Re-inventing programmes for extraordinary times
Posted by Alex Smith on 13th April 2020
By Alex Smith
A month ago, on March 13th, The Cares Family suspended face-to-face activity amid the emerging Covid-19 crisis – because our neighbours' health is our number one priority.
It was a painful decision to shut down programmes we'd spent nearly a decade building, but especially so because many of the older people in our communities are most vulnerable to the effects not just of the awful new virus, but also of social isolation. From early on, fear of loneliness was presenting as strongly as fear of the illness itself.
So as we suspended our regular activity, we promised:
"The Cares Family will continue to communicate with our older neighbours remotely, to make sure people feel part of our changing world, rather than left behind by it. That is more important now than ever. So over the next six weeks, we will develop new ways for older and younger neighbours to stay in touch – by chatting on the phone, by sharing favourite books and films remotely, by sending one another videos, and by generally nurturing the ties that bind us together: our relationships."
Today, we're proud to share how we've re-invented our programmes for these extraordinary times – always maintaining connection, community and our values (kindness, community, trust, bravery, learning) at their heart.
As we thought up new ways to keep people together, nothing in our programmes was sacrosanct; our fidelity was to the connection of older and younger people in our communities, rather than to our traditional ways of working.
But what we've learned again is that those long-developed programmes hold deep value. So, fittingly perhaps – as we all re-discover the timeless in an age of rapid change – our new work broadly falls back into our existing frameworks, with some exciting new additions.
- Social Clubs – in normal times, our social clubs are group activities bringing older and younger neighbours together to share time, laughter and new experiences. Sessions include our much-loved dance parties, new technology workshops, choirs, Desert Island Discs nights and so much more. These have now become Virtual Social Clubs – quizzes, group yoga sessions, history groups, discussion groups and more. We're aware that only about 40% of the older people we work with have smartphones or WiFi at home – so we've also developed ways that people can call into these clubs from their landlines too.
- Love Your Neighbour – in normal times, this programme brings together older and younger people to share time and friendship one-to-one, often in people's homes. Friends share meals, games, company and companionship, bringing a little of the outside world in for people who can struggle to get out. Now that all of us are more physically distant, these relationships have moved onto the phones. Long-standing friends like Lauren and Florence are calling one another regularly, including on FaceTime. We're also making new matches between younger and older neighbours who will speak often for the duration of the crisis through our new Phone a Friend project.
- Outreach – in normal times, our outreach is how we identify and invite older and younger neighbours to be part of the community. We go to where people are, through door-knocking on local estates; stalls at supermarkets, chemists and GP surgeries; and events at faith groups and community centres. We also exchange referrals with our partners across our neighbourhoods. Our re-invented Outreach will still focus on those key referral routes to help older neighbours get what they need but will also now include weekly check-in calls from our staff to neighbours most likely to be isolated by the lockdown, as well as deliveries of food and medical supplies where those are needed.
- #AloneTogether – all this reinvented work will be facilitated by our brand new #AloneTogether activities which harness technologies old and new to help neighbours stay connected in a disconnecting time. Every month for as long as the crisis continues, we will invite younger and older neighbours to share poems, games, jokes, recipes and creative arts projects online and by post to offer a little reflection, distraction and connection. In April, we sent 3,887 of these daily activity packs to older neighbours who are part of East London Cares, Liverpool Cares, Manchester Cares, South London Cares and North London Cares. And we're inspired that the packs have also been downloaded over 2,200 times and shared by individuals, community organisations, businesses and councils across the country.
All of this work is being powered by people through our crowdfunders and partnerships with so many wonderful local, national and international foundations and businesses. We couldn't help so many older and younger people stay connected without you – thank you, and please donate if you can (all gifts are being doubled).
One of the partners which has helped The Cares Family to grow and progress over many years is Nesta. Over recent weeks Nesta have been supporting The Cares Family to evaluate our re-invented programmes for this moment of emergency even as we've been developing them. You can read those mini-evaluations of our new projects below.
As we now grow these new projects, The Cares Family is also focusing on thought leadership to help encourage and enable communities to stay together at a difficult time. We're proud that, over the past month, our messages of hope have been shared by the Mayor of London and Leader of the Opposition here at home, as well as Barack Obama and Chelsea Clinton abroad. And we're proud that our work has been picked up by media including Sky News, The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Huffington Post, Reasons To Be Cheerful podcast, Big Issue North, BBC London News and many local newspapers and radio stations.
These times are hard – and they are hardest, of course, for the tens of thousands of people who are losing loved ones without feeling the solace and closeness of relatives, and without the rituals of passing; and for those working in the NHS and so many other key jobs. We are aware that while we are all in this together, some are in it more than others. In our work in local communities, we have never forgotten you or your efforts and have always been so proud to partner with you and to call you our friends. We send special gratitude to you all now.
Finally, we want to send all the love in the world, from The Cares Family to your family, with all the solidarity and hope that this moment will pass, and we will be together again soon. The world may never be the same as it was. We hope that, in all the pain of this moment and after it is over, we will remember the people, relationships and community that really matter – and the action, voice and power that we need desperately to amplify and share more equitably in this disconnected age, through the power of our relationships. We are all we have.