My name is Jane Shetewi and I live with my husband, my 20-year-old daughter and my 17-year-old son. I had been mentoring Year 7 students at a local school, but this has stopped during the COVID-19 lockdown; since then I have found various ways to maintain connections with my community.
During the lockdown, I have been baking bread and cakes for my neighbours as an excuse to knock on their doors and check that they’re okay, particularly as one of my neighbours is 96. Doing this has created a valuable network of connection between my neighbours. It has also sparked great conversations with people that I ordinarily would have just waved to across the street without stopping to talk. When I delivered freshly baked bread to one of my neighbours, she told me that she was down to her last slice of bread, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect!
Before the pandemic, people would have found it weird and questioned what I was doing at their door. However, lockdown has essentially made it acceptable to cold call strangers and ask how they’re doing.
I have also been involved in a letter writing programme, called ‘Snail Mail’, through my church. This project was originally set up before lockdown as a way of staying connected with university students who are a part of the church but living away from home. However, lockdown has resulted in these students returning home from university, so we decided to give the project a new sense of direction.
As a team of 25, we wrote letters to people in our community who had to isolate during lockdown or who were living alone and had many quiet hours of the day. The volunteers didn’t always know those who they were writing to very well, but they would speak about how they were spending their time and the things that they were thankful for. I was a volunteer at the Corner Coffee House in Green Lane prior to lockdown closure; since then a team of us have also been using letter writing to maintain connection with some of our customers who, during the lifetime of the shop, have become our friends.
It was a small task to write one letter a week but from the feedback received, we realised that it really is the small things that matter the most. One person told us that they’ll cherish the letters they have received.
This programme has also allowed senders and recipients to create meaningful connections with one another that extend beyond letter writing. Snail Mail has sparked two-way communication which included telephone calls, texts, gifts of home-made biscuits, sharing of scripture and more. Despite the social distancing measures, this programme has allowed people to not only maintain their previous relationships but to create new ones as well.
During lockdown, I felt prompted to think about how extending individual relationship circles within church could be encouraged; a temporary initiative called ‘Text a Treat’ was the response. It allowed people to text the name of a person outside their normal relationship circle that they would like to develop a connection with. A volunteer would bake a cake and deliver it on their behalf with a note explaining who had nominated the recipient and why. Whilst we hoped people would enjoy the cakes, the intention was to spark thoughts about how, as a church community, we could better connect with one another and build deeper and more meaningful relationships.
Lockdown has provided time to rest and reflect. This pandemic has ultimately been a wakeup call. When you see the things around you being stripped away, it makes you re-evaluate what’s truly valuable and where your focus needs to be. You realise that what remains are your relationships with others. And I believe that when God puts something in your heart, it’s important to respond to it. You never know the impact it could have.