'It will never be the same again on this street' - The uplifting story behind the Leeds street which features on The One Show for its strong community spirit during the pandemic
Neighbours on a north Leeds street have pulled together and shown the true power of community spirit in helping to boost each other’s wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic - and become TV stars in the process.
The friendships forged during 2020 on Wensley Drive in Chapel Allerton have created such a strong support network that one resident described it simply as a “lifesaver”, urging others to follow suit and reap the benefits of living in a close-knit community.
Through regular, socially-distanced catch-ups and coffee mornings, neighbours have gone from being virtual strangers to like an extended family as they help each other cope with the trials of life in the pandemic.
The street now shares a Whatsapp group, celebrates each other’s birthdays and each fortnightly coffee morning is filmed and featured on BBC’s The One Show after its team spotted a tweet by organiser Wendy Tangen back in April.
Wendy, 48, is the ‘social co-ordinator’ behind the street’s new-found camaraderie but she stressed: “Without the right attitude and right togetherness we wouldn’t have this. It just shows how brilliant people are.”
She and her neighbours have spoken to the Yorkshire Evening Post to share their uplifting story as part of our #SpeakYourMind campaign, which aims to raise awareness and break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues in Leeds.
Having moved into Wensley Drive four years ago, Wendy set about making connections with people and organised a few street parties over the next couple of years, shutting off the road and inviting neighbouring streets.
But once the pandemic hit, a new approach was called for.
She said: “We started having a morning coffee. Lining up in the street, sitting in our chairs and chatting about different things.
“It created that sense of togetherness. We were learning more about each other and creating a community feel to the street.
““The conversations that you’re having, you wouldn’t normally have if you’re making polite conversations over a fence or at a street party - because you connect on a different level and you’re able to be curious and question each other. Then you find out more about each other and it definitely creates a community feel.
“What’s great about this street is we are so diverse - diverse in terms of jobs, age, ethnicity.”
As well as the regular meet-ups, the street would gather for weekly NHS clap, knelt together in support of Black Lives Matter and took part in a secret Santa gift-giving at Christmas, with a dressed up Mr and Mrs Claus.
Wendy said: “It’s just what we wanted and needed during lockdown because that is something that we weren’t prepared for.
“It’s created a purpose for people, for people who have been furloughed, people who have retired, people who have been through redundancy. It’s created added connections.
“Also from a health perspective, I work in mental health and it’s important for me to make sure neighbours are looked after and we help people who can’t get to the shops.”
Helen Abrahams, 67, lives over the road from Wendy, who she called an “inspiration”.
“We have lived here for years and we didn’t know the neighbours. It’s a long street so you didn’t even know if people walking past you were neighbours or not.
“I suppose it’s just down to people and Wendy has been our inspiration.
“It’s just taken off. We have developed quite loud voices.
“It’s been so much fun for us and just helped in lots of ways. I think everyone feels the same.”
Helen describes her fellow residents answering Whatsapp pleas for household items such as sugar or lightbulbs, a neighbour sharing out her weekly allotment produce and a musician on the street performing an outdoor set for a Christmas sing-along.
She said: “It’s been an absolute lifesaver. It’s given us some fun. It’s given us something to look forward to.
“It’s the only kind of social contact, in some ways, that lots of us have had over the whole pandemic really.”
She added: “It will never be the same again on this street. I don’t think we could go back to being uncommunicative because we all know each other so much better now.”
For Hitesh Lambachia, 57, and wife Rita, 53, the friendship of their neighbours helped ease their sadness when they couldn’t go and meet their second grandchild who had been born in May, in London.
Hitesh said: “It was really tough but the neighbours were there for us, always asking after them.
“The togetherness is definitely there. We are really really strong. We know all about each other’s families - their sons, daughters, grandchildren and how the pandemic has affected them.”
He recalled his surprise on learning The One Show was interested in filming them.
“We were all nervous initially. I thought ‘Oh my word’, we’re all a great bunch of neighbours but we’ve only really known each other for a couple of years.
“But it’s gone from strength to strength from there.
“When The One Show comes, there’s always a minimum of eight people meeting up.”
Rita added: “It’s brought us a lot closer. We look out for each other. With us being at home, everyone looks forward to going out and seeing each other’s faces.”
The couple recalled a house alarm sounding recently and “everyone” coming out of their homes to see if they could help.
Hitesh also said every time their segment airs on The One Show, residents meet in the streets for a “quarantini” drink at 7.30pm.
He said: “Now it’s about finding excuses to get together and do something. Everyone rallies around to put the effort into doing it.”
While acknowledging the bonus of Wendy for Wensley Drive, the residents have urged others to do all they can to create a similar community feel.
Hitesh said: “All it takes is a couple of people to start it all off and neighbours can be like that around the country - to form this togetherness. You know there’s someone there for you if you need it.”
But Helen added that everyone also needs to play their part for it to work.
“Lots of people would like something like this but you have to put the work in really,” she said.
“You have to be prepared to go out and sit in the cold and have a cht. It takes a bit of effort on everybody’s part but once you get it off the ground and things are going, people enjoy it and it feeds itself.”
Dr Gwyn Elias, GP and Clinical Lead for Mental Health for NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “The pandemic has affected people in many different ways but my advice to everyone is to be kind to yourself and to reach out to others who might be lonely or finding things difficult at the moment.
“As the residents on Wensley Drive have shown, simple acts of kindness like celebrating each other’s birthdays or connecting with neighbours who would otherwise be on their own not only helps others but can make us feel better too.”
Important websites and numbers:
West Yorkshire mental health 24/7 support line, provides confidential advice - 0800 183 0558
Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service, for anyone aged 17 or over: www.leedsmentalwellbeingservice.co.uk
For children and young people: www.mindmate.org.uk
For those struggling with alcohol and drug use: www.forwardleeds.co.uk
A mood self-assessment is here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mood-self-assessment/
Leeds Mind: 0113 305 5800, or email [email protected]
For people in crisis:
Connect, open 6pm-2am on 0808 8001212 or online chat at www.lslcs.or.yk
For people in crisis: Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s 24/7 single point of access on Freephone 0800 183 1485.
Samaritans Leeds - 116 123 or 0113 245 6789
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