29 May 2020

Student Rían Joyce helped set up a local initiative to help vulnerable people in her community.

As an Irish student living in Birmingham, the Covid-19 pandemic has marked the first time I have truly felt far away from home.

Our university cancelled all face-to-face teaching for the foreseeable future on the 17 March – St Patrick’s Day. Two weeks later, we were also informed that our B placements would be no longer proceeding.

This caused a huge amount of uncertainty for everyone. I spent a few days feeling lost and quite anxious, and struggled to keep my mind occupied.

One of my friends from university, living in the same area but on a different street, told me about the ‘Covid-19 Mutual Aid’ group on Facebook and how someone on her street had set up a WhatsApp group.

After researching the Facebook group, I noticed that no one from my street had put their name down so I decided to take the initiative. As I didn’t know any of my neighbours, I wasn’t really sure how it would be received. But I had noticed previously that there were quite a few elderly people living on my street and wanted to make sure that they weren’t at risk of going hungry or without their medications.

I delivered a note containing my details to the 80 houses on my street informing everyone that I was setting up a street WhatsApp group for those that would like to volunteer. This group would provide assistance in the coming weeks for those who are self-isolating.

I was overwhelmed by the responses that I got and at present the WhatsApp group has 50 participants. Once the WhatsApp group was established, we discussed how those who are self-isolating could communicate if they required help. I came up with the idea of coloured pieces of paper on the front windows. Originally I was going to print out 80 pieces of red and green paper (red = need help, green = ok) but thought that would be a huge amount of ink and paper so went looking to see what I already had around the house and found some green and orange Post-it Notes.

I typed up a note explaining how to use the Post-its and mentioned again about the WhatsApp group. Myself and a few of the street volunteers delivered the 80 notes and Post-its. It was so lovely the next morning to walk down the street during my one walk per day and see all the green Post-its on the windows. It made me feel part of a community in the midst of this global pandemic. I am delighted that I had the incentive to initiate this.

Late one evening I got a phone call from a number I had never seen before. It was an elderly woman who had to collect a prescription but was too nervous to go out.

We chatted on the phone for about 15 minutes and she was really happy to have someone to talk to and said that she would leave her prescription on her doorstep for me to get the following morning. The next day I went and filled her prescription and posted it through her letterbox.

One of the positive things about this lockdown is that we have created a sense of community on our street. If I only assist one person, I feel it will have been worthwhile. And I am hoping I can encourage anyone who feels helpless and maybe even a little homesick to consider doing something for your community as it has positive benefits for everybody.

Writer info

Rían Joyce is a student dietitian at Birmingham City University