At the end of May, volunteers on the Love Your Neighbour programme across North and South London Cares came together with the help of our corporate partner Tideway. Over drinks and a view of the Thames (thanks Tideway!), volunteers introduced themselves to one another and enthusiastically chatted away about their friendships with their older neighbours. The room buzzed with laughter, and a sense of togetherness.
The evening held the same purpose as its predecessor, six months earlier: to bring volunteers together who, due to the one-to-one nature of the Love Your Neighbour programme, can sometimes feel isolated in their volunteering experience.
Why? Firstly, to thank each and every volunteer for the time, energy, and effort they put into their friendships. From new volunteers, just getting to know their older neighbours, to 3 year friendships that have blurred the lines of friendship into family, the room was filled with people who have built friendships that mean something to them.
The feeling is mutual from older neighbours. Often, we learn that friendships made on the programme increase confidence. “It’s made a big difference to my life,'' said one older neighbour. “She put me at ease, she’s easy to talk to and we get on very well. It feels very comfortable. After being on my own for so long I found my speech got worse, but if I go out and chat with people I can hear and feel it improve.”
We also notice that some older neighbours feel happier (“she’s very bubbly, very lively, and laughs a lot. She’s really chatty. She lifts me. I always feel really happy knowing she’s coming and after she’s gone”), and more connected to our rapidly changing surroundings (“the fact that she’s young means she has different views and experiences different things, which is really interesting to me. It’s a good insight into how young people are living! They’re all vegan”). The evening gave us a chance to share some of these conversations, which, one volunteer said, “reminds me why I joined”.
Since the last volunteer evening in October, older and younger neighbours had spent a phenomenal 2425 hours together chatting, laughing, learning new skills, discovering new places, and sharing hobbies. We mused on Coralie and Dot’s nail painting sessions, Matilda and Frank’s crosswords, Tatiana and Beatrice’s Turkish takeaway, and Mike and Dexter’s trips to the pub: all, though different, equally inspiring friendships.
The evening also gave us an opportunity to problem-solve in groups, because, as well as absorbing the really positive stuff, it’s equally as important to address and work through the challenges of volunteering on the programme together. For one volunteer, “getting to speak to other volunteers about their experiences who have been involved for a longer period than myself” was really beneficial. Conversations reinforced safeguarding procedures, saw volunteers offer up advice and exchange experiences, and hopefully reinforced that we’re here to support every friendship.
Finally, we were lucky enough to have a presentation from Opening Doors London, a brilliant and inspiring organisation providing services and support to lesbian, gay, bi and trans+ people over 50. Jim Glennon’s captivating talk took us through the social history of exclusion that has shaped most older LGBT+ people’s lives, giving ourselves and volunteers a vital (and often forgotten) perspective on social isolation. For lots of volunteers, this was a highlight of the evening: “insightful”, “thought-provoking”, “captivating” and “important”.
Thanks to all the volunteers who came to our Love Your Neighbour Volunteer Evening to share stories, meet others, learn something new, and problem-solve. “I really felt part of something bigger” one volunteer remarked. Us too.
Posted by Leighann Morris on Friday 14th June 2019
Leighann is the Programme Coordinator for Love Your Neighbour in Lambeth, connecting younger and older neighbours one-to-one for weekly visits and long-term friendship. Previously Leighann worked for Bow Arts Trust, an arts and educational charity in east London.