The school hall is wonderfully decorated with the theme of a rainbow, the symbol used around the world to show unity and gratitude during those days of isolation at home when the world as we knew it was turned upside down. People are starting to arrive and the atmosphere is beginning to build. Over 100 people are gathered in a room, for many something not experienced for over 2 years. An announcement is made to encourage people to take their seats because we are about to begin sharing our pandemic story.
It’s a cliche to say it, but the pandemic was the best of times and the worst of times. We witnessed a neighbourhood that came together as a community to support each other, to laugh, to cry, to chat, to listen, to share and make the most of what we have got, and to try to ensure nobody was left out or alone. The doorstep became the gateway to community, which we shared in a previous blog post Community Building starts with a doorstep, a street or a block. Don’t overcomplicate it! We witnessed generosity, creativity, compassion and love for friends, family and strangers. 2 years since restrictions were announced, and 10 years since the first Hodge Hill unsung heroes, we wanted to create a moment to stop and reflect on the stories, to celebrate our amazing neighbours, and to say thank you.
Everyday in Firs, Bromford, and the wider Hodge Hill a diverse range of people step up in so many wonderful ways. Revd Al Barrett reflects: “When Hodge Hill Church brought together the very first Hodge Hill Unsung Heroes event in 2012, we discovered an abundance of stories and people, passions and gifts in our local communities — countless small acts of kindness that mostly went ‘under the radar’. Our vision since then has been ‘growing loving community… with all our neighbours, across Hodge Hill’, and it’s been amazing to see what has grown and flourished over the last 10 years — even through the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the hardest of times, the treasure in our communities has sparkled!”. Since 2012, a culture of discovery, sharing stories of abundance, and lifting up unsung heroes has become embedded as a tradition. So hosting a Covid Unsung Heroes awards would be the best way to discover, to tell our pandemic community story and value each contribution. We encouraged people to nominate others, no matter how big or small, we wanted to unearth every act of kindness that made life that bit better. We had over 150 nominations, identifying 96 different people & groups.
In preparation for the celebration evening, the street connectors wanted to discover more about the stories, the individuals, and the groups. We invited each nominee to come for a conversation. We began by telling people what they were nominated for, which was such an emotional moment! We really don’t tell people why we value them enough, and if you only take one thing from this story then we hope you inspired to find ways to encourage people to share what they value about others. It really is life-giving for all. We then asked about what motivated you to act, what else did you notice that should be celebrated, and now we’re coming out of the pandemic what would you love to contribute towards. These conversations allowed us to go deeper, revealing more and more about our neighbours and our community. We would leave those encounters feeling honoured to be able to open up a space for people to share and to listen, and blessed to have so many wonderful neighbours. Over the coming weeks we plan to share some of these conversations in future blog posts.
Lets return to the awards evening, we heard a little about each of the 96 stories and those who could attend were asked to step up to the stage to receive their award. Awards were received in 4 categories: Celebrating Community, Growing & Sharing Food, Supporting Wellbeing, and Children Young People and Families. These embodied the ways people contributed, and as people gathered on the stage it allowed all those who had done similar things to stand together and receive the warm applause of thanks from their neighbours. Following the awards we had some time remembering that the pandemic was also a time of suffering and loss. We specifically remembered 4 community members who had past away, and Al lit a candle and led a moving minutes silence to remember all we had lost. The evening culminated with a lifetime achievement award for Phyllis Lloyd who has been a resident in Bromford since it was built in 1967, and has been an active member of the community ever since. We call her the original street connector because she has, and continues to, inspire us. Phyllis received a warm standing ovation for all she had contributed to the life of our community, and this was a perfect end to an uplifting and life giving evening.
The event is now done, the hall is back ready for assembly first thing tomorrow morning, and it feels like the unsung heroes awards are the end of our Covid-19 chapter. But the ripple effects of hearing and celebrating the stories, people connecting with each other and an intentional asking ‘so what’s next’ is only just beginning to be felt. Our community story is alive and continues to grow. We look forward to seeing what now emerges!
The Firs, Bromford and Hodge Hill Unsung Heroes was co-organised by Firs and Bromford Neighbours Together and Hodge Hill Church. It was funded by Big Local & Near Neighbours. We thank everybody who helped to make the event happen.