We made new best friends during lockdown to help us through the darkest days

This year, coronavirus restrictions have meant we’ve all been separated from loved ones for months on end – but these six people made very special new friendships to help them through the darkest days.

‘Our puppies have become BFFs – and so have we!’

Amy Morgan, 28, a coordinator for a live events production company met Louise Howells, 33, who runs a web design agency, in April.

They live in Manchester. Amy says:

“Straining on his lead, my puppy Happy bounded towards another young dog while we were out walking.

Happy scrambled all over cavachon Eva, while I smiled and introduced myself to her owner, who told me she was called Louise.

We hit it off straight away, exchanging stories about our puppies and the joy they had brought to our newly restricted lives – and that was the beginning of a friendship that’s helped get me through this year. 

Before the pandemic hit in March, 2020 had been shaping up to be a great year for me.

My career in music festival production was going well and in February I moved into my own flat in an apartment complex.

Lockdown hit my industry hard and I was put on furlough for a long time.

I felt overwhelmed by mounting uncertainties.

Friends and family couldn’t visit my new home, and I started to feel isolated. 

'It felt apt to name him Happy'

I’d always wanted a puppy and with time on my hands I knew I could care for a dog, so I found a certified breeder and fell in love with a French bulldog.

He was born on my mum’s birthday in February and the breeder said he’d be ready to go to a home on my birthday in early April, which I took to be a sign. 

I’d read somewhere that if you say the word ‘happy’ all the time, it can actually make you happy, so it felt apt to name him that.

Thankfully, he settled into my flat straight away, and a few weeks later we met Louise, who told me she lived in my apartment block with her boyfriend Alex. 

After that, we bumped into each other all the time, and got along so well that we started meeting outside for socially distanced puppy-training sessions and going on walks together.

At first we mostly talked about the dogs, but as we got to know each other, conversation moved on to lockdown and our fears for the future.

We’re a similar age and have a lot in common, including a love of the same films, as well as getting dressed up and going out (when we’re allowed!) and she was always so kind and generous.

When I had my phone stolen while I was in town in October, Louise helped me by ringing the network provider from her phone and blocking my number, then helping me suspend my cloud-based apps.

Then when a date cancelled on me a few weeks later, Louise surprised me by preparing a ‘friend date’ for us on the terrace, with champagne and candles.

And when I was poorly last month, she brought me dinner so I didn’t have to cook for myself. 

If Louise and I had met in ordinary circumstances, we could have got to know each other by going out for drinks or inviting each other round for dinner.

But the fact we connected during lockdown, when neither of us knew when we’d be able to see the mates we already had, means our bond is so strong and special.”

Louise says: “Seeing a woman carrying a puppy across our building’s car park, I excitedly nudged my partner Alex, 32 – one of our neighbours had obviously had the same ideas as us: to get a pup in lockdown.

When Happy and Eva first met, it was clear they liked each other.

Amy and I swapped numbers and started walking the dogs together and chatting about our lives.

Originally from Shropshire, I was a long way from my family, like Amy, who is from Newcastle, and also didn’t have a big support network nearby. But we had each other.

It was lovely to have someone I could walk with and talk to after a long day working from home.

She’s so thoughtful, looking after Eva for us when we were painting our flat, and lending us dog beds and coats, and checking in on me when she knew I was struggling. 

We’re both big movie fans so I can’t wait until we can go out for dinner and a cinema trip once things are finally back to normal.

It’s been an awful year in so many ways, but having Amy as a friend has brought me much joy.”   

‘We’d been neighbours for five years but didn’t speak before the pandemic’

Annabelle Lopes, 57, a teaching assistant, became friends with John Smillie, 73, a retired landscape gardener, in July.

They live in north London. Annabelle says:

“Breathing in their fragrance, I picked up a bright-blue hyacinth plant from Marks & Spencer and put it in my basket. I couldn’t wait to give it to my neighbour John.

"He lived in the flat below mine and although we’d been neighbours since I’d moved to Kentish Town five years ago, we’d never spoken before lockdown, as people in London often keep to themselves. 

Then, one day in June, I saw him on his balcony watering his plants.

I asked if he was doing OK and if he needed anything next time I went shopping.

As an avid gardener, he said he was keen for a new plant.

When I returned with the hyacinth that day, he was thrilled, and made me a cup of tea.

At 73, John lives with Type 1 diabetes, glaucoma and various other health issues.

He has no children and his partner died eight years ago, plus the community club he used to attend closed when lockdown began.

Soon after we started talking, John and I decided to form a support bubble.

Before this, my priority was keeping him safe, so I always wore a mask and kept a safe distance, but I’d do his shopping for him or take him to the shops.

'John is now part of the family'

I worry that he lives off white bread and hotdogs, so I batch cook
soup, Bolognese and pasta bakes for him.

I also help with his prescriptions, medication and hospital appointments. 

We enjoy each other’s company, sitting together to drink a beer and listen to music.

