Turns out there is such a thing as society

OK, so we might not have chosen the whole lockdown thing, but that doesn’t mean nothing good came out of it. Gilly Smith finds the idea of community is alive and well

As we stumble into the light of a post-Lockdown world, the streets will soon begin to fill again. We’ll head back into town to spend, spend, spend, or so the chancellor hopes. But will we? 

The covid era has taught us a new way of living, shopping locally, working from home, and a rather old-fashioned idea of community has been a surprise result.

As the government limited shopping trips and supermarket shelves emptied in the first Lockdown and shoppers stockpiled to avoid the new hell of long queues and the masked dash to the checkout, a very British institution re-emerged. 

The corner shop with its smiley service and happy-to-help attitude became the go-to shopping experience for millions. 

According to the Association of Convenience Stores, 57% of corner shops began a delivery service for the first time, while 41% now have a website, and some have even embraced the delivery apps to take advantage of this unexpected boom.

Vinod and Meena have been serving the West Hill community at Bright News on Buckingham Road since 1984, and as locals locked down in March last year, they were part of the first response unit. 

‘We had always done our bit to help people,’ said Vinod. ‘Elderly people, disabled people, they always get a free service. They always know that they can call us.’ No delivery apps here; as Lockdown made people anxious and vulnerable, Vinod found he was suddenly delivering goods across a three miles radius.

‘Basically, you feel like your house is like a jail. You’re frightened to go out’, he said. ‘You’re frightened of the big shops and mixing outside.’ 

But it wasn’t just the delivery service that Vinod, Meena and the team provided. With shelves packed with Infinity foods and an impressive range of wines and spirits, including those imported from Spain by the couple’s son, West Hill’s neighbourhood were wondering why bother with the supermarket, where often there’s not even someone at the checkout to talk to. Going to Vinod’s was the chance for a chat as well as a shop. 

‘We all have our masks on. We social distance and follow the rules, but people are very, very happy and very supportive to us. We like to help as much as possible.’ 

It reminds him of how the shop used to be when they took it over in 1984. 

‘People love the one to one service. People talk about the neighbours, their family, how they have a good time. It’s like it was three or four decades ago, which is wonderful.’

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