The Multiplier: from a ripple to a wave of connection
Posted by Alex Smith on 25th November 2021
When The Cares Family started in 2011, we had no money, no clear plans and no direct experience of bringing people together. We just had a good idea to reduce loneliness by building intergenerational connection, a clear set of values and organising principles, and an understanding that people sharing time, conversation and new experiences with neighbours from different backgrounds could be healing.
Over the past decade that idea has grown from a tiny community into a movement working in five locations across the UK and with significant national and international influence. We have mobilised 25,000 older and younger people to be part of the community. Our model has featured in The Guardian, The Times, The Economist and on BBC, ITV and Channel 4 News, as well as in media around the world. In 2018, the world’s first ever government-level loneliness strategy, which we helped shape, was launched by the then-Prime Minister at a Cares Family event. And that same year, I was selected as one of 20 inaugural Obama Fellows to share learning with changemakers working in communities all around the world.
We have been on an extraordinary journey. And in that decade, we have learned that local relationships, and the agency they create, really can help build wider connection in a disconnected age.
But in that same period, I have also learned that social change work can be brutally hard. Resources for community are scarce. The people who have the biggest influence on our collective systems and cultures can feel remote, often unreachable, to the people with experience in communities. Getting to the point where The Cares Family was sustainable took tens of thousands of hours of work, which buffeted my own relationships and mental health. I was lucky: I had friends and family around me who could help. Nevertheless, the experience of building The Cares Family was often itself deeply isolating.
That’s why, when I returned from Chicago after my first Obama Fellows gathering, The Cares Family committed to a new ‘Action | Voice | Power’ strategy that would not only deepen our intergenerational communities in London, Liverpool and Manchester, but also allow us to share our learning with bridge-builders all across the country so that, together, we could help turn a ripple of connection into a wave.
The Multiplier is the first of our national projects seeking to spur that ripple effect, through a unique leadership programme based in part on the Obama Fellowship. Through the project, we have directed funds to some of the most promising local changemakers in the UK; matched these early-stage social entrepreneurs to coaches who have been there and done it; and helped nurture and connect communities which are already becoming more than the sum of their parts.
We are diversifying our programmes in this way because we recognise that disconnection affects different people in different ways; that loneliness is just one symptom of a broader social malaise that includes dislocation, separation, discrimination, marginalisation and polarisation. As The Cares Family’s recent report Building our Social Infrastructure says, ‘as a society, we will only overcome the challenges we face if we break open the pockets of power and powerlessness which shape modern Britain and invest communities with the trust and tools they require to unleash their area’s potential.’
That’s what The Multiplier seeks to do – as we came to describe our shared mission on the Obama Fellowship, to ‘reconcile the estranged.’ Over the coming years we will continue to invest in, connect, support and share our learning with brilliant bridge-builders all over the country. I hope you’re as inspired by the work of the first 10 Multipliers, and their impact on one another, as I am.