• Maheen Awan

London – My Oyster

Being assigned group work in the middle of a pandemic can seem like a tough, maybe even a useless, task. Especially, when you’re supposed to cover an event as part of the project. We all know no events are taking place during these trying times, unfortunately. In case you’ve been living under a rock and truly don’t know what I’m talking about, just to clarify: we are still very much going through a global pandemic, lovingly nicknamed as “COVID-19”. Naturally, everything shifted to a virtual platform, and we’ve all had enough of staring at our screens for 8+ hours a day daily. That’s why I was sure that I was not going to attend a “virtual event” for this project.


What is an event though? For someone who just moved to England, for me, this whole country is an event. Plus, with Christmas approaching, the outdoors is going to be absolutely magical. So, I thought why not make Christmas our event? Better yet, title Christmas in London as our event. I pitched my ideas to my teammates and, luckily, it was accepted with open arms.


Theoretically, the idea of meeting up with the group should have gone out the window since we’re all supposed to be social distancing. Everything and everyone is in lockdown, so you’re not supposed to go outside except for your allotted time outdoors for “one hour of exercise”. Maybe sneak out a little to get things done? Did it even matter if we met outside considering we met in school twice a week anyway? Meeting up was the best option, so we decided to go ahead with it.


Three out of the four teammates (one was self-isolating) decided to meet up at a designated spot (Victoria Station) and take things from there. We walked from Victoria to Carnaby, covering all the famous tourist spots in between – Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Square, Leicester Square, SOHO and Covent Garden.


The empty streets of London was a refreshing sight. No tourists, no locals, just a handful of people here and there soaking in the emptiness while they can. That’s exactly what we did, too. We took our good old time to explore places that would’ve otherwise gone unnoticed due to the hustle and bustle of everyday normal life. Little nook and crannies surprising us with their existence in an otherwise overcrowded place.


After having a walk around and getting an idea of all the places lit up with Christmas lights, we decided to divide these areas amongst us. I opted for Carnaby and Covent Garden.


Why?


Each year Carnaby chooses a charity to collaborate with to light up its street. I’m all for charities, so I wanted to get to know more about what they were up to this year.


Covent Garden has the largest Christmas tree in London, so, obviously, I wanted to dig deeper and find out where it originates from.


We decided to individually come back to our chosen places to get more research done, keeping in mind the lockdown rules. Can’t forget those nowadays.


Now, let’s get in to the nitty gritties, into the good and bad of group work.


Pro: Divided workload

Con: Additional workload if someone slacks off


Pro: Collaboration and sharing of ideas

Cons: Disagreements and potential strained relationships


No matter how professional one is, heated arguments usually lead to hurt feelings. How do we avoid that? For me, there are just two requirements to tackle this:


Communication

Accountability


There were moments in the middle when I regretted choosing a certain partner (no hard feelings). Reaching consensus isn’t easy. No two personalities are the same. Not everyone gets along, just because. But, I think, it’s all about how one navigates out of sticky situations. Communication is, and always will be, key in my books. A clear conversation, no matter how short, keeps harmony between a group. It gives everybody a fair chance to speak their mind and raise their concerns or doubts. A team void of fruitful communication is bound to have disagreements or even permanent falling out. This brings me to the second core value of good teamwork: Accountability. Accountability is absolutely necessary to avoid an unnecessary blame game. Accountability, in my opinion, flows from communication. Without clear communication, there can be no consensus on any given topic, and where agreement is lacking, there is no accountability. Resultantly, no accountability ends in other team members feeling like they are having to bear the brunt of something they are not even responsible for. Communication and accountability work hand in hand. Maybe I should stop here before I spill all the beans about why I felt the way that I did about that certain partner!


Findings of the project:

For someone who has never celebrated Christmas, Christmas lights have always fascinated me. Everyone puts up decorations to show their Christmas spirit, even if it’s something as small as fairy lights around a houseplant. It symbolizes love, life and happiness.


This year, Carnaby's décor was all about giving. Carnaby collaborated with Choose Love, a charity from Help Refugees. Carnaby Street, for the duration of the festive period, is also bathed in pink neon lights from a series of lightboxes running the length of the street. Each box has a positive word inside to pay tribute to the strength, courage and kindness of Londoners during this difficult year.

Over 115,000 lights now illuminate Covent garden. Central to the Covent Garden Christmas lights is London’s biggest hand-picked Christmas tree, which stands at a whopping 60 feet tall. Despite being the tallest tree of the bunch, it’s not the only one in Covent Garden’s winter forest. To further spruce the place up, they’ve just added more Christmas trees, each bedecked with its own unique set of decorations.

Final thoughts:

Overall, I’ve realized two heads are better than one, but also too many cooks spoil the broth. I think I’ll keep my future project groups to just two people. Or, maybe 3 people I really like. Though, even that is worrisome; what if we fallout because of a school project? Maybe “it’s not you, it’s me” cliché will work when explaining why I can’t pair up with a certain classmate? Ah! The very real struggle of a student in the 21st century.

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