A community is defined by how it responds to a crisis. And what has most defined Oundle’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic is how people complied with and adapted to government orders to completely reshape their everyday lives in ways not witnessed since the war. Through it all, people have not just looked out for themselves, but have looked out for others.
When the lockdown was announced on 23 March, overnight every shop hung a “closed until further notice” sign in its window, and the streets were emptied of the usual flow of traffic. The few pedestrians running essential errands or taking daily exercise manoeuvred to put distance between each other on the pavements, unsure whether to extend greetings or turn away. Every encounter has required a mental adjustment to new routines and customs.
The shock of the lockdown initially led to stockpiling of essential goods, and shortages of toilet paper and soap, forcing pharmacies and supermarkets to temporarily impose rationing. Complaints have been aired about people not following the one way systems in supermarkets or not respecting social distancing markers in queues outside shops. Suspicions have been raised about whether groups were part of one household or whether drivers were actually making essential trips.
Few people have voiced conspiracy-laced scepticism. In a sheltered rural town like Oundle, if you have not been directly affected by the disease, or do not know anyone who has been affected, the risks can seem either a remote possibility or a looming potential threat. Deciding how much to adapt one’s behaviour raises questions about whether masks are essential, or how much hand sanitiser to use.
But what has most defined Oundle’s community is how quickly people organised to help those at risk if exposed to the disease. Hundreds of volunteers have been mobilised to offer help to anyone who might be self-isolating and unable to leave the house to pick up prescriptions or food shop. Neighbours have slipped contact cards through letterboxes offering help or signed up with groups like Care and Share on Facebook, Volunteer Action and Community Action at Oundle School to be on call to respond to requests for help.
Hundreds of volunteers in town organised to respond to the nation-wide shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, coordinating streamlined operations that worked throughout the day to contribute to the production of scrubs and face shields for local hospitals, care homes and surgeries.
And on Thursday evenings, streets across Oundle have reverberated with the sound of residents expressing their continued gratitude for health workers.