I think my whole life path has changed because of this experience, because I realise that I truly feel fulfilled, and happy and productive when I am helping my community, rather than what I’m doing for myself.
I graduated University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics last year. I had a job lined up, but I decided to take a year out, so I will start in September 2020. In the year off, I was actually acting. I was doing films and ads and things like that. Obviously performing is one of the hardest-hit industries because you really cannot work from home, so it felt right and natural to do something that felt worthwhile, you know? I had already created my own fliers and I had posted them all over my street, and I was already supporting a lot of people when I saw on Facebook or online somewhere that Oxford Hub was running this programme, so I signed up to be a Street Champion. They wanted people to nominate themselves to be a Neighbourhood Coordinator, which is essentially someone who organises all the Street Champions for that area and so I thought, “This is something I really like doing. I mean, my job is going to be management and I really love this kind of sort of organisation strategy work.”
Oxford Hub have done a brilliant job. Within a few weeks they developed a system that should have taken months and months. They have been so helpful and supportive, and they're always there, but you know, ultimately, what they're trying to encourage is ‘neighbourliness’, you know? It's like, how can neighbours and communities support themselves? While I’ve been involved in charity work in the past, this has been the first time that I’ve been sort of organising things, rather than being just like a volunteer who gets told what to do and then goes and does it. One thing that I really enjoy as Neighbourhood Coordinator is I’ve been able to work with a lot of Local Councilors, City Council people, and various other charity groups as well. We have weekly meetings where we discuss how to coordinate our efforts, so we’re not duplicating work, and we’re not stepping on each other’s toes. That's worked really well.
We also have the freedom to grow, because every community requires different things, right? I’m not an employee, we’re volunteers, so with that comes a lot of freedom. I work together with the Vicar from Cutteslowe Connection Church and we’ve set up a community larder. That goes beyond the remit of what's required as Neighbourhood Coordinator but it's something that we’ve decided the community could really use. It's a long-term project so it’ll still be in place beyond just the pandemic. We’ve also done weekly collections for local food banks - because some of the roads within my area are fairly wealthy, there are people that are willing to give. So yeah, there's a lot of freedom in being a Neighbourhood Coordinator beyond just helping the people that directly need support. In September I go back to London, I start my job, so if I think about what I want to achieve by then it's - I want to leave behind some long term projects that help the community - so for me that's the community larder. The community larder is in partnership with SOFEA, and that's amazing.
One volunteer initially emailed saying, “I want to volunteer but, you know, I don't want to commit too much. I’ll just stick to my road, you know, I’m all good.” And I was like, “Ok, maybe he’s not that keen, that's fine.’ But there was someone on his road that needed help and so I emailed him and said, “Can you help this person out?” and once he did help, he emailed me back saying, “do you have another job for me? I’m free on these days - can I help in this way? Can I help in that way?”, and I think what's so fascinating is that helping others is so rewarding for the person that gives, not just for the person getting the help, and it's addictive.
I hope volunteering. in general, becomes a more important part of society, because I think it's beneficial for everyone involved. People want to do good; people get a rush from doing good and that fills me with hope. I think that ultimately, we’re all pretty decent people. We’re certainly starting to question the values that have been instilled in us for so long and actually wonder whether they're right. I mean, something that I am really passionate about is the rights of indigenous people - Native Americans in America and indigenous communities in Canada and Australia - their society, culture and teachings are all about community, it's all about togetherness and kindness and sharing. I think trying to create something official and, like, super structured, removes the humanity. The key sense of community is that it’s a collective of people coming together to help each other. I think it starts with people deciding to have a communal consciousness and wanting that.
Actually, I think what Oxford Together have done really well is emphasize the idea that we are helping each other - we are enabling you to help yourself, right? By fixing up these phone links we’re saying, you're not just getting help by getting company, you're also giving someone else company - it's a mutually beneficial thing. You are helping yourself, right? There's a way to give and help others that treats the people that are getting the help with dignity and respect and I think that's really important, and I think Oxford Together have done a great job in doing that.
Any massive change has always happened post-devastation, you know? The NHS came in the late forties, our whole welfare, the transformation of this country happened after World War two, right? So what I would say is that we have a great opportunity right now. We have an opportunity to really build the country and the society that we want. We have an opportunity to value those that we didn't value before as important.
I’ve always been interested in Economics and Politics, but it was always incredibly theoretical. And the job that I was going into is incredibly corporate -it's the quintessential ‘City’ job, right? And there was always a level of detachment -like I knew I believed how I wanted society to be but there was a detachment from the role I played in achieving that.
Before this crisis, I was so happy. I expected just to stay at my corporate job, earn lots of money, live my life, and give it away to charity. That's how I was going to justify it, you know? I was going say – “I’ll give the majority of my salary away so I’m not really doing that much harm”, or, “I’m doing good you know, I’m giving lots of money away”. But now I realise, especially with my ability, with the opportunities that I’ve been blessed with in my life - I need to do more. I think I was a bit blind. So I’m going to stay at this company for two years, because once I’ve worked there I can pretty much get a job anywhere. Then I’m going to go to Law School, and I want to do a Master's in Public Policy. I firmly believe that politics and policy is the way that you affect maximum change. I want to have a legacy where I have made a positive difference in people’s lives, and like, I am going to be unhappy if I don't achieve that.
I think my whole life path has changed because of this experience, because I realise that I truly feel fulfilled, and happy and productive when I am helping my community, rather than what I’m doing for myself. Sometimes I think it's easy to think, “what difference can I make?”. Through this experience I really learned a lot. I can make a big difference, and that's not me specifically -it's anyone who’s willing to help. This has showed me the power that each individual holds.
Edited by Renata Allen