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Lockdown Legends

A lady in a garden on a sunny day against facemasks drying on a washing line

When trying to summarise what makes a city unique, there are many attributes that one might come up with. Its history and heritage perhaps, or the brilliant shops. The buzzing nightlife or the fantastic leisure facilities. But when it comes to the crunch, the one element that makes Exeter different from anywhere else is its thriving, supportive and friendly community, which has never been more appreciated than during the recent coronavirus pandemic.

In early 2020, as soon as the threat of lockdown became a reality, Facebook groups and online forums were established to support the city’s most vulnerable residents. Stories began to emerge of neighbours who had not previously spoken to each other, now supporting each other through the pandemic. Streets began to pool their resources and shared supermarket delivery slots to ensure that those who most needed it were able to receive their weekly shopping. One resident who had been isolating since early March, put a call out for people to share any leftover green salad with his tortoise who was getting hungry – the tortoise is now a local celebrity as adults and children alike grew fond of him whilst supplying him with their leftover vegetables.

One team of volunteers went a step further and grouped together to source and supply vital face shields for health and care workers across Devon and Somerset. Local design company Tangerine Bee, put together a team of 100 volunteers from all over the city to ensure that those people who most needed the shields, were able to get them. Volunteers included those who had been furloughed from their jobs and were keen to give something back to the community.

Exeter City Council formed Exeter Community Wellbeing, which was supported through a £100,000 donation from the Exeter Foundation. Local charities, including Exeter CITY Community Trust, rapidly amended their way of working so their staff could also support those who most needed it. They joined forces with Wellbeing Exeter, and staff from the council worked on telephone and online hotlines to gather information from individuals and organisations who were able to provide support, putting them in touch with the city’s most vulnerable inhabitants including the elderly, the disabled, the sick and the lonely.  

And a scheme called Pennsylvania Good Neighbours has been instrumental in forever changing the way that its residents work together. Instead of simply asking people to undertake a task (such as shopping or collecting medical supplies) on behalf of a neighbour, the group began to buddy individuals up with one another, ensuring that the community can continue to support one another in the future.

In response to this Exeter’s very own Royal Albert Memorial Museum began to search for local ‘Lockdown Legends’. They curated a photography exhibition that celebrates ‘the resilience of the people in Devon who helped the most vulnerable people in our society’. There was an overwhelming response to call-outs for nominations, and the exhibition is due to be released to the public in September.

Cllr Amal Ghusain, Exeter City Council’s lead councillor for communities and culture, said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has brought suffering, restrictions and uncertainty into our communities, but in the face of these challenges it has also brought out the best in many. It was to recognise such positive commitment that the Lockdown Legends exhibition was created.

As a member of the panel overseeing the nominations, I was humbled by the generosity, creativity and inclusivity of the entries, and the lengths people went to, to help and lift the spirits of the vulnerable and self-isolating. These 'legends' show us that good communities are not something mythical, but are realised in citizens' empathy, care, and neighbourly attitudes."

Exeter’s relatively small size (less than 50km2) contributes to the fact that residents living here feel more connected to each other than perhaps in other, larger cities. Exeter’s community is something to be proud of and goes a long way to ensuring that the city continues to be a great place to live.

If you would like to view the RAMM's Lockdwon Legends exhibition it's available online here.