London·Photos

Londoners might be social distancing, but here's how they're staying close

Londoners might be social distancing, but the coronavirus pandemic that’s swept the globe seems to have brought many local communities closer than ever before.

Social distancing has transformed the city, creating a new London in place of the old one

Untethered from their hectic schedules, the pandemic has given many children and their parents time to enjoy activities they wouldn't normally have time for. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Londoners might be social distancing, but the coronavirus pandemic that's swept the globe seems to have brought many local communities closer than ever before. 

In recent days, authorities have closed schools, restaurants and other businesses in an effort to "flatten the curve" and slow the spread of the pathogen by having people self-isolate, work from home and social distance, a new way of life that's been compared to house arrest. 

The control measures are meant to keep people safe and while they've been tedious and drab in some ways, they've also liberated people in others.  

Freed from the shackles of their hectic daily schedules, homebound families have been able to reconnect with each other, rediscover their neighbourhoods and reclaim their empty streets.

Sharing a laugh but not sharing a space

With social distancing measures, there might be an awkward distance between them, but there are no awkward silences between longtime friends and neighbours, Gary Smith (left) and Josh Jones (right). (Colin Butler/CBC News)

The unprecedented circumstances have also created odd sights, such as neighbours Josh Jones and Gary Smith. Each of the men is sitting on a lawn chair facing each other from across the street. 

There might be an awkward distance between them, but it's obvious there are no awkward silences between the long-time friends. 

"We talk sports, we have families, daughters that are the same age, they play while we sit around and solve the world's problems," Jones said. 

"Instead, now we have to be a greater distance apart."

Gary Smith sits on the driveway in front of his Riverbend home, sharing an after work cocktail and a laugh with longtime friend and neighbour Josh Jones. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"We generally get together weekly for a social cocktail and a hello and during this time of social isolation, we're trying to keep it going," Smith said. 

"This is the only way we can follow the rules and keep Justin happy."

"Justin," in this case is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who's urged the nation to stay at home and when they do have to leave, give each other a wide berth to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Smith and Jones said they're keeping him "happy" by sharing a laugh, but not sharing a space and the same thing seems to be happening all over the city. 

'We're visiting'

Josh Jones sits in a lawnchair on his driveway across from friend and neighbour Gary Smith. The men are using a cell phone to close the gap between them created by social distancing. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

In nearby Oakridge Acres, families gather on the edge of the curb in lawn chairs and warm blankets and catch up with each other from across the street. 

"We're visiting," said Sarah Mackintosh. "We're keeping a safe distance while still socializing because we feel like we haven't seen each other. The kids miss each other, so we figured the distance of the street was a good distance to have a chat and hang out."

Mackintosh said a week of isolation has been hard on her family, especially her children, who are used to spending hours a day with their friends at school and at their homes. 

"We feel like that's missing from the quarantine. The time that we spend with each other and the support that we give each other as families and friends." 

'We got together virtually the other night'

Sarah MackIntosh (right) and her family congregate on the curb with a healthy distance between friends and neighbours in their Oakridge neighbourhood. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

They're all keeping their distance from each other, but at the same time staying close. 

"We got together virtually the other night and we've never done that before," Mackintosh said. "Normally it would be Friday night, come on over, we'd get together in each other's houses." 

With gyms closed, cabin fever setting in and little else to do, people seem to be getting out in record numbers. 

Children practice dribbling with basketballs or hockey sticks, the bobbing faces of joggers seem to be everywhere, while new parents push strollers past colourful chalk drawings etched onto the sunsplashed sidewalks. 

'Slowing down is kind of nice'

Sam Matheson and her two children, Kate and Jack. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"Slowing down is kind of nice," said Sam Matheson, out for a stroll in her Riverbend neighbourhood with her children, Kate and Jack. 

"These two have found each other because they have no-one else to play with, so they've been getting along." 

With organized sports cancelled, her children have more time to reconnect with loved ones through the phone or by way of video chat. 

"That's been huge for us because my kids are involved in a lot of sports and sometimes I wish that they didn't have so many activities."

Kids have also found more time for other pastimes, such as art and writing, with many of them drawing pictures in chalk on driveways, or to hang in front windows.

Matheson said her children have drawn signs to face the street, encouraging others to be kind and stick together through the pandemic. 

"They made two different rainbows saying 'everything will be okay,'" she said.

Families in Oakridge don't let the unusual circumstances of social distancing stop their usual get togethers. They still stay close, but at a distance. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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