When everybody contributes, everyone feels part of something bigger
Posted by Alex Smith on 3rd June 2020
At a time when arguably the greatest gesture you can make to our society has been to stay home, it’s not always easy to find opportunities for connection and contribution in your community. However, while small acts of self care such as baking banana bread or catching up on that oft-forgotten reading list can bring a measure of satisfaction, they can also leave us feeling unfulfilled.
That’s because contributing to something greater than ourselves is vital for our wellbeing, and right now many of our usual opportunities to contribute have diminished. Some of us are no longer working, it’s unsafe for us to provide practical support to our loved ones and we can’t even offer a friend a closely-shared cuppa on Zoom.
Aware of this need, people are finding new ways to contribute in spite of the circumstances. In one London neighbourhood gifts are being left on doorsteps; a courgette plant one day, some homemade cookies another – the fruits of those solitary pursuits, like baking, given new meaning by being shared. In a Liverpool street, neighbours are playing a weekly game of bingo together in their front yards. These small actions of neighbourliness can make our streets suddenly feel reminiscent of communities described nostalgically by parents and grandparents; of close knit neighbours looking out for one another.
As people seek out new ways to contribute, at The Cares Family we’ve found it important to find opportunities for older and younger neighbours in our networks to contribute too. For those currently self-isolating – or for those who have been isolated for a long time – it’s more challenging to find ways to engage and give back. Our older neighbours, and those with health conditions, have been at home for weeks now, and although 'shielded' people are now able to venture outside, many don't feel safe to do so.
At the heart of everything we do is the idea that everyone has something to learn and something to share. Our neighbours have always been our pioneers – sharing their wisdom, humour and passions to better inform the programmes we run. Older and younger neighbours – a moniker we chose intentionally to express the power in civic experience and relationships – not only shape what we offer but even lead many of our social clubs.
Across The Cares Family, we have adapted programmes to suit these times of physical separation and neighbours are taking vital roles in making sure what we do works. In Liverpool, older people recently trialled the viability of technology that we now use for phone-in social clubs. Linda, Sylvia and Hannah dialled in to chat to Liverpool Cares’ Programme Coordinator, Abbie. They reflected on the process, and the challenges and possibilities this technology could create. Their insight was invaluable. Having been regulars with the Liverpool Cares from the start they were able to not only review the tech but also say whether it felt like a good fit. On their recommendation, phone-in social clubs have become a Liverpool Cares staple. That also informs the wider Cares Family approach: phone-in social clubs are now taking place in London and Manchester too. By listening to our neighbours’ needs we’ve been able to pilot and adapt quickly, co-designing content with the people who are part of it.
That’s the case across The Cares Family. Over at East London Cares an older neighbour, who’d initially found getting online intimidating, is now running a regular online social club. In Manchester, Ged recently hosted a quiz. Parents in our 3G project have been sharing ideas and activities for weekly social clubs over Zoom, reflecting on how their children respond. During this period of trying new things, each of our branches is learning so much from one another, and so much from the inspiring neighbours who form the network.
At The Cares Family, contribution is built into what we do. It’s no surprise that sometimes older neighbours attending social clubs are asked how long they’ve worked for The Cares Family. One of the pleasures of this period has been seeing how our neighbours have pushed us to change. Our neighbours have been collaborators through this period of uncertainty as they were before the crisis hit – from submitting contributions to our #AloneTogether activity packs, to testing out new technology options – and throughout all of this suggesting how we can best stay together while we’re physically apart.
We don’t have all the answers, but by opening space for the community itself to try new things, we know we’ll continue to explore new, exciting ways of staying connected during this disconnecting time.
If you want to help neighbours to continue to shape our work during this time of crisis, you can donate here. £40 could pay for the creation and distribution of 10 Alone Together Activity Packs.