Whenever I tell people I’m from Stoke-on-Trent, I see them wince. They say “Oh, I went through there on the train once”. What they don’t realise is that Stoke is full of some of the friendliest and most generous people you can find. A stokie can sniff another from a mile off through a few simple utterances, such as ‘aup duck’ or ‘b/oo/k, l/oo/k and c/oo/k’. We beam with pride to be hometown to the legendary (yes legendary) Robbie Williams and Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor; and ‘lest we not forget the mighty oatcake...
But, like many people of my generation I moved away 8 years ago in search of “pastures new”. After years of passing off my compulsive Big Brother addiction as an ‘exploration of social narratives’, I was delighted to find that I could get a degree in delving into people’s livelihoods... So off I popped to the faraway lands of Brighton, equipped with the obligatory Bob Marley poster to study Anthropology at the University of Sussex.
Scroll in hand, I headed to London to see what all the fuss was about. Having always had a fascination with the commonalities and differences between people, I was thrilled at the prospect of living in a city where- every day, I was to brush past people with different backgrounds and viewpoints to my own. But in reality, something was missing. It felt as if everyone was scuttling past me confined in their own individual jam jar; loneliness hanging in the air like a thick smog. I soon became tired of shuttling between work and dozing on the sofa and eventually decided to book a one-way ticket to South America.
In preparation I signed up to an evening Spanish class and from here- unanticipated- I developed an entirely new sense of connection with the city around me. For the first time since moving to London, I was connecting with people outside of my, in retrospect, *slimline* social sphere. All of a sudden, I was hanging out with a Civil Servant, a builder from Romania, a retired couple from Brixton. What I hadn’t realised before was that living alongside people with different backgrounds and outlooks is not enough. To spend time with each other and to share and understand each other’s experiences- that’s something different entirely...
I spent the next few months travelling around South America, the sense of community a prevalent theme throughout. Nowhere more so, than a neighbourhood in Colombia called Comuna 13 (an area devastated by the Colombian Conflict for the past 58 years). Over the past three years, the district has gone through an immense transformation. The walls are emblazoned with powerful graffiti murals which depict the conflict experienced by the comuna and the strength and importance of community action who, together in solidarity, waved white flags, calling for peace.
After returning to the UK, I've become a (self-acclaimed) champion of community. Even if it’s through something as simple as a Spanish class, every single person needs to be reminded about the importance of connection. What South London Cares does with enabling people of all ages and backgrounds to ‘connect’ through involvement in collective, community-based activities really is something special, and I’m so excited to get stuck in as the new Social Clubs Coordinator.
Posted by Olivia Broomfield on Wednesday 31st October 2018
Olivia designs and delivers Social Clubs across Southwark and Lambeth. Previously Olivia was an English Teacher in Madrid, and was a volunteer at a Refugee Centre where she ran free English workshops.