Lettuces For The Tortoises
‘There she is, on the frontline, serving her community, finding the lettuces for the tortoises.’
I’m a teacher, and I’m part of a church in Oxford. I’ve always been interested in helping and supporting community projects and food banks and that sort of thing, but since March that has changed a lot. With Oxford Together and with Street Champions and all the rest of it, it’s been quite concentrated and quite directed, and unified within Oxford, which I think is really good. Schools haven’t closed, I’m on a rota where we go in for vulnerable children and the keyworkers’ children and that, but lockdown has really challenged my sense of usefulness and how I can use my skill to help people, so I’ve really valued the opportunity to still be useful. From what I see and experience, there’s a greater appreciation for those keyworker roles. I hope that that will happen for my teaching profession as well, that remains a bit mixed still.
I applied to be a Street Champion with Oxford Together. I saw it was being promoted on social media, and then very quickly friends and peers of mine were signing up to it. I realised it was a role I definitely could do, being an advocate for my street, for my area, and that sort of linking point for help and support if it was needed. Their vision of it initially was really easy to understand. It made sense that this was a good way to connect people together and provide support during the crisis. So I applied and then very quickly I was put in a WhatsApp group with other Cowley area Street Champions in the Oxford community. We were given guidance and encouragement on how to leaflet our street or connect with our neighbours. Between the central Oxford Hub, and community support project, it means that they’ve got leaders in different areas and that they’re able to cover the geography of Oxford.
If people need support then either I would be the named person locally – I’ve been asked for guidance on things like, ‘What do I do about a dental emergency?’ or a prescription or something – or it would go the other way. People in the Cowley area might contact the Oxford Hub, and say ‘I need a prescription, I need food shopping’, and Oxford Hub would look and see who’s the most local Street Champion volunteer, and then contact me and say that this person who is a couple of streets away does need something, and can you help them? If I have any questions the Oxford Hub team and the community support are very open to us going back to them with anything. They’ve been very attuned into safeguarding and giving us advice and precautions. They seem to have got their vision and resources very quickly. They sent out a really helpful instructional video for us to watch, and then a form for that to say that we’ve seen it. And it wasn’t too arduous, it wasn’t too time-consuming. It’s always been quite useful information, and it seems to have come together very quickly, but really well, very accurately.
One of the first things for me was when a man who lives independently in the Cowley area, but he’s got additional needs, contacted the Oxford Hub in a panic because his prescription was running out, and so they contacted me. And through trying to communicate with him and work out what he needs, he did the right thing, very responsibly, and gave me the number of his sister, who’s sort of his carer, and through her we were able to work out what he needed and I was able to help, and that was really good.
My other story is funnier. A man contacted the Oxford Hub saying he’d got his food shop, because he’s isolating, and that was all fine, but he needed a particular kind of lettuce for his tortoise, which hadn’t come with the food shop. So, I was sent on a hunt to six different supermarkets because it couldn’t be an iceberg, and it couldn’t be a romaine, it had to be a round lettuce. Because his tortoise is very fussy. And I could not find one! I was very worried I wouldn’t be able to fulfil the request for quite a while. I was asking all my friends and family, ‘If you go to a supermarket, if you find a round lettuce can you let me know,’ and then I did eventually find it for him! There were quite a few people saying, ‘There she is, on the frontline, serving her community, finding the lettuces for the tortoises.’
I think one of the reasons I became a teacher is because I really like people and I like being helpful and useful and seeing that sort of reward of putting the effort in, and working hard at something and seeing the impact it has. I’ve always wanted to be aware of the community around me and aspire to be sort of servant-hearted in the way I’ve conducted myself in my life, because it’s not all about me, we win when we’re together. I live with two NHS workers and we all go to different churches in Oxford, but even before I signed up, we all felt that, together, this is something that we can all do, and why don’t we leaflet the street and give out our number and say, ‘If you need anything we’re in this together, and we can support each other.’ And then sort of alongside that, the Street Champion and the Oxford Hub role grew, and our personal desire to want to reach out and connect, exactly alongside what Oxford Hub were creating.
I think it made everyone sit up and be aware of our neighbours and the people nearby in our locality and think, is everybody okay, and what happens if someone’s isolating and needs some support? I don’t think there was much connection between houses and people before, but it’s been a transformation really. We now have a WhatsApp group for our street and it’s very busy and active. It probably has about two thirds of the street on it. We’ve got that community connection that just didn’t exist before.
I think people have been really open to meeting and getting to know people and sharing what we’re into, what we’re interested in. There’s a really keen baking household on the street who have always got sourdough on the go, and are offering it out, for everyone on the street. I really believe that the best way a community can be together is that if you’ve got something that you don’t need, you can offer it out to someone that does need it. That sense of sharing in community, that those that have can share with those who don’t have, or don’t have enough or in the right way. People can be quite self-sufficient and have a lot of pride about things and not ask for help. I think all of that has changed completely, and that’s all been reshuffled and taken away, so that now people are actually willing to say, ‘If you’re offering that, yes, I’ll accept it, thank you.’ I’ve asked for help and it’s come through, you know, strangers or neighbours have come through for me. I think once that’s been experienced, hopefully it can stay.
Edited by Sofia Smith-Laing