One lady who was shielding and needed someone to do her shopping for her opened up to me that the reason her shopping list was so bare was that she just didn’t have the money for everything she really needed. Another gentleman told me he couldn’t have any perishable food because he didn’t have a fridge.
The more I heard the more I was shocked with how some people are really struggling and how much of it is just hidden away. None of these people, incidentally, asked me for help with those matters, but when our volunteers turned up with food they gratefully accepted. One of the first people we helped told me it was the first hot meal he’s had in three weeks. Countless times I heard someone say “I’ve never had to ask for help before…” I feel privileged that they accepted ours.
The real strength of the work is that our volunteers know all this intrinsically. They are sensitive, understanding and incredibly caring. Many have their own complicated backgrounds and can relate to others who are struggling. One of our volunteers told me how she is taking particular care with looking after a couple of families in a shelter because that’s the shelter she was once at with her daughter. Another one of our volunteers suffers from anxiety and depression but being able to cheer someone else up is giving her a sense of value. They are not just delivering food – they are spending time talking to those people who may not see anyone else all day. They are the ones who come back to me and say “I ended up talking to their neighbour and they could really do with some food too” I’m really proud that everyone is doing this work from a point of generosity – we have a lot to give. Let’s just share it. Let’s just get it out wherever it’s needed."
"What I’m most encouraged by is the number of people who after receiving some help have said to me “I didn’t know you existed… I would love to volunteer and give something back when all this is over”. That to me is the real legacy of the work and that is exactly what we need for our communities to thrive."
This made me think that holding garden parties at our own home for small numbers, might be the only way forward for ‘Footlights’ during the pandemic. I had wanted to do this to ‘bridge the gap’ across the Summer holiday anyway, but now it seems like the solution and ‘new normal’.
The risk of transmission is lower outdoors, as long as social distancing is observed, so it would perhaps be possible, when restrictions are lifted, to have some open-air sessions, for up to 10 people at a time. We could provide entertainment, a quiz, chat, safely served refreshments, a mooch around the plants, and much fun along the way in true ‘Footlights’ style! ‘The Friendship and Nostalgia Garden’ in Fox Elms Road, might be extremely popular.
We are also thinking of ways to initiate ‘Radio Footlights’, a mix of songs, humour and news to be recorded onto CDs and sent out by post.
This Lockdown could prove to be a very fruitful time, until we can all safely meet again , ‘some sunny day’..."
Martin Simon, GGT Trustee and Community Author
We are automatically turning to each other for emotional support, we are kinder and more encouraging, we care for and comfort each other. We are re-activating our common decency. Often, without us even realising it, three rudimentary prescriptions for successful communal living are back in vogue – 1) ‘live and let live’, 2) ‘give and take’ and 3) ‘speaking out' (against unfairness.)
So how do we make sure this continues after the pandemic passes? At Gloucestershire Gateway Trust much of what we do is based on the idea of “come together to make life better” and experience has taught us to stay as flexible as we can and use a combination of approaches when it comes to trying to stimulate social action.
Local organisations, groups and individuals, with their vast reservoirs of talent and ingenuity in every neighbourhood, are all different and all quite unique. Therefore, we invest in them to do it for themselves. This April we invested £100,000 in our nine partner organisations and we regularly supply the grease for the wheels of individuals and groups wanting to make something happen for the common good.
Our hope is that new possibilities will emerge to amplify and supplement the common decency quotient in Gloucestershire and so inspire people to stay connected far into the future. We have repeatedly observed that when people feel safe and well connected they become more open to new experiences and are more aware of the ways in which we are all interdependent.
We have a small a team of Neighbourhood Connectors who positively re-enforce collective acts of caring wherever they are to be found. They live locally and ARE – Available, Responsive and Engaged (albeit at the time of writing in lockdown, socially distanced and often on the telephone or online).
What does that mean and why is it important?
Our neighbourhood connectors develop a thorough understanding of each neighbourhood and explore new ways to meet up with and motivate people. They work in the public spaces where local people naturally gather. They walk the streets and knock on doors (when not in lockdown). They aim to be accessible, recognised, respected and tuned-in. They look out for “Local Hosts” to act as contact points - to spread news, talk about issues and organise social events - and listen. Overall neighbourhood connectors want people to feel good about themselves and their neighbourhoods and to know that if they should feel insecure or uncertain there are people around who care and can be reached easily.
