It is a pandemic that has spread misery across the world, brought economies to their knees and entrapped millions of people in their own homes.
But the coronavirus has also, it seems, helped create some of the strongest neighbourly bonds seen in Nottingham in decades.
That’s according to Facebook community administrators across the city – who have told CBJ Star their platforms are being used more than ever by locals helping each other out.
This is how social media community leaders became the lockdown gatekeepers over night, supporting their neighbours and looking after the vulnerable.
“In a very bad way, I really do think that coronavirus made us going back to basics”
For Amanda McDade, admin of the Sherwood community group on Facebook and also mum of two, the lockdown gave her opportunity to engage with the group even more.
“Lockdown to me has meant that I’ve managed to focus all my attention, not that it wasn’t 100 per cent there anyway, but it’s now 200 per cent”, she says.
“It’s about giving back. And it makes me feel good.”
Living in Sherwood for more than 26 years, Amanda has always been “people based”, ultimately becoming a key person to her community.
“I’ve always been community based, my initial role was as a teaching assistant at a very local school, in Sherwood and I don’t find it boring”, she said.
Her work within the community evolved naturally, and became a focal point during lockdown, as she later explained: “if I’m going to do my groceries, I’ll tell people I’m passing by and ask if they need anything.
“It’s better for just one person to go out, rather than ten.”
Amanda’s priority during the last four years since the group was to create a safe space, where everyone can share and express their thoughts.
However, this progressed since lockdown as she recognised the importance of looking after the vulnerable in the community, particularly the ones who suffer from mental health issues.
“The next step I’m very concerned about is reaching out to those who are really suffering, and are too proud or too low to reach out to anybody”, she says.
“I’m gonna be posting tomorrow as it’s mental awareness week, just to let people know that I’m here, I’m available even if it’s just a chat about the weather – it doesn’t matter.
The ‘Sherwood/Community Group in Nottingham’ has been running for four years, and it currently has 2.3K members, being an epicentre of the local neighbourhood.
Such large groups however, require time and good management – and it sometimes becomes a full time job.
The pandemic motivated group admins to keep going
“I said to my wife that I need to step out of community activism and focus on other things”, says Emlyn Mousley while reflecting about this issue.
“But obviously, this was before the coronavirus outbreak, and I feel the need to help people during these times.”
Emlyn, 43, has initially set up the group to promote environmental awareness, and educate people on the issue. He also runs a co-operative called ‘Save the Earth’, and hopes his message to reach out wider audiences.
Asked how does he manage to do evrything at once, Emlyn simply added: “I wasn’t put on this planet to pay taxes and die.
“I’m trying to create things and put my mind to tasks.”
On the technical side of group administration, Emlyn is strict with what gets posted on the group, aiming to create a community where “no one feels intimidated to ask question”.
“We don’t allow racism, offensive comments and bullying.
“We want people to feel able to ask questions because a significant part of our group are elderly people”, he added.
This means that each and every post has to be approved by one of the four existent admins. Within the last 28 days, this raised up to 54,600 posts, comments and reactions – all of them needed to be filtered and removed if necessary.
“Running a Facebook group is not that easy”, Emlyn says, “but I’m one of those guys who when is told ‘you can’t do it’ I just don’t see why it couldn’t.
“Ultimately, I think it’s about having a positive mental attitude.”
Emlyn recognizes that Facebook groups can have an impact on people’s mental health, saying that admins have a responsibility to protect that.
“We get vulnerable people in the group as well, we have people who are struggling with mental health issues, so we need to make sure that they’re okay.
“We promote things that are good causes, Thursday claps, and various activities and competitions within the group.”
About fake news and negativity on Facebook
Another important group during Nottingham based people has actually been created a week before the lockdown, and is currently having 20K members.
Nottingham Covid-19 Mutual Aid has 20 administrators and moderators who are in charge of any content that goes on the group.
John Morris, of Clifton, 27, says rules and guidance were put in place since the beginning to prevent any form of bullying, negativity and fake news spreading.
“When I set this up, I wanted all the posts to be actually useful and accurate”, he explains.
“We only post information that comes from the NHS or the government.
“So this way, we can make sure that people can find what they need.”
But being the front lead of such a wide audience comes with huge responsibility, and Alan is aware of this aspect as he also works in local politics.
For him, being positive is key. And the coronavirus lockdown is no exception.
“I’m always trying to do something positive. We’re all a part of a community, and there are people who just want to help”, he says.
“People needed the availability to ask questions, have reassurances and good news.
“There is no point in having daily updates on deaths and cases because we don’t want people to get scared.”
As the coronavirus will eventually come to an end, there is a question about whether this group will still be relevant to people in Nottingham after this is over.
But John is optimistic about this, saying that the next step would be to think about “how we could turn this into a bigger thing and make use of this.”
“The idea behind it is to encourage people to help each other, to support everyone so no one feels neglected.”
But the fear of living in isolation, loneliness and the anxiety of what tomorrow will bring can show the worst in people, challenging Facebook admins to take to the next step.
“I have felt a responsibility, more than ever, to try and rise above the negativity”
More than simple social media users, Facebook group admins become role-models to their communities and dedicate their time to look after their members.
Alan Dawson, who is a self-employed writer and publisher of Porchester Press, says he has felt a “responsibility, more than ever, to try and rise above the negativity”.
He got into social media in 2014, when he set up the Mapperley People Facebook group because he wanted to see “what a ‘good news’ page would look like”.
Since then, the group has evolved gradually, reaching 10,000 members and receiving “very positive feedback”.
Alan, 57, says he spends an hour a day managing the page, and posts “other interesting articles which takes extra time too”.
“The difference with Mapperley People and other pages and groups is that I have control on what is posted.
“This allows me to manage the content and keep it interesting. I try to avoid repetition. ”
Asked about how his role has changed since lockdown, Alan says he noticed “the strain that coronavirus is putting on people”.
“In particular, I see that people are allowing their anxiety to manifest itself in quite aggressive behaviour towards others.
“People are now being judgemental about people whose circumstances they know nothing about.”
“I have had to ban one individual from the page. Almost as a reaction to this behaviour, people seem to have settled into the situation with more optimism now.
Thanks to Alan’s strong leadership, the community took his advice ob board and revised their behaviour on this matter. The group is now a safe place where members can help each other and be responsive to other people’s needs.
“There has been lots of messages about people sharing book, toys and useful unwanted items”, he added.
“There have been so many pictures of positive messages to each other.”
Alan recognises the advantages of having a strong online community, especially amid global pandemic: “Managing Mapperley People has allowed me to build up a network of useful contacts in the area.
“We have been able to use these contacts to support people.
“The page is followed by people who live elsewhere but have family members in the area. Many of them are self- isolating or in need of a little support.
“We have helped arrange this, thanks to the network of support.”
Ultimately, these Facebook groups become virtual shelters for those in need, reaching thousands of people with various backgrounds every day.
“There are some followers who grew up in the area and now live as far away as Australia”, Alan adds.
“The thing that unites us is our pride and respect for the area. People who are new to the area want to find a connection with the people and the history.”
“Together, we bring all this together.”