Connecting across neighbourhoods, cities and the world
Posted by Rosa Friend on 23rd March 2021
When we first started delivering virtual programmes at The Cares Family, it's fair to say that most of us couldn't wait to return to face-to-face work. We missed our family of neighbours and colleagues. We missed the way a few bourbon biscuits, a milky cup of tea, some tables and chairs and a group of older and younger neighbours could transform a room into a hub of community and connection.
We certainly didn't think that we'd want to keep an element of digital programming when planning a return to face-to-face programmes a year later. But we're doing just that.
Because one of the unexpected joys of the pandemic has been hearing stories of people from across cities and across the world who have been able to join our programmes online.
Here are just a few of those stories.
Jordana – North London Cares younger neighbour, living and working in America:
"It's so funny because now I've been back in the US longer than I was living in the UK, but sometimes it surprises me how much I remember. Small things, like guessing candy bar names at quiz club, remind me of my time in London."
Jordana is from America and relocated to London for three years between 2014 and 2017 through her financial firm. While she lived in London, Jordana joined the North London Cares network to get to know her new community.
Three years later, in May 2020, back in the States, Jordana started nursing school during, as she describes it, "the heat of Covid". When her nursing degree required a few hours of community service, Jordana asked whether she could participate with North London Cares’ new virtual social clubs remotely.
"I was welcomed with open arms!"
Jordana was juggling gruelling hours on the front-line of the pandemic, dealing with the loss of a close family member to the virus and studying. Yet she still found the time to join virtual social clubs, even after her project finished, because they remind her of her connection to north London and give her much-needed respite.
"North London Cares’ clubs are the highlight of my week or month. The virtual clubs are a break from my day of studying or doing work that always leaves me feeling better than before the event. Without a doubt, my favourite events are the quizzes, and I love hosting a round here and there too!"
Beverley – South London Cares older neighbour, based in Newcastle during the pandemic:
"As soon as the email comes through, I sign up to the clubs I want to come to. Then I put them in my diary, so I know what I have to look forward to in my day. While I was up in Newcastle, I tried not to miss any of them!"
Beverley has been attending South London Cares’ social clubs since 2017. She had just retired and was wondering how to fill her time when she saw an article in one of her mother's union magazines: "I saw an article about [The Cares Family] – I called the number and spoke directly with Alex, the person who started South London Cares, and that's how I joined!"
Beverley lives alone, but she is a social butterfly. She has been to 119 social clubs at South London Cares and has brought several friends to our clubs over the years. Many of us can relate to the toll that the pandemic, and resulting isolation, brought to Beverley's mental health:
"It's the loneliness. I'm sure if you speak to other people who live on their own, they'll agree. It's hard not having anywhere to go in the day. I take it in my stride and try not to let it get me down."
Beverley's family are based across the globe. Her son lives in Bahrain, and her daughter in Newcastle. She based herself in Newcastle for some of the pandemic to help her daughter with childcare but still kept coming to the virtual clubs. For Beverley, those online clubs have been a way to stay connected to her community and keep her social life active:
"I love the quizzes! Sometimes we did a disco where I could get up and dance, but my real joy is the quiz!"
Joe – Manchester Cares younger neighbour, living in the east of England.
"Having Hakeen keeping me updated about life in Moss Side helps me keep in touch with how the city is. And having him as my own personal Mancunian musical historian is great too! Although it does make me miss nights out in Manchester a lot…"
Joe first joined Manchester Cares after moving to the city from London. He told us:
"I originally come from a very rural small village where everyone knows everyone, so after living in big cities for a few years, I missed that sense of intergenerational community."
In January 2019, Joe was matched with Hakeem through Manchester Cares’ Love Your Neighbour programme. After over a year of friendship, the start of the pandemic coincided with Joe moving to the east of England. While pre-Covid a move out to of the city could have meant the end of that friendship, our Phone a Friend adaptation meant that Joe and Hakeem could stay in touch over the phone.
Joe’s friendship with Hakeem has kept him connected with Manchester, but it has also helped him navigate the pandemic. He said:
"It's been so good chatting with Hakeem during the pandemic as he is always looking at the bigger picture and doesn't get caught up in all the little stresses. Also, with his love of music and football, we have lots of other things to talk about that can take our minds off current events."
These stories don’t just show how intergenerational relationships can provide solace and solidarity, perspective and patience during a pandemic. They tell us something more too. They show us that citizens of the world are still citizens of somewhere – that our roots can be nurtured even from afar if we make an effort to stay together, and that in a disconnecting time, the route to togetherness lies through our relationships with our places, and the people that make them special.