Our neighbourhood connectors do not come up with solutions for local people, they ask questions and listen carefully and non-judgementally to their answers. They help people become more aware, spontaneous and close. Then they take a step back by creating space and time for people to make their own decisions and take whatever action they think is appropriate. (If they need additional resources or new contacts GGT will help them find them.) Neighbourhood connectors are positive and passionate about home-made social change. In the real world no-one is infallible, so if things do go wrong they are responsive and comforting but do not take on the responsibility for fixing the situation for people. They ask questions and see what can be learned from their mistakes and then shift the focus onto what is working well and on how to make it even better.
Neighbourhood connectors form relationships that are life-affirming and mutually supportive. They believe that everyone has the capacity to think for themselves, have fun and can contribute to the wellbeing of others. They are open, straight talking and honest. They approach their work with energy and candour and view every new connection as a potential friend. Being emotionally present means that they can form quality relationships that endure. When they find an isolated resident they make sure that he or she stays found. Only when they share a sense of common purpose and experience the solidarity needed for them to be courageous will neighbourhood connectors and residents really find out what is possible for them to achieve together.
Gloucestershire Gateway Trust is here for the long haul and when we emerge from this pandemic our experience and new learning about community development will contribute in no small way to common decency and interdependent, human connections being valued for generations to come.
Find out more about our LOOP team.
I’m already getting excited for the next phase, which will be our reopening plan. Imagine, we get to open sites up once again, just like I did back in 2015, but this time we will be bigger, better and stronger as we have so much more experience! I’m personally trying to focus on the positives, relish the break from the norm as best as I can, and ensure that I’m ready to hit the ground running as soon as we’re able to reopen. I can’t wait to see all my work family again soon. Stay safe."
Clare Skivington, GGT Community Support Manager
Mark Gale, CEO Gloucestershire Gateway Trust
The study also found that for more than half a million older people, Christmas isn’t something to look forward to because it brings back too many memories of people who have passed away and happier times.
This got me to thinking about a Facebook campaign I saw by a local woman; she wanted to invite someone lonely to Sunday dinner. Now we have all seen the adverts where this happens and everything is all amazing and happy families are seen smiling across lovely hot dinners and the old person is settled in and even the dog is there…but is that what life is really like?
I know if they came to mine I’d burn something and the beautiful crispy roast potatoes would be cooked by Aunt Bessie!! What if the person didn’t like meat or had an allergy to something I’d lovingly cooked. What if we run out of things to talk about, or they were cold or too hot, or the dog took a dislike to them; then I got really worried what about if they choked on my food…..Oh no.
Seriously, there really is a lot to think about, inviting someone into your home, but what is the alternative. I’d hate to think of someone alone and sad and I had the power to change that but panic made me stop. Would they even care if my desert didn’t look or taste like Mary Berry’s and that the husband fell asleep after dinner with the odd sound emitting from his body? There is only one way to find out, let’s do it... let’s share the gravy love."
Vanessa Worrall, Project Manager, Together in Matson
During the festive season, these problems can be intensified. Social isolation also affects children and not just the elderly. To alleviate loneliness, we can raise awareness and provide information and encourage groups and organisations to reach out to lonely individuals. There are ways to combat loneliness, but most of them start with you. By reaching out, someone else can reach you. However, no one organisation or person can tackle all social isolation. It is everyone’s business and we must look at how we can work collectively to tackle it.
Social isolation is not an issue specific to the festive season, but it can be harder for those people who have few people to connect with. So, over the coming weeks, as life becomes busier in the lead up to Christmas, it might be a good time to reflect on our own lives and think about how we can create more connected and inclusive communities.
It might be as simple as saying ‘hello’ to someone and starting a conversation, talking to a neighbour or smiling at someone when you are out shopping or walking in your local area. Think about offering someone a lift, offer to do some shopping or invite someone without family or friends to join you for a Christmas meal.
Here at GL Communities through the Phoenix Community Centre in Matson we've been hosting a number of events including a ‘Christmas Treats’ Workshop, Christmas Coffee Morning and through CCP (Caring for Communities & People) we are hoping to provide a number of Christmas Hampers and presents for individuals and families who are struggling to afford food and heating alongside the expectations of the festive season.
Here’s wishing you all a Happy Christmas.”
Steve Long, Health & Wellbeing Project Co-ordinator, GL Communities