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Cupcakes, wine and poems beat lockdown blues

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Neighbours Lisette and Alissa sent over gifts to say thanks for shopping while they were in iso.

It seems some people are never happier than when they are making other people miserable. Listeners to last week’s Flat Chat Wrap podcast may remember JimmyT hopping into a troll who complained about Sue Williams going on a Potts Point Facebook page to ask for happy lockdown stories.

Thankfully, most people get pleasure from putting smiles on others’ faces, as Sue’s resulting story in the SMH Domain section confirms.

Chocolate cupcakes for COVID, FaceTime haircuts and Zoom art competitions for kids: as the pandemic continues to shrink our worlds, apartment-dwellers across Sydney are taking solace in being good neighbours.

While some now find themselves talking, often for the first time – safely socially distanced and masked – in corridors, lobbies and lifts, others are busy cooking meals for fellow residents in isolation, doing their shopping, and checking up on them regularly.

“When you’re so restricted in lockdown, the people living all around us in apartment buildings become almost our second family,” said business consultant Wendy Rattray, 43, who lives in a 17-apartment building on Darlinghurst’s Liverpool Street. “We know if we ever need anything, our neighbours will be there for us, which makes the whole situation feel a lot less gloomy and dark.”

In her building, neighbours Paul and Kevin have been baking cupcakes for all, while Lisette and Alissa delivered cards, champagne and chocolate to thank everyone for bringing them food and drink during a period they had to be in isolation.

Elsewhere, other new and frequently unlikely friendships are blossoming in apartment blocks as people lend a hand to those less well-equipped to cope with the extended periods locked down in their units.

Every day, Joanne Green, 73 – who has stage four cancer and lives in the large 100-unit Victoria Point building in Potts Point – receives calls from neighbours checking she’s well and asking if she needs anything from the shops or if her miniature sausage dog Frankie needs a walk.

One of those neighbours, 44-year-old Danielle, also volunteered to be her singles bubble buddy and calls in regularly for wine-o’clock get-togethers and takes turns with her cooking dinners. “She’s been absolutely wonderful,” said Joanne.

“She’s even arranged a FaceTime appointment with her hairdresser, so we’ll sit on my balcony, and she’ll follow her instructions to give me a haircut. I just couldn’t be happier living in my apartment building. I’ve got the most wonderful neighbours here.”

In nearby Woolloomooloo, a number of residents in office worker Tina Zi’s 62-apartment block are on a Whatsapp group, and they all share the riches of their baking sessions, as well as pots of freshly-made lasagne and wine, leaving them outside each others’ doors.

“It feels like we’re all in touch with each other, so you feel less isolated and alone,” said Tina, 31. “It’s great to be connected in that way.”

In the inner west, there are myriad other stories unfolding of care, concern and community-building amidst coronavirus.

At one 500-apartment complex in Chiswick, Riviera, there are online cooking classes presented by one resident who usually works as a chef, Superhero Sundays in which people dress up as their favourite character, with judging of the best on Zoom, and a lockdown art contest for kids with prizes donated by the local convenience store.

“We have a lot of single people, young and old, living here, and we started to realise that people were lonely but weren’t asking for help,” said Denis Hamill, 76, the treasurer of the strata committee and one of the 30-strong bunch of volunteers organising activities.

“I was walking out one day and passed one very strong, independent lady who lives here, and I asked how she was going. She started sobbing and said she needed to talk.

“But usually, people don’t want to ask for help, even though they might need it. So, we now organise as much to do in lockdown as we can, particularly for the kids as it’s so hard for them with home-schooling.”

On Sundays through lockdown, groups also all watch the same concert on YouTube and then discuss it afterwards on Zoom.

Resident artist Georgia Freebody put paintings of birds in the trees around the buildings for everyone to go bird-watching when they went for walks, and an exhibition of residents’ lockdown photos is being planned.

“We’re now planning our out-of-lockdown celebration, too, whenever that might be,” said Denis.

“I think when we do get out, there’ll have been a lot of new friendships made.”

Over on the North Shore, there’s also plenty of online socialising going on in apartment buildings.

One scheme in Cammeray has a street with a “positivity tree” where people post up poems and drawings on its branches and leave toys, food and books at its foot for neighbours. There’s also a bucket of chalk for people to write messages on the ground or for children to draw pictures.

Just up the road, in another building, retired IT professional Brian Peck, 69, designs posters and signs with COVID-19 instructions for his apartments and has a Mandarin-fluent neighbour translate them for Chinese residents. Then he shares them with all the other apartments in the area.

“I do as much as I can to help,” he said. “It’s good to make sure everyone knows what’s going on and to make everyone feel included.”

You can read Sue’s story in full – with some great pictures – here on the Domain website.

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