When lockdown was announced on March 23rd, my daily exercise – walking around my neighbourhood in south London – became an exercise in care.
Through a deepening practice of close noticing, I became more acquainted with the practices of care present everywhere in my neighbourhood. It started with watching spring unfold in public parks and community gardens, then extended to reflections on the lives lived in the hundreds of streets I walked through every week. I could weave stories out of anything I took a curious eye to – architecture, municipal planning, objects displayed in front room windows. Front gardens, largely unnoticed before, became emblems for the care that people put into their domestic space for passers-by to enjoy.
Caring has been appropriated as a commodity in the Covid-19 crisis, especially by retailers, who perform care through their TV adverts, their hashtags and their in-store signage. Care becomes repurposed and sold back to us for profit, telling us we are #allinthistogether while keeping a keen focus on the bottom line.
The antidote is to walk. To walk is to reject a mediatised life, even if just for an hour, and to embrace life lived without the validation of a smartphone notification. To walk is to participate, a methodology for being present in one’s neighbourhood and to radically notice the community you live in.
To walk is truly #nofilter: life lived without algorithmic control and without the digital gaze. Radical noticing means being open to the lives, stories and possibilities of the neighbourhood on their own terms. To notice your neighbours and the countless efforts of your community is a form of practising social connection in a time of social distancing.
With this intent, we can be open to possibilities. In lockdown, I read signs of hope in windows, saw food, toys and plants left in boxes for those who needed or wanted them, presented with handwritten notes saying “take me”. Lockdown has also been a time for creativity – for example, Covid household clear-outs have created improvised ‘community libraries’ where I live, where books and DVDs are left in boxes, shopping trolleys and wardrobes for others to enjoy.
As illustrated in my video, the outpouring of love and appreciation for the National Health Service was one of the most noticeable features of my lockdown walks. The NHS has often been described as Britain’s national religion; to look at these street tributes is to see the UK’s most treasured institution sacralised through art, a call for its preservation in paint and chalk.
Covid-19 has brought its fair share of grief, uncertainty and injustice. But also, outside of the regular rhythms of our daily lives, it has brought time for reflection, an opportunity to think about how we treat ourselves, how we treat others and – just perhaps – to reimagine and appreciate the communities we are part of. Walking to notice these new rhythms is to care for others and care for the self; to walk is, in its small way, the practice of solidarity.
Kim Harding is a PhD researcher in the sociology department at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her digital ethnography concerns ethical living practices on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok as sites to investigate the complexities of the non-religion category and to explore how beliefs and values are constructed through user-generated digital content. She is a graduate tutor at Goldsmiths and King’s College London, and is also internet officer for the British Sociology Association Sociology of Religion study group (@BSASocrelSG). She tweets at @sacralised and has recently started documenting her walks at London Is My Garden (@londonmygarden on Instagram).