How online groups, large and small, are helping Victorians through lockdown

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When 10 Melbourne postcodes were snipped off from the greater metro area and locked down last June, single mum and school counsellor Daniela Mezinec sprang into action.

Armed with an iPhone, a big heart and a stack of goodwill for her comrades indoors, she created an online self-help Facebook group, then named Melbourne Lockdown Support Group to channel fun, support and good vibes and boost her community’s mental health.

School teacher, counsellor and single mum Daniela Mezinec started Melbourne Lockdown Support 4.0 on Facebook, and saw it bloom into an amateur self-help community.Credit:Simon Schluter

What became a close-knit group attracted a highly-engaged virtual community, sharing home-spun wellbeing tips, humour and distractions, and kept going after lockdown ended, rebooted as Melbourne Support After Lockdown. It has just been rebranded Melbourne Lockdown Support Group 4.0, in honour of the need for uplifting influences in the latest situation.

Late Saturday, members were being encouraged to participate in Australia’s Greatest Singalong on SBS (one group member posted a poll asking which is Australia’s best singalong song and early favourites were the Seekers’ classic I Am Australian and John Farnham’s You’re the Voice), or to join a virtual house music dance party.

“When the whole of Victoria went into lockdown I opened it up to the whole of Melbourne; I’m a counsellor so I just wanted to provide mental health support. People create posts to cheer people up, we have competitions – we have ‘cutest pet’ at the moment,” she said.

“We’ve even had ‘love in lockdown sessions’ where basically anyone single in the group could write down that they were single and we were matchmaking people who started to connect and talk on Messenger.”

Ms Mezinec’s group is one of dozens that have sprung up to form micro-communities online around Melbourne and the regions during the pandemic, existing alongside the huge kindness movement that has taken off around Australia, thanks to projects such as the 544,000-strong The Kindness Pandemic.

Since Dr Catherine Barrett, of the not-for-profit Celebrate Ageing, created her Facebook platform to encourage and celebrate kindness at the start of Australia’s lockdown in early March, 14 local kindness pages have emerged, from Frankston to the Yarra Ranges, Daylesford and Hepburn to Peterborough, Mernda and Richmond.

People with no formal background in community organisations have also helped establish Coronavirus outreach pages in the north, south, east and western parts of greater Melbourne, all of which still exist and have begun reactivating in the current lockdown to help foster a sense of community connection and maintain morale.

History student, and librarian, Saskia Peachey started Westside Melbourne Crononavirus Outreach on Facebook in 2020.Credit:Justin McManus

In Footscray, Melbourne University history student and part-time community librarian, Saskia Peachey, is expecting that the online community she founded, Westside Melbourne Coronavirus Outreach, will fire up again.

Ms Peachey, who lives alone and will remain isolated from her family in Castlemaine on her 22nd birthday on Sunday, spent large amounts of time in the 2020 lockdown running the page and sourcing much-needed goods, especially asthma puffers, for those in need.

Ms Peachey, who has asthma, noticed how many people without the condition hoarded puffers after a rumour went around that they could help with coronavirus breathing difficulties, and arranged a donation chain through the page (including giving some of her own) and a pickup spot at a local bookshop.

“I just thought this was something that we needed, particularly in an area like the west,” said Ms Peachey.

“I count my blessings that I’m able to have a job and work from home; my friends don’t. They all work in cafes … now the safety measures [such as rental relief and JobKeeper] are being rolled back, everyone’s panicking because there’s a bit of a perfect storm for anyone living in any kind of economic precarity.

“Most young people and a lot of old people, people fleeing domestic violence and Indigenous communities, they’re all communities that need support.”

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