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Neighbours in Newtownards overcoming isolation with online chat group

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Residents on a Newtownards street have set up a WhatsApp chat group to keep in touch with each other as the coronavirus forces more people indoors (stock photo)

Residents on a Newtownards street have set up a WhatsApp chat group to keep in touch with each other as the coronavirus forces more people indoors (stock photo)

PA Archive/PA Images

Residents on a Newtownards street have set up a WhatsApp chat group to keep in touch with each other as the coronavirus forces more people indoors (stock photo)

Residents on a Newtownards street have set up a WhatsApp chat group to keep in touch with each other as the coronavirus forces more people indoors.

Jonny Currie and his wife Lisa established the group after becoming concerned that people living nearby, especially the elderly and vulnerable, would be left cut off and alone.

"It's a very worrying time," said Johnny. "No one really knows how this is all going to pan out, but we came up with the WhatsApp idea because we thought it would be a good way of ensuring that people would always be able to make contact with someone near them.

"We delivered notes to all the houses in the street urging anyone who was interested to join the group so we would have a means of communication without coming face-to-face.

"The plan is to share any information we have with each other and to share any supplies that people desperately need over the next weeks and months. We've already shared out food, like pasta. The group is a very practical solution to a very real problem."

One neighbour has been able to provide fresh food too.

"They keep chickens, so it's hoped that eggs can be left on people's doorsteps as and when they require them," said Jonny.

The idea is one Jonny thinks could be rolled out in other areas.

But he appreciates that a major difficulty could be networking with older people who do not have access to a mobile phone.

"We are lucky in that most people have mobiles and they're happy to link up," he said. "The feedback has been really positive."

Jonny and Lisa have lived on Beverley Way for several years without knowing any of their neighbours particularly well - until now. "That (getting to know people) has been an added bonus," said Jonny.

The mum and dad have jobs in east Belfast but are expecting to work from home for the foreseeable future.

Their three children, Linus (9) and six-year-old twins Edie and Tilly, are being prepared for home-schooling now that their school has closed.

"We're drawing up timetables for the kids and we are also introducing contracts for them about their behaviour. They are similar to the disciplinary measures that there are in school for the pupils," Jonny explained.

"We'd been planning to introduce all this during the summer holidays, but we've now brought everything forward to term time."

It's not just Jonny's home life that has been hit by the virus, but his love of football too.

"I'm a big fan of Ards Football Club and though it's not the most important thing in the world at the moment I will miss watching them," he said.

"Our social club is shut, so that's draining the resources for the football team too."

Belfast Telegraph