Introducing Lena - our new Outreach and Engagement Coordinator

Introducing Lena - our new Outreach and Engagement Coordinator

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When I first moved to London, I was lucky enough to find a community almost already created for me - a bunch of other Erasmus students, coming from all different parts of Europe finding themselves in the exciting and buzzing city that is London!
It was the perfect opportunity of getting to know a new city with people who were just as new to it as I was, all whilst getting to know more about many other communities from all over the world.

Studying in the heart of Greenwich meant that South London became my new home, venturing into central on the weekends, but mainly exploring my local community. I loved spending my time in Deptford at the market, exploring the local arts community and going out in Elephant and Castle's Corsica Studios. The constant change of the city felt exciting and new and I wanted to get to know as many local communities as possible, leading me to move to new parts of South London every 9 months or so. I ended up getting to know Greenwich, Deptford, Lewisham, New Cross and Elephant & Castle, before making the move north of the river.
Not long after my move to Stoke Newington, lockdown hit and I found myself in a new community, but unable to explore the people that made it. I got to know the ins and outs of the streets and parks of Hackney, but I felt isolated and lonely - most of my friends were still living South.

About two years ago, I finally made the move back to Elephant & Castle, but I found myself lost in a community so different to the one I had once known so well. My first week back marked the beginning of the demolition of the Elephant & Castle shopping centre and the unveiling of lots of fancy new high rises all sold to investors from abroad, which in addition to the remnants of lockdown, felt like living in an empty city.

During this time, I was also working for a social enterprise aiming to support ex-offenders and people at risk of crime into sustainable employment, which meant I spent a lot of time working with and learning from a marginalised group, experiencing a (forced) lack of connection to community. This lack of connection has many reasons, including spending time in a microenvironment, unaware of changes and developments in the community left behind, or active exclusion from communities due to the stereotypes associated with incarceration.

After working with individuals with lived experience for the past three years and being confronted with isolation and lack of connection to communities, I was looking for something that would help people feel more connected. South London Cares does exactly that, creating nourishing and supportive environments that allow all kinds of different people from the community to feel more connected and be open to people from all kinds of experiences from many different backgrounds. As a result, genuine friendships are developed and isolation and loneliness in the community are reduced.

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My role as Outreach and Engagement Coordinator means that I'm responsible for finding new opportunities to grow and support the community and enable as many new neighbours to join as possible. To do this sustainably, it is important to understand what neighbours think of and value about the existing community, which means I spent my first couple of weeks getting to know a bunch of them an hear their experience over the past months and years.

In my first month I was able to come along to the Technology Club and actually answer some questions about older neighbours' gadgets, although I couldn't quite help Bill change his hard drive (if you know how to why not pop by our next Tech Club?). I had the pleasure of joining Jacquie and David at Pub Club, popular amongst both older and younger neighbours. Jacquie and David have been coming to our clubs for the past seven years and told me all about their favourite activities over the years, the best parties they've been to and Jacquie raved about the cocktail making masterclass.

I was able to come along with Emily, our Love Your Neighbour Coordinator in Southwark, to meet Mary and David to get to know more about them and find the perfect friendship match. It was incredibly lovely to be so welcomed into their homes and listen to their amazing stories and learn about Southwark and meeting your future husband on a dance floor in the 1950s!

Taking part in the King's College London Volunteer Fair allowed me to get to know more about our younger neighbours and get to spread the word about the amazing friendships and community here at South London Cares.

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I am excited to be part of the Cares Family and happy to be part of a community as welcoming as the one here at South London Cares. It's been a fun first month and I'm looking forward to meeting many more neighbours, new and longstanding, and work with the amazing partners in our community!

Lena Koessner

Posted by Lena Koessner on Friday 10th February 2023

Lena is the Outreach and Engagement Coordinator at South London Cares