UK neighbours rally to mark birthdays of young and old in isolation

Jessica Murray
Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Getting another year older just isn’t the same without a chorus of friends or family singing you Happy Birthday, but many people confined to their homes during the coronavirus lockdown will have to go without that experience this year.

Not Peter Sheen. The 92-year-old feared he would spend his birthday on Wednesday alone, unable to leave his house or receive visitors.

However, dozens of neighbours in the village of Letchmore Heath, Hertfordshire, gathered near his home to sing Happy Birthday, while Sheen looked on in tears from his doorway.

In a video liked more than 30,000 times on Twitter, residents are seen spaced out across the village green singing the tune.

“It was lovely, very nice. I’m very lucky that I have lots of friends in the village who look after me well,” said Sheen, who has three daughters and 10 grandchildren. “With the lockdown for the virus, my family can’t come to see me, which is rather disappointing.”

They had planned to travel to the village to celebrate his birthday with a dinner, but cancelled their plans following government advice on physical distancing.

“He definitely thought he would be completely alone, so it was great they all went out to see him. It definitely made his day, which is really lovely,” said his 28-year-old granddaughter, Beth Pickard. “He watched it on the news yesterday, and he just couldn’t quite believe that people had been so moved by it.

“We just keep telling him that as soon as it’s all over, we’ll have a belated birthday party for him, and have everyone there to celebrate,” she added.

Sheen is not the only one to have been serenaded by neighbours keen to ensure their friends get the full birthday experience in isolation.

In Cardiff, the firefighter Chris Rand posted a video of his street coming together to sing to a baby, showing “community spirit at its best”, he said.

Meanwhile, in Southampton a whole street came together to sing Happy Birthday to Sophia Thomas, who turned eight on Wednesday.

Unable to go on the planned cinema trip with her friends to celebrate, Shophia’s father, Rob, said she was overwhelmed by their neighbours’ kind gesture.

“At the start she put her hands over her face because she was just massively overwhelmed by it all,” he said. “Obviously when you’re eight, your birthday and birthday party are quite a big deal.”

In a video shared on social media, neighbours can be seen in their front gardens and leaning out of windows as they sing, with someone even joining in on the trumpet.

Sophia’s parents initially asked friends to post birthday cards through the door to help make the day special.

A friend suggested a group singalong, and it was soon organised via the street WhatsApp group. “Everyone universally responded with": ‘Yep, that’s great, let’s do that.’ And a few people dropped off cards, which was lovely.”

About 15 houses took part altogether, in what Rob described as a “close-knit” neighbourhood of people who love having street parties.