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
Gloucester Services has made the news again in the last few days as the business was given planning approval for a 74 bedroom hotel on its southbound side by Stroud District Council. Gloucester Services sits just inside Stroud district, with the Gloucester border literally running up the side of the site. The approved proposals have been reduced in size by about 25% following recent consultation with local residents and stakeholders.
Like most significant capital projects the new hotel may take some time to come to fruition. However one thing is certain, that when it does, this new development will make another significant contribution to nearby communities and the wider local economy by generating more jobs for local people, as well as income for our community partners.
The hotel designs have been created by Glenn Howells Architects, the same architects who helped create our fantastic Gloucester Services buildings. Designed in the spirit of local agricultural buildings, the new hotel will blend in with the local landscape providing a special place for motorway travellers to rest and recuperate whilst getting an opportunity to sample the great tastes of Gloucestershire and find out what the county has to offer to visitors.
So we are looking forward to helping you have even ‘Happier Travels’ on the M5, whilst also making even more of a contribution to our neighbouring communities.
Chief Executive, Gloucestershire Gateway Trust
To celebrate Communities Week 2019, we spoke to GGT's Community Support Manager Clare Skivington about what community means to her and bringing people together at Gloucester Services.
I also get to work with our community partners to bring fun activities to Gloucester Services to show what they do, spend time in local schools talking about careers and meet new and existing local producers. GGT also support some amazing local events I'm able to go along to in our communities, including bake-offs, school competitions and wicker sheep making!
What would be your advice to anyone reading this about how they can get involved in their community, and why should they?
Think about what you enjoy, if it’s woodwork, sport, cooking, gardening, music or just talking to people. Everyone has a hidden talent – really, and you will be surprised how sharing your skills can really help people connect and you too will learn from others, join in to help and celebrate what we have. Keep an eye out at your local community centre, schools or libraries, or contact GGT we can put you in touch with our community partners.
What are your hidden talents?
I asked my husband and he said dancing when sober! I'm also a trained Forest School leader, I make a good hummus and I like running, I've run the London Marathon before.
What’s the best example of community building you have seen or been part of?
I would have to say Gloucester Services, the story of how it came about, people talking to each other in the local Community Café in Matson (the Matson Gateway), talking about their futures, their needs and a vision. With the help of the community, local people and Westmorland, we have a unique model and a way where business and the community can work alongside each other, it’s fascinating, it’s not all plain sailing but we are creating a circular economy for our colleagues, suppliers and the company, we know with all our assets we can do more, so watch this space!
Gloucester Services is proud to support over 130 local producers within 30 miles, all of which have great stories to tell. We spoke to Deborah of Cinderhill Farm about the good life, sausage rolls and supporting the local job market.
The beautiful dark soil here (cinder coloured from the arrow heads that used to be made here at St Briavels Castle - hence the ancient name of Cinderhill Farm) produced large crops of both. More than we could cope with in fact!
From that first lot of pork, our now famous sausage rolls were born - from a proliferation of our pork and insufficient funds at the time to buy more than a little pastry! That ratio has remained as from the outset people responded so warmly to what they often termed '....the best sausage roll I have ever tasted!'.
Where we live in the far reaches of the Forest of Dean, on the edge of the River Wye, there are not many jobs. Where there are jobs, there was a tendency for zero hour contracts, seasonal work, and with almost no public transport, the prospects for young people in the area were limited. In the Forest of Dean there is no facility for studying to A'Level - something that is only just changing thanks to statutory and voluntary services and business working together to change that for the future.
The reliability of custom from Gloucester Services has enabled Cinderhill Farm to offer permanent full time contracts for staff, to invest in training and to help to provide for 10 households in the area. Our business's trade has in turn helped provide stability of trade for other businesses on whom we depend - such as our butcher, the (licensed) hunter who shoots our wild boar, and other farmers producing not only meat but also eggs. All this in an area with such an emphasis on tourism for trade. It has a really sustainable impact on life and the community.
But above all? It is the relationships with the people who work at and who are both Gloucester Services, Westmorland and GGT who have created this innovative and highly effective visionary partnership. I think we will always be thankful for it!"
"Our best seller is the Original Sausage Roll, though the Sheriff (named by Gloucester Services in fact!) is catching it up fast! We have now made so many rolls in our tiny high tech professional kitchen on our farm (in a double garage) that, if laid end to end, would leave Gloucester Southbound Forecourt and arrive somewhere close to Bristol Airport!"