It’s 8pm on Thursday night and the sound of palms slapping and utensils banging ricochet down the street as my neighbours and I gather on our doorsteps once again to ‘clap for carers’. Nearly two months into lockdown this weekly salute to the health and social care heroes of the pandemic is still going strong – saucepans of England have never seen so much action and key workers have never been held in such high esteem.
I love the NHS. I love Social Services. I love charities and the public sector, and I’ve worked within all three for several years now. Am I a hero? A cape-clad, superhuman vigilante for social justice, support for the vulnerable and saintliness? Or do I just know something that the public at large has finally grasped during this time of uncertainty and isolation? Something that key workers across the world have known for a very long time. That kindness is happiness.
Three months ago ‘lockdown’ was something that only happened at secret nuclear facilities or when the pretty one in Prison Break sparked an inmate riot. But in a matter of weeks Coronavirus ripped across the planet plunging populations into a state of public crisis and economic turmoil, and as people lost their lives, jobs, and vague sense of normality overnight we saw a war-time-esque outpouring of community spirit as voluntary groups and isolation support initiatives popped up in their thousands across the globe.
The urge to help vulnerable people spread like wildfire across communities and it seems no person in isolation has been left without countless offers of voluntary support with shopping, prescriptions or a friendly chat.
People are discovering that being a good citizen actually feels pretty great. We’re in a kindness pandemic – and compassion has never been so cool.
The question we’re asking on the NHS wellbeing and community development service I work on, is once the world begins turning again, how can we keep the benevolence momentum going? Back in January local charities where I live in Berkshire were struggling like never before with dwindling volunteer numbers and funding cuts – services were literally shutting down and the community was suffering. Two months later one local befriending service had received over 1,000 volunteer applications from people desperate to step up and help those in need. There are now a phenomenal 750,000 people signed up to the national GoodSam NHS Responder scheme.
Where did they come from and how can we keep them? Many of the Covid-19 response volunteers I’ve spoken to admit originally stepping forwards out of a sense of duty, however several weeks into their support roles and hours spent helping the elderly, sick, homeless and generally vulnerable it’s not a grudging sense of civic responsibility that’s keeping them going – but the immense sense of satisfaction and wellbeing that’s coming from helping others.
Anyone risking their life on the frontline of this pandemic basically deserves a sainthood. But the little-known secret that the key workers we’ve been clapping and painting rainbows for across the nation already know is that having a social purpose feels amazing. That devoting your time to being a decent human and ‘not a dick’ is a magical thing that can have a positive ripple effect across your entire life. Hopefully when all this is over, we won’t forget that.
You don’t have to be a hero or undergo great suffering to reap the rewards that kindness can bring – any small piece of compassion is clap-worthy.
My choice to work in health and social care isn’t one of sacrifice, woe and self-flagellation – my job is satisfying, varied and ultimately fun. I get to help vulnerable people better their circumstances while listening to their incredible stories and getting out and about in the community. I’ve also been yelled at by stressed-out doctors, attacked by a patient’s deranged cat and once walked into a meeting full of important commissioners with my skirt on backwards. It’s not perfect and the work can be tough – but generally I feel privileged to have a job that allows me to feel good about myself, and is never, ever boring.
If it takes a pandemic to shake our communities into weaving compassion into the daily fabric of life then so be it – and long may it continue. And if standing in the road whacking a cheese grater on a Thursday evening helps people to feel good by then I’m all for it.
But you don’t have to call us heroes. We’re here because we want to be.