We both love Rod Stewart, Elton John and Blondie – and I’ve even introduced John to some goth music I love!

John tells me nobody has ever helped him in his life the way I have, but I don’t think I’m doing anything I wouldn’t do for any friend.

My son Luke, 22 – whose father I split up from when he was three – stayed with me for a while so he got to know John too, and he put it best: John is now part of the family. 

I may have helped John, but he’s done so much for me, too.

Lockdown has made me feel very depressed and lonely since the restrictions have meant I can’t see friends.

But that’s why I reached out to John. I knew if I was feeling that way, he might be too.

He’s a great listener and I feel comfortable confiding in him.

Before lockdown, it was like our doors were closed to each other, but now they are always open.”

John says: “I didn’t like the first lockdown at all – no one was speaking to each other, and everyone was scared to open their front door. But it also brought out the best in people, like Annabelle. 

I was born in north London, but my family moved to Glasgow when I was young. I haven’t been to Scotland in 30 years and have lost touch with my family there. 

After my partner Sarah died in 2012, aged 64, I started going to the pub and met three friends who I’d see there every weekend.

I prided myself on my independence, but with age it got harder to go out.

I have rheumatism in my knees and sometimes I collapse.

Last year, my legs went wobbly in the street and I was hit by a car.

I lost confidence and started staying home more often – and then lockdown happened.

Until the day Annabelle and I spoke, it felt like I might never enjoy the company of another human being again.

I tell her she’s my soulmate and our friendship grows stronger with every passing day.

Now I’m not scared to go to the shops or cross the road – because when Annabelle takes my arm, I know I won’t fall.”

‘Volunteering together gave us a special bond’

Charlie Atkinson, 36, manager of a charity coffee shop, met Charlotte Beckett, 52, a marketing consultant and volunteer, in April.

They both live in London. Charlie says: 

“Stacking the food trolley, Charlotte and I set off to deliver meals to every room in the hotel.

We’d just met on our first shift together working at emergency accommodation set up to help those experiencing homelessness during lockdown.

I knew straight away she was the sort of person I’d have become friends with in any situation.

She’s no-nonsense and gung-ho, with an attitude that gets things done. 

Before lockdown, I was manager of a cafe in east London run by the homeless charity Crisis, where people are trained in hospitality skills to help them secure jobs and then hopefully homes. 

But sadly, just before lockdown was officially announced, Crisis closed all its hospitality venues, as keeping everyone safe was the top priority. 

I knew one consequence of the economic fallout of Covid-19 would be more homelessness, and I was all too aware that 20% of my furlough wages were being paid by Crisis – with money donated by people who wanted to help others find shelter.

'She made every shift enjoyable'

So I quickly started volunteering at one of the emergency hotels set up by charities to accommodate people who were homeless during lockdown.  

I managed incoming and outgoing bed space, incident reports, prescriptions and appointments.

And it was comforting to know that Charlotte was someone I could rely on.

The work was intense, compounded by the fact there was a global pandemic raging, but she made every shift enjoyable, despite the circumstances.

After 12-hour days we couldn’t bond by going for a drink, but we quickly figured out the best way to keep morale up was good coffee and bad jokes.

Working with people who are experiencing homelessness comes with great complexities and there were times a situation could have escalated, but with a quick look, Charlotte and I could read each other’s minds and sort an issue before it arose.

When the hotel closed and the team disbanded in August, I felt mixed emotions.

I knew we’d helped so many people, but I was also sad I wouldn’t be seeing Charlotte every day any more.

Despite living with two other friends, the past year has sometimes left me feeling alone.

The cafe reopened earlier this month and I’m now back working there, coming up with a way to take our training programme online.

Charlotte drops by whenever restrictions allow, and we email each other regularly.

In a normal world we would have met sociably many times since the summer.

But even as restrictions rumble on, we both know the foundation of our friendship was built on such firm ground, it’ll last a lifetime.” 

 Charlotte says: “Charlie and I can’t believe our paths never crossed before this year.

For a long time I was working three doors down from the cafe she manages, and walked past it every morning, and we have mutual friends too. But it seems it was destiny that we met during lockdown. 

In the earliest days of the pandemic, a local church did a shout-out for people to help with an emergency shelter, but while I wanted to volunteer I was too worried I might catch the virus.

Having been a Crisis At Christmas volunteer for 12 years, when Crisis requested volunteers for the hotels project, I knew I had to put my own fears aside and get involved. I joined the team six weeks after Charlie. 

Cycling to the hotel across the empty streets of London was surreal, and as I live alone, for a few months the only human contact I had was with Charlie, the team and our guests.

If I’d spent lockdown at home I’d have been a lot more anxious. But being around people and doing something constructive kept me sane.

In Charlie, I found a kindred spirit. I know I can rely on her – and I admire her for the difference she makes in people’s lives.“   

To donate to the Crisis Christmas-time campaign, visit Crisis.org.uk/support.  

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