Meet our Community Champions
Posted by Johanna Brooks on 29th November 2021
Our vision is for a better-connected society, where power can be shared more equitably through local, mutual, meaningful relationships across the generations and other perceived divides. And we know that when people talk about both their personal experiences of disconnection and loneliness and how good relationships and strong connections in their neighbourhoods have helped, people sit up, listen and take action.
That’s why, three months ago, we launched a new initiative called Community Champions. Community Champions puts the microphone in the hands of our older and younger neighbours and — through media training and collaborative storytelling opportunities — supports them to share their stories of how relationships formed through our work have unlocked meaning, purpose and belonging in their lives and communities.
We started the project with very clear aims:
- To surface the voices of people in our communities;
- To ensure that our neighbours feel safe, supported and empowered to share their stories with us and the media;
- To help us to proactively work with the press;
- To improve our communications by sharing in-depth story features across our websites, social media and blast emails;
- To build up a collaboratively created bank of stories, quotes and beautiful images from each branch that have full sign off for use by the fundraising team — for trust and foundation applications, corporate proposals, our annual report and more.
In order to find our Community Champions, we hosted an online storytelling social club that was attended by 41 older and younger neighbours from across our five branches. Neighbours shared stories, and spoke about the power our stories can hold, and then invited neighbours to apply to become Community Champions. We also directly reached and invited neighbours to apply who were part of our Love Your Neighbour programme, and in the end 15 older and younger neighbours from across our branches signed up to take part in the programme.
In the survey we sent to Community Champions at the start of their involvement, the top reasons they gave for signing up to the programme were:
- To give back to my community;
- To support The Cares Family.
And, when asked what they hoped to get out of the programme specifically, neighbours told us:
“To encourage people to join in with Cares, not to feel alone but to fit in and take part with an amazing group of younger and older people and have an adventure.”
“Being more confident. To be able to speak in public and to learn new skills.”
“I would like to be able to give back to Manchester Cares, also get more older, younger people involved as it is an amazing Organization. (sic).”
Meet our community champions, and hear from some of them why they share our vision for better-connected communities:
So far, we’ve held media training days in Manchester and London where together, older and younger neighbours talked about The Cares Family’s mission to help people find connection in a disconnected age, and received media training from the brilliant Little Village in London, and Talking About My Generation in Manchester.
And after just three months, our Community Champions have already shared their stories with the press:
- Claire and Chrissy have been featured in Positive News;
- Dina and Chrissy were interviewed for NRD;
- Sarath has appeared on the 70 over 70 podcast;
- Anne and Trish are going to be featured in The Mill.
But Community Champions is about more than just creating media-trained spokespeople. It’s about creating local ambassadors who believe in our vision, and who feel empowered to use their story of connection to inspire others to believe in the power of connection and community too. To that end, neighbours have already been using their voice in this way:
- Sarath shared his story with The October Club - a fundraising event attended by 400 people;
- Sarah and Marion are speaking at a Christmas event hosted by Together in December;
- Corinne, Eleanor and Linda met with a potential funder at Liverpool Cares, and helped us to secure a grant for our work;
- All of our Community Champions have lent their voices to our most recent report.
When we started this trial three months ago, we’d envisaged each cohort being in place for six months, and we certainly have plenty in the pipeline for our inaugural cohort over the next three months before we begin outreach for the next group.
But the biggest thing that we've learnt is that our neighbours don’t want to be ambassadors for six-month stints. While Community Champions may have given them a new opportunity to share their story, in reality, these neighbours have been ambassadors for connection and community since their first social club, Love Your Neighbour visit or phone call. It's our communities and our programmes that create ambassadors for our vision. Community Champions is just a new way to surface those voices.