As a new member of the RSA’s Connected Communities team, I have been eager to hit the ground running and learn about the potential partner organisations in our various sites across the country. As such I was delighted to be able to attend a meeting in a cosy Lewisham pub on Monday evening, attended by a number of representatives from community organisations in New Cross Gate who are interested in developing new ways of cooperating and helping to build the social capital of isolated elderly people in the area.
- Littlehampton Cafe Bus: a great-sounding project being run near another of our Connected Communities sites
One attendee, Kerry Hagger of Ageing Well, is doing some really valuable work identifying and engaging with particularly isolated people in the local community. High on the agenda for the meeting was to find ways of building partnerships to help take her work to more people and bring broader sections of the community together.
Kerry spoke about a national organisation called Contact the Elderly, to which she has referred clients. Contact the Elderly’s model is that, once a month, volunteers open their home to host an afternoon tea, attended by a group of around 10-15 older people. The group travels to different hosts each month, and so each volunteer only has to host the event on average once a year, meaning that the workload for each individual is minimalised.
We discussed the possibility of establishing a New Cross Gate project based on the Contact the Elderly model, but with a greater emphasis on knitting together the various community organisations and resources already working in the area. In this version, a kind of roving social club could be formed, with different organisations acting as the host each month instead of (or as well as) individual volunteers’ homes. Examples of these hosts could be JOY (Just Older Youth), who organise arts and crafts activities for older people, the Lewisham Pensioners Forum, and Goldsmiths Student Union. The idea is that, as well as becoming part of a regular social club, participants would in effect get a tour of the various other community resources and service providers in the area, thus building their useful social networks, making new friends, and coming into contact with other individuals and groups who can help them.
There is plenty still to discuss and a number of hurdles to negotiate before any such project comes to fruition: how would we transport a large group of senior citizens around Lewisham once a month? Is a volunteer car pool viable, or would we need to look for funding for a minibus? How might we secure funding for a part time coordinator to keep the project together and make sure everybody is in the right place every month? Is there a possibility of establishing a Community Interest Company or Social Enterprise to help to formalise and grow the initiative?
Lots to think about then, but this was a very encouraging early meeting and a highly constructive demonstration of the vibrancy and creative thinking of the community we’re working with in New Cross Gate.
If any Fellows or other RSA supporters can offer any advice or guidance on the funding or logistics of this project idea, or on any other area of the Connected Communities programme, then please contact me, the Connected Communities Project Developer, at [email protected]