Claire Sheppard and the evolution of Nunhead Knocks
If you live in Nunhead or you’ve visited in the last five weeks, you will have noticed the streets are adorned with Nunhead Knocks signage. It’s hard to miss. There are signs on lamp posts, sprayed on the tarmac, even on bed sheets hanging from windows - all offering help to the community. When experts said communities must pull together in the face of this crisis, Nunhead listened. At least that’s what Nunhead Knocks founder, Claire Sheppard, heard...
“I did something that’s usually quite ill-advised” starts Claire, “which is… stay up to watch Question Time!” she laughs. As a Green counselor in the last election, she tells me she’s “a bit politics-hungover” but that she tuned in because she was worried about COVID-19 and the news that was coming out. “I saw the ex-director of public health, who very clearly said; communities, get organised now. And I heard that loud and clear.”
Claire is no stranger to the power of community. When I ask her if it was a specific event that inspired her to take action, she replies, “I’ve got a good tale for you. Your spidey senses are good on this one.” Four years ago, after the birth of her son, she was diagnosed with cancer. With her husband at work, keeping them afloat, and a baby to look after, she relied heavily on her community and friends to cook, bring prescriptions, take her to the hospital and walk her dog. It was then that she became part of the ‘Nunhead Rocks!’ Facebook group, and it was in the same group that Nunhead Knocks was born. Knowing she had an audience of 6,000 locals and with previous experience leafleting the area on political campaign trails, she already had connections.
“I posted on Nunhead Rocks Facebook group on the Friday morning then rang Quick Print in Peckham and asked them if they could do me a deal on 5,000 leaflets - which I thought was being a bit ambitious to be honest - how little I knew! I put the poster there on Facebook and within 12 hours I was just flooded with person after person saying ‘I want to help, I want to help’, so I thought, okay there’s a lot of offers of help. We need to get organised.”
Once the ball had started rolling and the volunteer offers were stacking up, she knew there needed to be some structure in place. As a market research professional she tells me she’s “painfully aware” of the importance of data protection and explains her concerns around privacy - particularly around neighbours picking up prescriptions. “There’s two factors - 1, I don't want people to run off with my money and/or drugs, and 2, if it’s a sensitive prescription, which, let’s face it, lots are, do I want it to be Lee over the road who I have to look in the eye every day? Not necessarily!” she laughs.
She also realised she would need help if this was to work. Luckily, soon after her Facebook post, she was not short of offers. “The most important thing that happened on that first Friday was a lovely woman called Charlie, who got in touch and said ‘not being rude but your internet post is a bit unwieldy and a bit unclear, my boyfriend can build you a website,’ so I met Charlie and Amar from the Ivy House and a chap called Andy who does systems management. I met those three on Nunhead Green and we hammered out what we needed from a website so people’s data would be secure, their information would be safe and they'd be being helped by people who hopefully they recognise and who live in their street. It's just gone boom since then!” Within days they had a fully functioning website, a phone line and email addresses. As they’re doing it properly, “belt and braces”, with rules and a constitution, many similar groups across the country have been in touch with them to pool resources and technology.
For something that started as just a small idea, it’s blossomed into a fully-functioning outfit. With 1600 volunteers, they’ve helped hundreds of people in the community: From picking up prescriptions to delivering food. They’re also partnering with Westminster House Youth Club and various other local organisations to get hot food out to people, and have recently opened two locations to take donations for food banks. The Yard in Peckham Rye and The Green in Nunhead will be open 1pm-3pm, Monday to Friday, to receive non-perishable donations. To date, donations have helped deliver 242 meals.
Behind Nunhead Knocks is a core group of nine people, each bringing different skills. They communicate via Zoom every morning and “it’s incredible,” says Claire. “If you’d have told me 6 weeks ago that any of this would have happened, I would have told you to get on your horse!”
Having already experienced such a strong community presence in previous years, with support from local businesses and the WI when she needed it most, the outpouring has only further solidified her gratitude. “I know that our community is like that but it has knocked me for six, just the breadth of talent and skill, and the hours that people have given to this is extraordinary and it’s a real testament to the goodness in humanity, community and neighbourhoods. I’m quite evangelical about it really. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful thing to be involved with. I would say that I planted the seed to start it but it’s a group of us that have done this together. There’s no way any one of us could have done it by ourselves. And we’re really lucky that we’ve found this incredible group of people.”
When I ask her about the future of Nunhead Knocks after lockdown, aside from wishing for street parties aplenty, she says, “I’m hoping we wouldn't need to exist in two years time, but the realist in me knows that if things go back to normal, things might well go back to normal, and that would be sad, but we’ll still have a framework in place, so hopefully people will be more open to helping their neighbours, and their neighbours will be more open to asking for help. So as long as there are people needing help we are going to keep it going.”
I am hoping this experience changes the way people interact, think and behave in the future, but we both agree it’s difficult to say whether anything will be radically different in the long term.
“I don’t know if I’m going to have a business to earn a living from at the end of this. I don't know where it’s going to fall, but if I learnt anything from my experiences 4 years ago, you can't control any of it. There's no sense in trying to and you’ll drive yourself hella mad if you do. You can't control this. You've just got to accept it’s happening and move forward in the most positive way that you can. And I do hope things will change. I do hope people enjoy this from a green point of view: I hope they enjoy the fact that there's not thousands of planes flying over every day and the air is cleaner and I hope they enjoy that they know their neighbours and I hope people know the value of the people who work very hard in this country, because I worry that they didn't before. I think it's much clearer now who are the people who do the jobs that matter, and I hope all that sticks around, but the realist in me knows that we still have Brexit to come and we still have five years of this Tory government to come. And that frightens me. As optimistic as I am, I think it’s important to be realistic and just hope that from now on people do that thing that we always hope they will do and that is - don't vote for themselves - vote for the people who will be affected by the policies that are made - and I hope that from a political point of view, that will change but on a community level I think we’ve shown the good in people. I think across the country people are feeling each other and I hope they hold onto it.”
If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact Nunhead Knocks https://www.nunheadknocks.com/