In a year that has seen the pandemic bring life as we know it to a standstill, Britain’s community spirit has never been more important.
Against a backdrop of incredible acts of kindness, The Sunday Times and Nextdoor, the neighbourhood hub app, have been searching for community members worthy of its annual Good Neighbour Award.
And the winner of the ‘Best street of neighbours’ award is Flamstone Street in the tiny village of Bishopstone, just outside Swindon.
After 87-year-old Hester Kirkham lost her husband John in 2019, she was left living alone in Bishopstone with no relatives in Britain.
Almost at once Flamstone Street mobilised, with the accountants, firemen, young families and retired couples she lives among becoming her extended family. This support system has seen her through the grieving process, as well as self-isolating during lockdown.
As a parting gift before she moves back to North Carolina to be closer to her four childen, Hester nominated them as the best street of neighbours in Britain – an award they have deservedly won.
“I get very emotional just talking about it,” says Hester. “This is not just the best street in Britain, it is the best street in the entire world, they deserve this award so much.”
In one final act of kindness earlier this year that left Hester in tears, the local handyman turned up on her doorstep “with a duffle bag and a long ladder” to change all the light bulbs after he had noticed some rooms were pitch black.
Her neighbours also installed a panic button in her home in case she had any falls or emergencies, and assisted with moving the hundreds of items her husband had amassed over the years as Bishop of Sherbourne, including selling his old Volkswagen.
The story of Flamstone Street isn’t just one that revolves around helping one person, though. Like many local communities across the country they have found innovative ways to support one another while keeping socially distanced during the pandemic, including setting up their own mini-economy known as the Flamstone Street Exchange. It is a list of emails and numbers making it easier for people to request items they need, from bread to lemons to four-inch nails. Long after lockdown measures have been lifted, the exchange is still being used.
Flamstone Street residents have also organised a series of socially distanced celebrations including VE Day, Easter and an American Independence day for Hester.
For Amber Cotton, the street’s Covid co-ordinator in charge of assisting older residents, their formula for becoming Britain’s friendliest street is a simple one.
“I think the key here and in thousands of other villages is the effort we made to make sure people have been able to have company. It’s about making sure people aren’t left behind.”
Bishopstone is 6 miles from Swindon on the north slope of the Lambourne Downs, overlooking the Vale of White Horse. The village is often used as a base for walkers on the Ridgeway National Trail and boasts an award-winning pub and organic restaurant, the Royal Oak.