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Australia The small acts of kindness bringing Melbourne's suburbs together during coronavirus lockdown

05:48  29 september  2020
05:48  29 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Kindness - Coronavirus -MotivationalText.jpg. Acts of kindness make the world a happier place. The government is telling us to stay at home and only go outside for food, health reasons or essential work, to stay two metres (six feet) away from other people and wash our hands as soon as we get home.

Metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire are being locked down — again. (ABC News: Jarrod Fankhauser). Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has ordered Metropolitan Melbourne back into lockdown , after a surge in coronavirus cases across the city' s suburbs .

Early in the pandemic I went for a walk with the kids, and we discovered something unexpected and delightful.

I'd just been sent home from work with my laptop, indefinitely. My family was reeling.

I was jumpy, and my mind kept looping over the same concerns: how many people are going to die? Will we be OK?

Clearly, fresh air was in order.

The walkways down by the local river had been heaving with cyclists and joggers, so we stuck to the quiet backstreets of our neighbourhood in Melbourne's west.

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Then we spotted the Seed Bar.

It was an innocuous box sitting on a fence, with seedlings inside — cos lettuce, parsley, kale, broccoli, flowers — with a sign saying 'free'.

We picked up a couple of punnets and continued our walk, noticing the chalk drawings on the footpaths and the teddy bears popping up in windows.

Suddenly things felt a bit better. We headed home and planted the seedlings, feeling that buzz you get when you have received an unexpected gift.

It turns out that this kind of support system cuts both ways.

Marion Abraham started the Seed Bar along with her sister Maggie, who lives in Melbourne's inner north.

For them, it has been a blessing during the lockdown periods.

"It's been such a nice touchstone for both of us during the pandemic," Marion .

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"I've gotten to know so many of my neighbours. Everyone is walking more, everyone is out with their families and this way I can recognise people and have that familiarity with people and it's a talking point."

The seedlings are constantly changing, and they disappear quickly. Locals will drop by gifts to say thank you: homemade bread, extra bags of potting mix and even face masks.

The sisters estimate they have given away 1,500 seedlings since their homegrown project started in late February.

Marion says keeping a tally of the seedlings they have given away has felt like "notches on the prison walls in my bedroom".

Their lockdown-induced altruism has also spawned other surprises in the surrounding streets.

Colourful acts of neighbourly love

Rachel and Leigh and their children Greta and Finnian live in the same suburb. The Seed Bar prompted them to think about ways they could give back to the community.

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The coronavirus feels like it has left nothing untouched in its wake, and that includes pet shelters. Fewer people are swinging by to visit available pets, and volunteers have similarly dried up. So I was heartened to see my friends take in Wyatt, a sweet pit bull mix around 2 years old.

Strict lockdown measures are to be reimposed in Melbourne , as authorities scramble to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections spreading across the country.

The family, Greta in particular, makes origami regularly — they already had a large box filled with the folded-paper figures.

So they built a wooden box on their front fence, which they keep filled with free origami for kids to take as they walk by.

"Probably more than anything I think that for us it was about us doing something and giving us a focus during lockdown and a bit of creative relief from all that screen time," Rachel says.

"Origami, I suppose they are really just pieces of paper, but when you open the box and its full of all different shapes and colours, there's a bit of magic to it."

I can attest to the magic — my daughters are enamoured with the colourful little paper figurines in Rachel's family box, and it has helped to propel them out of the house for exercise during lockdown, even on windy and rainy days.

Other children in the neighbourhood have benefited too.

Ari, aged 9, says she likes visiting the origami box because "it's nice to get a little present as we go for our morning rides".

"I think it's very kind of them to put out origami for everyone."

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The perfect antidote to lockdown

These acts of neighbourly love are not isolated.

Across Melbourne, in one of the beachside suburbs of the South East, a lockdown project of my RN colleague Anna Taylor, producer of , has also been a hit.

Like some others in lockdown, Anna's family decided to get some chickens.

But they put the chicken hutch in the front yard, where passers-by could see them.

While Anna was a little hesitant for fear the neighbours would find the chickens noisy, or even worse, smelly, the chooks have turned out to be a perfect antidote to lockdown.

Janet lives in the neighbourhood and says her family has become "very invested in the chickens", which they visit every day.

But Janet says the benefits go beyond entertainment for bored, cooped-up kids.

"I think the chickens have added a real life to the community," she says.

"They have made people of all ages stop and have a chat and to connect with each other in a time when we have little opportunity to connect with others."

Anna says the chickens have also been a real comfort to her.

"I'm working in our spare room from home, like everyone is, but all day I can hear people coming by. And if I'm feeling like I want to see a friendly face, I'll just like pop out and say hello to whoever's arrived," she says.

"I think it has been a bit of connective tissue in the community."

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The ties that bind

Connective tissue is something that many have been either reaching for consciously, or discovering unexpectedly, during the pandemic, says Melanie Davern, director of the Australian Urban Observatory at RMIT University.

"There has been a shift towards people wanting to be more connected with their communities and it started with the teddies in windows and the rainbow drawings early on," she says.

"We've been forced to connect with our local neighbourhood.

"Perhaps before when everyone was so busy, it wasn't possible. But with people, in Melbourne at least, needing to stay in their five-kilometre bubble, it means you have to walk your streets and get to know them.

"I think it has brought out, in some of us, ways to keep our mental health safe."

Melanie adds that the phenomena of giving things away in boxes on fences, or providing other distractions in front yards, is a way of creating "activated spaces", which can boost the mental health of the giver and receiver.

I've now been working from home for six months.

It has been an anxious and, frankly, exhausting time, particularly in the periods when our children have been at home every day and we've had to combine paid work with parenting and school supervision.

Mostly though, I've been counting my blessings.

I have felt lucky to still be employed at a time of high unemployment, and doubly lucky to be able to work from home and spend more time with my children and partner.

Undoubtedly my feeling of good fortune has been enhanced by being able to get to know the five-kilometre patch of earth around my house just a little bit better, and to even get to know some of my neighbours more, despite the need to be remain physically distanced and swathed in face masks.

You can hear more from Erica Vowles on on Life Matters.

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