In the third of a series of articles looking at the experiences of some of our members during the pandemic, Rowena Harding asks Sharon Davis about the community response in Wythenshawe.
Wythenshawe is a connected community. It’s got numerous community centres, healthy cooking and food growing projects, a good neighbours scheme, and Mums Mart – a women-led community association running markets, lunch clubs and a savings scheme. So what has happened to the people who use and need those services as the coronavirus closed public spaces, restricted community meetings and forced people indoors to isolate? The community heroes who had been running those services are still there – they’re just finding new ways to reach out and connect.
Take Sharon Davis. She’s been the driving force behind the Mums Mart savings scheme in Wythenshawe and supported the setting up of new women-led savings groups in Brinnington, Hulme and Miles Platting. Mums Mart’s savings group meets in a community location, where a weekly lunch is also available. It’s through these activities that Sharon has come to know people in the area who may need help now the virus has forced them behind doors.
“Since lockdown, we have been identifying where people live and taking the food we get donated from Marks and Spencers,” Sharon explains. The group was able to access emergency community funding, so they had money to spend on essential items that weren’t donated.
“I think it’s been useful that we had our group,” Sharon said. “We’ve got phone numbers [for the savings groups members], and I speak to them often. We’ve got a few Facebook messenger groups and if anything goes wrong they call me. We have had people connecting with us on messenger, or I’ll see something on Facebook,” Sharon explains of a chance posting that led her to get dog food for a veteran with underlying health issues who shouldn’t be going to the shops.
She’s also been able to get nappies for parents who can’t go out and items for people who simply can’t afford it. Those in the community who lost jobs due to virus-related layoffs still have to wait six weeks for money to come through, and those who have been furloughed may be getting 80% of their salary paid by the government, but as Sharon points out, they still have 100% of bills to pay.
We hear the phrase “self isolating” so much in the COVID era, but Sharon says many can’t imagine the reality of isolation that people are going through. She talks of a woman in her nineties living alone, who’d love to give her a hug; a man in his eighties with Parkinsons who had not left his house for 14 weeks; and a family with three children in a middle flat, all at home together and not going outside. When Sharon went to drop off some food to one woman, she was told to keep it for someone who needed it more. This woman told her that what she was really struggling with was loneliness.
Sharon realised there’s also the potential benefit of having the large community space where they used to meet. She’s been doing refurb on the place while it’s been quiet, but when she heard this woman’s loneliness Sharon told her there’s plenty of space for her to come in and have a brew from a distance. As the lockdown begins to lift, the Mums Mart group will try and have a distanced meeting so they can reconnect in person.
It’s not just Sharon that is helping the community get what they need. Thanks to the initiative of another connected community member, Sharon now has a drop off point for bulk items that is also passed onto residents in that location. Sharon’s daughter Sian also joins her for the big shop and they store items to reduce the amount of times they need to go to the shops. Everyone is looking after each other, Sharon says. “In my opinion, people are looking out for their neighbours much more. Let’s hope it stays.”