The lady who uses lockdown to hide gnomes on a Leicestershire housing estate

The lady who uses lockdown to hide gnomes on a Leicestershire housing estate

When Becky’s new hobby got out of hand, she put it to use in cheering up her local neighbourhood.

Becky makes gnomes. Not the sort you see in gardens, fishing in ponds with their trousers down, but the Scandinavian variety with tall, felt hats over their eyes and beards that reach their feet. It’s not her day job: by day, she’s an NHS administrator in Leicestershire; rather, it’s a distraction from the monotony of the UK’s third coronavirus lockdown.

Becky spends her days as a medical science communicator, helping others with information on vaccines, clinical trials and how to spot misinformation. But she was beginning to struggle in the evenings, and “spending too much time scrolling around on social media”.

“I work in the NHS – albeit just as an administrative person in research and mostly safely from home – but it’s still been a tough year,” she says.

After Christmas, the restrictions and poor weather were particularly taking their toll. Then, one day last month, something on social media caught Becky’s eye.

“I was wasting time scrolling through Facebook when I spotted a friend’s felted gnome,” she says. “I thought I’d have a go.”

So, she bought herself a felting kit and took a week off work. It went well and she thoroughly enjoyed it. She made one gnome, and then another – and then another, and another. When Becky squeezed the fifteenth felted figure into her collection above the fireplace, she realised she had a problem: she didn’t actually want any gnomes.

On the other hand, she enjoyed making them. Her usual activities had been somewhat curtailed and this new hobby was helping her stay mentally healthy. She thought of the Little Victories BetterPoints challenge that she was taking part in. “With the lockdown, I’ve had to rethink my self-care,” says Becky, “and the Little Victories challenge gave me a prompt to remember my mental health as well as the physical.”

Little Victories encourages people to do little things to brighten the day, such as helping other people or giving little gifts. In January, it prompted more than 30,000 little actions such as hand-writing letters to old friends, taking the time to chat with someone living on the streets, or simply thinking to thank someone for their hard work.

And that’s what gave Becky the idea to hide the gnomes around her housing estate.

“It was the name of the ‘Giving Little Gifts’ element that made me think of how people had put up rainbows and pumpkins to give local kids something to get involved in, and led to me being the weird lady hiding felt gnomes round the estate!”

“I could do that,” she says, “give little gifts, quite literally.”

So, she did. She shared a picture of a gnome on her local Facebook group, packed it into a clear, waterproof bag and hid it on the estate.

Much to her surprise, she was soon receiving messages from people telling her how much they enjoyed looking for the gnome and how it had lifted their spirits.

“People were … excited about it. They said they were going out to look for it, and asked if there would be more. It was considerably more than I’d expected over a gnome.”

Spurred on by the response, Becky got back to work.

“I made more gnomes and started hiding them every few days, and people started posting pictures of their little ones finding them.

“They said some very sweet things about how it had given their kids a lift, cheered them up or even just got them out on a walk.”

But sharing her gnomes hasn’t just cheered up her neighbours: it’s helped Becky feel better, too.

“January was like swimming through glue,” she says. “This really helped me feel less powerless, and it stopped me from doom-scrolling in the evening!”

Little Victories prompted more than 30,000 actions in January.
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