Over The Last Year My Neighbours Have Become My Closest Friends

‘Meeting you has been one of the best things that has happened to me this year. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without you.’

Radhika Sanghani's lockdown friendships

by Radhika Sanghani |
Updated on

‘Tea outside?’ I don’t even bother replying to the text from my neighbour, Sofia. I stick a coat on over my pyjamas, grab my peppermint tea and head to meet her outside our building. We haven’t seen each other for 24 hours – a record in the last year – and have urgent things to discuss: how she’s getting on with the eco fabric conditioner I recommended, and whether I should keep my new & Other Stories top.

I can hardly believe that I didn’t know Sofia before the pandemic. We’ve both lived in the same block of flats for four years but only spoke for the first time in March 2020, when we found ourselves sunbathing in the shared garden during the first lockdown.

It didn’t take long for us to move on from small talk – she’s a 29-year-old Italian photographer; I’m a 30-year-old writer from London – to comparing our secret tattoos and bonding over our love of astrology (she’s Aquarius; I’m Taurus. It works.)

Back then I was really struggling with loneliness. I live alone and most of my close friends and family live in other parts of London. I used to trek all over the city to meet them, but lockdown forced me to stay local and, with hardly any friends in my area, chance meetings with Sofia in the garden became the best part of my week.

Initially, I was too embarrassed to tell her that or suggest planned meet-ups. But when I turned 30 in April and she surprised me with flowers, I realised we’d become real friends. So we began arranging Friday night drinks in the garden, walks on Hampstead Heath, and started our now-daily tradition of sending each other VoiceNotes about everything from our period cycles to the contents of our latest supermarket shop.

Our friendship inspired me to stop moaning about not being able to see my regular friends and start looking for connections within my postcode. It turned out I barely needed to walk down the high street for this. I met Richard, another neighbour, the week he moved back into his flat after sailing to England from Brazil. Within minutes of chatting outside, we’d swapped numbers and he began joining me and Sofia for al fresco Friday night drinks.

Later that summer, I remembered a former school friend, Josh, also lived alone in our neighbourhood. I reached out to him and, even though we hadn’t seen each other for years and had never spoken alone for more than 10 minutes, we started going for walks together. He began to feel like the brother I’d always wanted (apologies to my actual brother) and, as lockdown eased, it didn’t take long for him to become a regular fixture at Friday night neighbours’ drinks.

We were an unlikely group; I’m an extrovert who loves to over-share, Sofia is more reserved and thoughtful, Josh is the ultimate introvert with a dry, sarcastic sense of humour, while former army officer Richard had no idea what to make of mine and Sofia’s constant references to our colour palettes. But our weekly drinks make up my favourite memories of 2020, and now, a year on from the first lockdown, my neighbours have become my closest friends.

Richard is always there to give me a male perspective, beat me at Street Fighter and, as he did the other day, bring me unreserved joy by turning up on my doorstep with freshly baked cookies. Josh regularly listens to my emotional rants and, without fail, always manages to turn my tears into laughter; Sofia has simply become one of my best friends.

I never thought I’d make such strong friendships during such a difficult period, let alone on my very doorstep. I’ve always been someone who has scattered friends who live across the globe, and it means I often feel quite lonely, especially as my oldest friends in London all have quite different lifestyles to me. But, against all

the odds, I’ve managed to create my own community during lockdown. None of us lives with a partner or has children, so we all have fairly similar lifestyles, and it means we all prioritise friendships in a way our married friends don’t.

Over the last year, our lives have changed a lot. Sofia and I both began lockdown single, spent an hilarious few months dating (with mandatory post-date debriefs), then both managed to meet great guys just before lockdown two. Josh left a job in film production to work for a sex therapy app, Blueheart, and Richard has chosen to live in London for the first time in years.

Throughout it all, we’ve all been there for each other. Various lockdowns and rule changes mean we haven’t been able to do our Friday night drinks for months, instead having to meet in pairs for walks. This last lockdown has been the hardest, with the cold weather meaning the halcyon days of summer sunbathing and G&Ts are long gone, but just knowing my new friends are a stone’s throw away changes everything.

For the first time in years, I feel part of a community. Lockdown means I now know most of the shop owners on my high street, waving to them as I get my takeaway coffees, and constantly bump into people I taught yoga to in the park last summer. I hardly miss the bustle of central London; instead, I’ve fallen in love with my neighbourhood.

But the best part is knowing that I have a group of people on my doorstep who will always be there for me and, if they ever fail to do that, I know exactly where they live. The message in Sofia’s Christmas card to me sums up exactly how I feel about them all: ‘Meeting you has been one of the best things that has happened to me this year. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without you.’

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