I've always wanted to help people. At the start of all this I was feeling very anxious and down, but by doing something good, I've managed to find a way that I can kind of manage my feelings of sadness by turning them into something positive, and I'm really quite proud of myself for doing that.
I normally work at a charity where I support young people with Autism and at the start of this whole situation, the whole charity was put on sort of hibernation and I was furloughed. So I had a lot of time on my hands to either do nothing or try to do something good - so I joined Oxford Together. It just kind of popped up on my Facebook one day and I thought that it was a really great thing to be doing. It was really simple, I was added to a WhatsApp group for my area and it just kind of grew from there. It was very, very quick and easy and really, really well organised.
So basically, in our WhatsApp group, they asked who would like to be the coordinator for the area - so I volunteered myself, and I did that very, very early on during the COVID crisis. I became a neighbourhood coordinator for the Cowley Central and Littlemore North area and I was there in Zoom meetings from the very beginning, setting up the map systems. I don't do any of the technology myself, but I was sent all the zip files, the street champion information and the Google Maps.
Since then I've been in Zoom meetings with a lot of the Oxford Hub people who are running it all, and it was really fascinating to see how quickly it's all kind of grown - how they set up all these map systems - it's really, really incredible how they managed to build this really good system so quickly. And they did this very cool thing where you could kind of edit the maps yourself and sort of allocate people on a map. I've also got my own notes at home - so say I get requests from the County Council Social Workers, I can then just refer to the map system, where I've mapped out where the street champions are and then I know who to contact and say, ‘Hi, would you be okay to go visit this person?’
And it's also very good because it's very informal, I've recruited some of the volunteers myself. I had an issue a few weeks ago, where I was supporting a man who's got some very severe mental health issues but wasn't really sure how to help him and a day later, one of the managers from the Oxford Hub gave me a call back and we spoke through the situation and figured out what was the best way to proceed. And it was very, very quick and supportive and easy. We've also got a WhatsApp group for the neighbourhood coordinators where we can post any questions and either the other coordinators respond or the Oxford Hub contacts can respond. There's also two peer support Zoom sessions per week that are optional, but if you've got any questions or you want to chat to people, you can join this. So it's very supportive.
I come from Finland - well my parents live in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East. My Mum managed to get an evacuation flight out of the country so she’s in Finland. My Dad is in Abu Dhabi, my sister's in Brighton. I don't know when I'm next going to see my family. I think that for me is kind of the most difficult thing at the moment. But otherwise, I'm seeing so much good in people and in the world - I think things are definitely on the up. Before I was getting really upset about people's selfishness and the whole situation going to the shops and seeing people grab tens of single items from the shelves. But it's been really, really lovely to see the community come together and see people wanting to help each other.
You can see the good in people in the sense that I have a lot more volunteers in the area than people who need help, which is really, really great. So it's really kind of nice to see how the community has sort of grown together. I wasn't really involved in any kind of community in my area before this. It's been really nice getting to know people and chatting to the neighbours, just checking up on them and, you know, noticing my next-door neighbour. She keeps telling me “We’re fine, we're fine- but check on the people two doors down because they're a bit older so they might need more help.” I'd never really spoken to the neighbours before. I think it's great that I now chat to them over the fence and things like that. I think people have become more comfortable with asking for help as well.
I'm still getting paid so I think I'm in the best possible situation that I could be in. But I know a lot of people are really struggling and for them it's been really a massive help to be able to rely on these food boxes. I speak to some people who queue up for the boxes and they said that they probably wouldn't eat on some days if they didn't have that kind of support. It’s made me realise that some people really can't get out at all to even buy the most basic things and therefore it is really, really important to have a very good support network of people who can do it for those in need.
It's been really nice to see people in organisations come together. The charity I work for, Yellow Submarine, we work with young people with Autism. Because our team has such specialist knowledge, Yellow Submarine paired up with Oxford Together and got a lot of our staff to work with phone links to help families with children with special needs. And Florence Park Café have been great - they’re cooking food because they've got the capacity to do that. I've also found out a lot about different charities - there's lots of cool stuff going around. I've learned of an organisation called Waste to Taste that exists outside of the COVID crisis, I never knew things like that existed.
I've always wanted to help people. At the start of all this I was feeling very anxious and down, but by doing something good, I've managed to find a way that I can kind of manage my feelings of sadness by turning them into something positive, and I'm really quite proud of myself for doing that. I feel much better than I did a few weeks ago. I've been able to use my energy in a really positive way. I've learned to speak to people and I’ve gotten to know them. Everyone is really, really grateful and it makes me feel proud of myself and what I'm doing. The world doesn't have to be a bad place - there's a lot of good people out there and I think a lot of those people have come forward and I think that is setting an example.
It's great that I call my Grandma once every two days. She's old, she doesn't leave the house. It’s definitely brought my whole family closer, despite the fact that we're really far away from each other. I think we’re all speaking to a lot of people more - building society into a better place. It would be really great if it could continue and people could get different kinds of support. It'd be really nice if the kindness continued.
Edited by Renata Allen.