Avenues Neighbours Embrace Fun, Support Each Other Through COVID-19 Pandemic

‘There is opportunity, as always, to build community’

From converting a book lending library into a food pantry to hosting a teddy bear hunt, citizens of a Peterborough community are staying engaged with their neighbours despite the social distancing constraint of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially connected through an e-mail communication system called the PtboAvenues in 2011, community members in The Avenues are using the tool to generate opportunities for both support and fun during this uncertain time in the world.

Mark Woolley established the PtboAvenues Google group to connect through e-mail those who are connected by geography in the community that’s just on the outskirts of downtown Peterborough.

He chats with Electric City Magazine about the developments that have unfolded in his neighbourhood since the province declared a state of emergency in March and announced strategies to control the spread of the coronavirus strain.

On a lighter side, there was a surprise singing of “Happy Birthday,” a mid-March initiative to sew fabric masks, an Easter egg picture hunt and a bath toy scavenger hunt.

“An awesome Dad and local Google group leader hid 10 of his daughter’s bath toys around the neighbourhood – in front yard shrubbery, behind fences, in nooks of trees, et cetera. Then he published the list of locations and pictures so others could enjoy the 20 hours until he took her out to find and retrieve them,” Mark says.

On a more serious note, the neighbourhood is sharing pandemic-related information and resources.

One of the neighbours used the e-mail system to distribute links to two online forms — one for people who are willing to help and another for people who need COVID-19 help. Later, a third form was created and distributed offering assistance for people returning from travel who were required to quarantine for 14 days.

“This community infrastructure is serving us well through the COVID-19 pandemic in a variety of ways, from very focused on caremongering — a new term to us — to a continuation of normal life, as much as that’s possible.”

Ashley Bonner, another engaged citizen, has distributed similar forms signing up helpers and helpees in her East City neighbourhood. You can read a story about Ashley here.

“The pattern in both locations was that there were five times as many helpers and helpees, which speaks to the goodness in people. It also speaks to the resources people in our community have available and people’s need for privacy.”

The PtboAvenues Google group has around 280 members. The group’s physical location spans 13 city blocks of varying sizes and corresponds to boundaries of the Heritage Conservation District, which came along after the group existed.

Back in 2019, Mark and a few of his neighbours successfully used the group to engage others in their community to start composting or ramp up their current efforts. You can read that story here.

In addition to the large group, there are eight smaller groups with a more intimate geographic scope. Overall, the Google groups have been useful and Mark hopes they will serve a broader purpose and have a bigger scope.

“The pandemic has provided yet more impetus for community-building and I have had conversations with more people who have the intuition to set up communication infrastructure in their neighbourhoods,” he notes.

“There is opportunity, as always, to build community. There is goodness in balancing our individual needs and skills with those of others.”

Mark invites citizens interested in learning more about starting a Google group in their own neighbourhood to contact him at Aveplanners@gmail.com 

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