One year ago, when the PM finally sat down in front the nation to issue the inevitable command, “you must stay at home”, millions of us took stock of our new reality – and decided what on earth we’d do next. There was a deep desire to help others, revealing a community spirit that had seemed long forgotten, and longside the enthusiastic delivery of food parcels came an explosion of creativity, from baking and sewing to rainbow art in every window.
Kentish Town resident Karishma Puri started up the hugely active local Mutual Aid group, which also led to her own creative endeavour, the portrait series Isolating Together, which can be found on public display in shop windows and on billboards throughout the area over the coming weeks.
“About 3 months after setting up the Mutual Aid group, the coming together of the community felt really powerful,” she says. “We were able to support one another faster and more efficiently than the government was able to. I’d spoken to at least 100 members and learning about each person’s story made me realise what a diverse lot we had just in this one WhatsApp group, and thought I had to document this.”
A keen photographer as well as graphic designer, she took her camera out in the mercifully endless sunny days of that first lockdown and shot a series of portraits at a social distance. Quickly amassing a beautiful collection of candid images, she also was able to open up a window into the personal experiences of her neighbour’s Covid-enforced isolation, too.
“There was a family that had to flee their home and were placed in a hotel,” she remembers. “When lockdown was announced they were suddenly moved into an empty flat with no amenities. The mum reached out to the Mutual Aid group for basics such as a mattress, duvet, microwave, heater and hob, and within the hour people had organised to have these items picked up from various homes and delivered to the family. There was even a cooking schedule for home cooked meals for them till they had a more permanent solution.”
Alongside some familiar local faces, such as Michael the hairdresser-cum-gallery-owner, and Chris who lives rough under the railway arch at Kentish Town West, Karishma also made new friends as her worlds of Mutual Aid and photography combined.
“In terms of survival, there’s an incredible Somali lady I met who told me how her community had been suffering due to the pandemic,” she says. “Overcrowding in homes, children with no laptops to access classes and of course the financial burden of it all. On top of that, the media were attacking minorities, blaming them for being overweight and not understanding nutrition, when eating healthy felt like a luxury. Despite her own challenges, this lady decided to do something to help. She would end up orchestrating a support system within her community which ensured people had a steady supply of free fruit and vegetables.”