an unexpected item is on a neighbour’s doorstep.

It’s not all plain sailing digitally. Online ordering from supermarkets for vulnerable family members has become a challenge requiring the resourcefulness of an MI5 operative. I’ve had to find alternative methods. From fruit and vegetables delivered via a well-known cupcake company to meat delivered from Yorkshire. I’ve tried them all. I knew I had gone too far when my mouse hovered over the Fortnum & Mason hamper.

The emotional Thursday evening 8 o’clock carers tribute results in everyone rushing outside (or hanging out of their windows) for riotous applause and pot banging. This has now been extended to a 6 o’clock Sunday evening doorstep drink to celebrate birthdays or just to get through another week. Yesterday as a step up from their children’s painting in the window, two houses were decorated from roof to pavement with a rainbow of ribbons to show their respect and to cheer everyone up.

Will this goodwill continue in the future? I would like to think so. There is talk of revisiting a street party once this is all over. If nothing else I now have a rogues’ gallery of every cat, dog and gerbil who lives in the street. So next time the moggy formerly known as ‘Evil cat’ is digging up my garden I will be able to ask politely “I say Mitch would you be so kind as to leave my plants alone?”

And all of this in a time of supposed isolation, and most of this thanks to WhatsApp. Who’d have thought it?

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