Views columnist Rachel reflects on re-discovering a sense of community spirit during the pandemic.
I decided to move back to my hometown during lockdown, rather than continuing to rent near the University. Living in Glasgow’s west end, I hadn’t become involved in anything going on around me or made any friends who lived nearby, and as a result, I had become quite isolated. I weighed up the pros and cons and decided that I’d much rather pay to travel to university if it meant I could be closer to my family and friends who still lived at home. This was before I knew we’d be learning remotely and I wouldn’t have to travel to uni at all this year. As it turned out, I’ve not only saved on train tickets and rent from studying remotely, I’ve also found that sense of community that I had been missing in the last few years.
Moving to the centre of my town, I’m now only a short walk from the high street buskers, cafes, and shops. For all the awful things the pandemic has brought to us, it has made people more aware of the importance of supporting local businesses. I’m more conscious to choose the cafe across the road over a Starbucks and it’s given me more of a sense of belonging as a result. I’ve gotten to know people locally, and on the days where studying from home can become isolating, I can nip into some of the shops nearby and have a chat with the owners. Before, I was holed up in my flat, and the most interaction I had was with the automated voice of the self-service checkout at the Tesco Express, but now I feel like having a chat with someone in the local shops can really help me to feel less alone; something we all need, now more than ever.
I also started a volunteer job writing for my local community website, and it helped me get to know more people locally too. I’ve been interviewing local business owners and there’s a real sense in my town that these shops want to be places that foster this sense of community, places people can host events (albeit socially distanced once for now) or just places people know they can have a natter with someone. I think that idea has been heightened by the pandemic; we know how easy it is to get lonely right now, and people do want to come together. That’s something I’m trying to be a part of.
I don’t find it super easy, but I know pushing myself out of my comfort zone and getting to know the people around me will ultimately be a good thing. I shouldn’t let myself become a hermit, no matter how easily justified that is right now. Maybe the idea that going into shops on the high street will make you feel less lonely is something people usually associate with pensioners, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be applied to students who, especially at the moment, can feel just as isolated. It’s harder to get to know people through a mask, but the fact you are both wearing masks is a reminder that we are all in this together.
There hasn’t been a town fireworks display this year. There won’t be parades or Christmas markets. But that’s exactly why people are coming together more than ever. More people are helping out their neighbours. More businesses in my town are signing up to be drop off points for local toy and food banks this year. More are collaborating with other local businesses to support each other. More people are coming up with creative ways we can have events which are socially distanced and in line with restrictions. It’s exciting to see people foster this community spirit at a time when it is needed most.
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