Dr Anne Hayden MBE, 68, from Dorset, is a retired GP who found lockdown brought hope as well as catastrophe. Last summer she launched Growers Groups to encourage communities to grow together.

During my career, I specialised in mental health, but it wasn’t until I retired in October 2019 that I reflected on just how big a crisis society was in.

Too many were living too fast, striving for too much, with a great many demands on our time. In January 2020, I founded Your Planet Doctors (yourplanetdoctors.org) with the dual purpose of helping protect the health of the planet and our own.

Let’s build caring communities

I believe if we build caring, sustainable, self-sufficient and resilient communities, we can improve our physical and mental wellbeing and better cope with all the challenges facing us now and in the future.

At the start of the pandemic, we all experienced the fear of food insecurity, with panic buying leading to empty shelves. To encourage people to grow their own, we launched Growers Groups across Dorset, helping households form neighbourhood community hubs, united in learning how to sustainably and organically grow fruit, vegetables, and trees.

The building blocks of wellbeing

There are five steps to wellbeing: connecting; sharing and caring about others; learning; exercising and fresh air; and mindfulness.

Tending plants you’ve learned to grow from seed, alongside your community, ticks every box. The link between mental health and community is inextricable and seeing our Growers Groups flourish meant 2020 gifted me the most productive and happiest period of my life.

Covid was a disaster… and a miracle

Lockdown, although catastrophic for some, provided others with hope and opportunity to do something therapeutic for ourselves and the planet.

This year, we’re launching Growers Groups nationwide. Collectively, instead of striving for financial success and status, we are placing a higher value on social connection, community, and wellbeing.

Although Covid-19 was a disaster, it was also a miracle. I feel optimistic for a different and better future.


‘We will never go back to living next door to strangers’

Joanna Shurety, 44, from Ware, Hertfordshire, got to know her neighbours during the first lockdown.

There are more than 100 houses in my street but before the pandemic, I knew only three neighbours. My husband Dan and I were busy working, taking our son Sam, 12, to sport fixtures, often away at weekends and always on the go.

When we went into lockdown, I grieved for my lost social life. However, I recognised how fortunate I was. Working as a health coach at Shurety Coaching (shuretycoaching.com), my job was flexible. I was healthy and lived with people I loved. I wanted to do something good for the people logistically closest to me, the people on my road who may live alone or needed to shield.

Neighbours started getting in touch

I wrote a note offering help picking up prescriptions or dropping off food, leaving my name, contact details and house number, then popped one through every letterbox. Neighbours started texting, so we created a WhatsApp group, which quickly thrived.

We donated books and games to each other’s kids, celebrated socially distanced lockdown birthdays and VE Day, collected laptops for the local school and fixed broken guttering.

A gentler culture emerged in lockdown

We kept each other informed, entertained and crucially, thought of. If it were not for the events of the past year, my neighbours would still be strangers. Community has always been integral to our survival, but it’s something we drifted away from in recent years. Now we’ll never go back to living next door to strangers.

I also applied to be an Age UK volunteer befriender and in November 2020, I was matched with George who lives alone and has been shielding.

Our connection has brought us both so much joy. There’s been a rolling feed of bad news since the pandemic began, but there has also been so much good news. I believe a more gentle culture is emerging.

For this woman, lockdown transformed the pace of life for the better.