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Lessons of lockdown: The strength and neighbours we didn't know we had

By: Stuff

Alison Jarden worked tirelessly to connect communities together throughout lockdown. Photo / Warwick Smith

Covid-19 turned the country upside down, inside out, and outside in. One year on from the alert level 4 lockdown, Maxine Jacobs revisits Kiwis’ homebound response to the pandemic.

Fearful but unified, five million of us braced for one of the most significant events to affect our nation.

Most of us were simply instructed to stay home and embrace the bubble, but there was little simple about self-isolation.

A year ago on Friday families in the wider Manawatū and throughout New Zealand woke to an alert level 4 lockdown and a vastly shrunken human experience.

People still hold memories of it close and wear its trials like badges of honour and fortitude. Kitty Tunnell used every resource she had to stay sane during lockdown, fashioning her hedge into a teddy bear's face to keep herself from feeling trapped.

An extrovert confined to her rural Horowhenua home, she said the lockdown put significant pressure on her wellbeing.

“I found lockdown extremely hard, but you don’t know what strength you've got until you get put under pressure.”

There were connections to be made over the fence line.

“It’s easy to get absorbed in your phone, but learning who your neighbours are is good, you’re able to ask for help if you need it.”

If alert level 4 restrictions come knocking again, Tunnell ‘s confident she'll be ready.

“I’d have a better attitude if I had another lockdown. I’d have a few more contingencies in place, maybe stock up on art supplies.”

Palmerston North's Neighbourhood Support co-ordinator Alison Jarden remembers how quickly the pressures of lockdown flooded her.

Juggling hundreds of requests for help, she knew the hardship some people in the community were facing. “I remember how terrified I felt then. I’m amazed at how easily you get taken back to that.

“But it’s so different now. I think the best outcome for neighbourhood support and [the] community is people are aware of their vulnerable people."

Jarden has seen a shift in the connections people have made with their neighbours. Lockdown was the catalyst for support and connectedness. James Te, owner of The Sushi Shop in central Palmerston North, was under extreme pressure as the lockdown doubled down on the lost business caused by the eastern side of The Square being closed to motorists due to streetscape improvements.

While his business is yet to fully recover, he is hopeful once most people have received the vaccine and the borders are open it will be a return to business as usual.

“We're entering a new situation that we’ve never been in before. We passed the stress test last year, I wouldn't imagine it would be harder than that.

“We survived that and whatever comes again, I’m sure we’ll be in a better position than we were last year.”

Peter Vandenberg​, 91, was in his element when lockdown clicked over at 11.55pm on March 25.

Technologically savvy, he was ready for anything.

“It's a long time to be inside, but I was never bored.

“I have my music and I love reading. There's so many things you can do, it's up to their imagination what they want to do.

“For the younger people it was much harder for them, but I can't complain, it was no hardship for me.”

Vandenberg said the lockdown only made him more self-sufficient, though it was a pleasure to see people again once it ended.

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