The street where neighbours eat, dance and party together

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Six people or two households can now meet outside in England. The BBC asked what lockdown-easing measures meant to one neighbourhood where Covid-19 has already helped forge a strong sense of community.

Welcome to Bush Grove in the Suffolk town of Sudbury.

If you had visited this cul-de-sac of about 30 homes before the coronavirus pandemic it would have looked and felt pretty much as it does now.

But it is, say those who live here, a very different place.

Before the pandemic, residents here knew their immediate neighbours and perhaps a couple more in the road by sight.

Now, everybody knows one another. And in the past year, they have partied together, danced together, eaten together and, when neighbour Kath Parry died, mourned together.

Sylvia Bambridge, Heather Andrews, Lesley Sheldon, Phyllis Jarmyn, Karen Naylor and Fee Willingham are part of the Bush Grove community

Neighbours have done shopping and collected prescriptions for those needing help, such as 82-year-old Sylvia Bambridge.

She says: “It is wonderful to live here and it gets better all the time. I feel well-supported as an elderly person.”

Heather Andrews, 73, says: “I didn’t like the lockdown, but the sense of neighbourhood has been very, very good.

“I’m looking forward to seeing my neighbours again.”

Phyllis Jarmyn, 95, is the eldest resident in the street, a place she has called home for the past 55 years.

“I think now this road its the happiest that it has ever been,” she says. “Everybody has been so good and kind and I do not know where I would be without my neighbours. They are always looking out for me, no matter what.”

Asked what it was like to be back outside with her neighbours, Mrs Jarmyn, whose husband of 70 years Ronnie died four years ago, says: “It’s cold, but I am enjoying it.”

At the age of 95, Phyllis Jarmyn is the eldest person in Bush Grove

Fee Willingham, 72, says during the lockdown those in Bush Grove “made the best of it” and kept in touch with each other using a mix of a road-wide newsletter, emails and a shared messaging application, which has been a “godsend”.

Karen Naylor, 56, who first moved into Bush Grove as a six-year-old with her parents, says she is most looking forward to resuming the Bush Grove dancing sessions, which happen outside in the street.

Her claim to fame in the road is a street-wide socially distanced conga dance she organised last year.

“We had to leave a gap,” she says, “but it still worked.”

The epicentre of the transformation of Bush Grove is Lesley Sheldon, 60, who, with her husband Andy, 63, set up first the newsletter and then the WhatsApp group.

“We knew there were some people in the road who were going to be shielding and I thought we should have some helpers here, so I put a leaflet through doors asking people if they would like to be a helper or if they needed any help to contact me,” she says.

“I was amazed by the response. I eventually heard from every single person in this street.

“The WhatsApp group has been amazing because you’ll get somebody who has run out of something or needs a prescription picking up and then you’ll have four or five people offering to go and get something.

“But I’m really just the facilitator. It is everybody else here who has made it work.”

Mr Sheldon says he is most looking forward to seeing his children who live in Devon, Cornwall and Scotland, who they have not seen since last year.

“My youngest daughter is an intensive treatment unit (ITU) doctor down in Exeter and it was a conversation with her before we first went into lockdown that we realised how serious it would all be and why we thought we would try to get the road to support each other.”

Pasquale Napolitano, Dennis McDermot, Kevin Williamson, Trevor Andrews, Ron Bruce and Andy Sheldon are part of the cul-de-sac’s “men’s club”

The street also has its own ‘men’s club’, who are now looking forward to meeting outside and enjoying a spring-time beer together once again.

Chef Pasquale Napolitano, 59, with his wife Chrystelle, has been serving up Saturday night takeaways during lockdown.

“We’ve had confit of duck, Poussin, mussels, Tuscan chicken, all manner of things and it’s changing each week,” he says. 

Dennis McDermot, 64, says: “It has been delivered each week, it has been amazing. We’ve lived here seven years and I only knew one gentleman. And now we know everybody, it has been brilliant.”

“It really has brought everybody together,” says Kevin Williamson, 65.

Trevor Andrews, 75, grew up as a child just around the corner from Bush Grove, which was a chalk pit rather than a street at the time.

He says living in the street has really felt “like coming home” during the past year.

Ron Bruce, 69, says: “I am most looking forward to us having a street party here. I’ve not organised it yet but the community spirit here is brilliant.”

Roy Laithwaite, Pat Laithwaite and Tim Smith were sat outside their home on Monday

Pat Laithwaite, 81, found the most recent lockdown had been “a lot more difficult” than previously.

“It [the third lockdown] has been through the winter,” she says, “whereas the other two were when it was lighter and we were able to see people a bit more.”

Her husband Roy, 76, says: “It has been very difficult. We’ve passed each other in the street and you tend to wave at people when you see them.”

“Since the [first] lockdown everybody has got to know everybody else quite well,” adds Tim Smith, 73.

(l-r) Wendy McDermott, Jean Davis, Brenda Seabrook, Chrystelle Napolitano, Leanne Pryce-Hall with baby Brooke, Louisa Hubbard and her daughter Isabelle

Isabelle, 11, says: “Before, we did not really know many people in the road but now we see them quite a lot outside.

“There are loads of lovely people in the road,” she says.

“It is really nice just to have some human contact after such a long time,” says Wendy McDermott, 62, when asked how it feels to be able to meet with neighbours once again.

But some say lockdown has been harder on people here precisely because they have become so close.

“It is like a family,” she says. “And that has made it harder. To be able to see people face to face, and to get a better sense of how they are doing, it is really important.

For Jean Davis, 77, being able to see neighbours once more was “a nice change”, adding she is looking forward to warmer weather when people in the street can share a barbecue and enjoy being outside.

“Though during lockdown, nobody could see what a mess I was making in my house,” she jokes. “I quite liked that to be honest.”

Brenda Seabrook, 73, has lived in Bush Grove for 12 years.

“I’ve mainly stayed in,” she says, “because I have asthma, which means I have to be a bit careful. But we’ve had lots and lots of fun. The WhatsApp group, for me, has been a lifeline.”

Chrystelle Napolitano, 53, has lived in Bush Grove for a couple of years.

The meals she and her husband Pasquale have organised throughout lockdown have raised hundreds of pounds for charitable causes.

Mrs Napolitano hopes to get a break from cooking for more than 30 people each week now restrictions are easing. 

“I am looking forward to relaxing a little bit,” she says.

Primary school teacher Leanne Pryce-Hall, 32, is mother to the street’s youngest resident, five-month-old Brooke.

“Lockdown has been a learning curve, both with having a baby and being restricted in what we can do – especially when we have so many lovely people in the road that you would want to show the baby off to.

“It has been doorstep smiles and waves,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to when it is warmer and we can all sit outside and Brooke will be moving around so can enjoy the neighbourly love that we have here.”

Can other streets learn something from the neighbourliness forged in Bush Grove?

Louisa Hubbard, 42, mother of Isabelle, certainly thinks so.

“I think you need a leader, somebody to begin everything,” she says. “I think people taking the lead and putting in the effort is what makes it work.

“It came from a place of care.”

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