Josh Elton is a Group Facilitator for Standing Together Cymru – a project which aims to improve mental health, wellbeing and build community connections through peer support groups. Here, he shares some insights into the role that kindness has played in these groups since lockdown.
Once at a peer support group, a newly widowed woman looked to an older widow for advice. She was told “you need to find your new normal”. To me this is incredibly powerful. This was a genuine heartfelt moment of kindness between two equals.
Facilitating neighbours to become friends
For the last 18 months Standing Together Cymru has been a project that encourages people in later life to get together and engage in deeper conversations. We aim to reduce loneliness and isolation in later life housing schemes by facilitating neighbours to become friends.
The impact of the coronavirus outbreak on connection
It felt like we were playing a fruitful game of scrabble and the COVID-19 outbreak just flipped the board, ruining a great game we were on track to win. It is now illegal to congregate, isolation is mandated and neighbours who became friends are cut off once more.
Finding a new normal for the project
We miss the project we had, but we have had to find a new normal. We developed a telephone service, crucially putting social interaction between people at its heart. We started by making contact with our participants. With permission we were able to pass on messages from one neighbour to another, sometimes providing people with the only contact they’d had from their friends in weeks. We have since moved on to making ‘conference calls’. Using just a mobile phone we are able to merge calls between our participant’s landlines; connecting friends who haven’t spoken for over a month.
Creativity during the coronavirus outbreak
There is great capacity to be creative and kind in peer support groups. A partially sighted group member loves quizzes, but cant take part in the paper quiz the residential scheme are running currently. We were able to conference call her and three friends to do a telephone quiz, which she then went on to win! Such sessions are heart-warming and fulfilling, but the real power of our project comes in the kindness shown by the participants to each other between sessions. This kindness continues even after our six months with them ends.
Why kindness matters to our project
We spent six months doing weekly sessions in Avalon Court. Pam, a group member, told me “we used to go to coffee morning or play bingo and just go straight home. But in Wednesday Group we got to know things about each other we never would before… we became friends.” In light of the COVID-19 pandemic Standing Together Cymru decided to reconnect with the group.
It’s been incredible to hear of the way they have helped each other since lockdown. Colleen has been making ice slices and lasagnes for everyone. Pam went out to buy fish paste and spam for everyone to celebrate VE day from a distance. Pam said “I love how nice everyone is being. I really hope that things don’t go back to the way they were when this is all over.” In some ways the new normal isn’t as bad is it first seemed.
If we make space for kindness, it will grow
The purpose of the Standing Together Cymru project was to ‘build resilience in later life communities through peer support’. As impressive as that sounds, what it boils down to for me is kindness. As nice as my part of the job is, it’s not my kindness that matters. I can’t make that many lasagnes and I wouldn’t know where to start with an ice slice!
Our capacity is limited, but mankind’s capacity for kindness is not. All we have to do is make a space for it and it will grow.