Guest Blog:Community Resources: Building Belonging During Lockdown
Authored by Sally Dixon, Open Doors Project Co-ordinator
If you’d asked me for a list of phrases associated with ‘Lockdown’, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have included, ‘The best birthday I can remember’! (I did actually celebrate my birthday during lockdown and it was nice, but maybe not the best one ever!) Anyway, this was the feedback from one of our Community Hub members whose birthday was a couple of weeks ago. That day, eight people arrived at his door at different times with cards, presents and a cake. Small gestures that made a huge difference. ‘I never realised I was so popular,’ he told us!
That got me thinking about the effect of those small gestures, and about the motivation behind what we at Community Resources do.
In ‘normal’ times we run a fairly packed weekly programme at the Hub: English classes, Pilates, Tots and Tinies, Craft Group, Lunch Club … to name but a few. There’s a real buzz in the place as people come to join in with a group, meet up with friends or give their time to volunteer. Up the road, on Green Lane, The Corner Coffee House provides another welcoming place for people to connect and belong. In both places we often hear, ‘I’m at home here. It feels like family.’
So, when Lockdown happened and we had to close, it was a shock to the system. How on earth could we keep it feeling like family? How can you maintain relationships that have been steadily built, face to face, over endless cups of tea, washing up together, sorting through donated clothes, setting up for groups or popping in to visit one another, if you can’t physically meet? When you’re rubbing shoulders day-by-day real conversations happen - friendships are formed and strengthened. Suddenly it had all got a lot more complicated.
Gates Closed- Now what?
We couldn’t really imagine how it was all going to work out, but we made plans to at least keep in touch by phoning people and writing cards – it was a start.
And then we thought, would it be possible to still run most of our activities via Zoom? It seemed like a crazy idea – how do you do virtual Carpet Bowls?!! And what about people who don’t have access to the internet? However, three months on, assisted by funding to help us get people online, we’ve had almost 200 zoom sessions with an average of 90 people a week attending across all activities. Some are simple gatherings to catch up with one another, some – like Pilates – are actual online classes, but all of them give an opportunity for people to connect and keep in contact. You can see our programme here if you’re interested.
We’ve also been out and about - as much as the guidelines have allowed – picking up surplus food via Fareshare and other networks; distributing meals; delivering cards and gifts or simply knocking on doors to check how people are doing. One of our unsung heroes thought nothing of walking a couple of miles to knock on a few doors and sit outside to have a socially-distanced chat. People tell us it brightens their day to get a visit or a delivery. As one of our Hub members told us, ‘It’s not so much the food, it’s knowing that it’s coming that makes the difference. It’s encouragement.’
A team of volunteers have also made themselves available for BD CAN, partnering with the council to do shopping, pick up prescriptions and deliver food packages for local residents. From this, a phone befriending team has sprung up, again in partnership with the council. They are calling people weekly to chat and encourage them to join in with virtual activities that are taking place all over the borough.
So that’s the ‘what’. But what about the ‘why’, the motivation that I mentioned? I think it’s that word ‘family’ that really sums it all up for me. We all need to feel connected - to belong, to be accepted and valued. Places where we can feel at home and have a valid role are so important. And it’s not always easy to find those places in a society where loneliness and a feeling of disconnection has become an all-too-common experience. It should matter to all of us when we hear that someone feels isolated.
These are challenging times and we know it continues to be a struggle for so many. But we are still here and, whilst our gates have had to close, we’re working hard at doing whatever it takes to maintain connection - bringing hope and fostering that sense of belonging and family that really makes a difference.
Have a look at our Lockdown video