Good Causes

Kindness is Joanne’s recipe for building a community

Ask Joanne Boal to sum herself up in one word and she chooses ‘abundance’. The 51-year-old art therapist from East Belfast said, “I’m a big woman, I love to cook and I have loads of friends. My job is tough, so as soon as I get home I start to cook – it’s my way of de-stressing.”

Sharing home cooked meals with her neighbours is just one of the ways Joanne has helped foster a strong sense of community among the people living in Reid Street, a collection of small terrace houses built originally for the area’s shipyard workers. After hosting a Big Lunch – an annual UK-wide event organised by The Eden Project with funding from The National Lottery – in 2018, she has sought new opportunities for connecting people, helping out and enabling acts of kindness.

Joanne, whose job involves providing art therapy to cancer patients as young as 3, believes that simple acts of kindness help the giver as much as the receiver. She said, “I’m bipolar. No doctor has ever prescribed volunteering and helping out as a feelgood drug, but it is. When I give someone banana bread for moving into the street or I cook a meal for a single mum with a wee toddler, I feel great! It’s a win-win.”

As well as sharing food with neighbours, Joanne has organised a Reid Street book club and set up a WhatsApp group that has proved invaluable during lockdown. She said, “If some of the older people need a prescription or groceries picked up we can help. At Christmas we had socially-distanced nibbles and drinks in the street and we’ll do something similar on St Patrick’s Day [on 17th March]".

Joanne has also organised a clean up of the alleyways running behind the houses on Reid Street – the council workers were well fed on their tea break, naturally – and she has plans to set up an urban garden on a patch of land at the end of the street.

Her tireless efforts to help others were recognised in 2019 when she was given a Good Neighbour Award by NextDoor, an app that helps neighbours exchange information, goods and services.

While community spirit has proved invaluable during the pandemic, Joanne and her neighbours “cannot wait for the lockdown to end”. In the meantime, she continues to look for ways to help out.

Joanne said, “Random acts of kindness are so important. If I’m buying some groceries I might buy an extra chocolate bar for the woman on the till or let people out when I’m driving in traffic. It’s not rocket science. If you think of something you’d like done for you why not do it for someone else?”

To find out what’s happening with The Big Lunch in 2021 go to www.thebiglunch.com.

19th February 2021

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