While we were chatting to Ruth, 79, on the phone this week, she shared, “There is always light at the end of the tunnel. And we all need a bit of that don't we?”
Normally we keep in touch with Ruth in person, at our social clubs, but in mid-March we had to make the difficult decision to pause all face-to-face activities. This was tough, as an organisation that exists to connect people. But within days, we found new ways to keep our community connected: through check-in calls, phone friendships, Zoom and Dial-in Social Clubs, and through our Alone Together packs, which prompted Ruth’s call to us.
During months dominated with phrases like ‘distancing’, ‘isolation’ and ‘lockdown’, we’ve all had to keep going and find the light in the everyday in our own way. As a small team and still a relatively new organisation at 7 months old, some days this has been a larger feat than others.
But in the true spirit of east London – our history is one punctuated by grit, resilience and rising to a challenge – we’ve seen our community, and our partners, spring into action. We’ve been working closer than ever with our brilliant partner Tower Hamlets Homes, supporting their residents with 40 interventions since lockdown – so far. These have included food and prescription deliveries to help with practicalities, and working with the fantastic St. Hilda’s based in Bethnal Green and GoodGym, who have likewise been making sure the current climate doesn’t mean our neighbours will be without groceries and a hot meal.
But our interventions also include taking the time to connect older people with phone friendships not just in English but in their first languages, meaning that while they can’t access their local community centres, they can still have a laugh in Hebrew, or a conversation in Bengali. It means helping them with questions about their gas bills and calling up their GP for them if they’re not able to. Crucially, it also means giving the “Who’s there?” to their ‘Knock Knock’ joke. And it means checking in with our older neighbours just to see how they are today, and connecting them with younger east Londoners for friendship, laughter and respite.
One older neighbour told us, “The phone hasn't rung today. I looked at my phone book by my phone and saw the East London Cares number and knew I could get in touch with you”. This is where we will continue to be: a place for our older neighbours to turn, for a friendly chat and a helping hand.
For all of us at the moment, the world can feel a changeable place, so the helping hand we offer is varied too. It can be Hat Making or playing Charades at a Zoom Social Club, or it can be linking an older neighbour to a local organisation they didn’t know about to help them with their newfound insomnia. And it includes being there for neighbours who don’t have the internet – from piloting and creating telephone friendship programmes, to filling out online forms on their behalf so they can access free food parcels. We’ve made almost 80 (and counting!) interventions like these so far, and with the help of our younger neighbours, community partners, and generous donors to our crowdfunding campaign, we will continue to make even more.
And it seems even in the most challenging of times, our communities have bound together and defied the odds, no less at our Cares Family Disco held recently with our sister charities North London Cares, South London Cares, Manchester Cares and Liverpool Cares. Sitting back and watching over 50 younger and older neighbours get together and sing “We Are Family”, laughing in their living rooms while the rain pelted outside, it was clear that even on the darkest of nights, there was still a way to let the light in.
Posted by Sasha Khan on Thursday 7th May 2020
Sasha is the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator at East London Cares, reaching older and younger neighbours and connecting them to our Social Clubs, Love Your Neighbour programme and Winter Wellbeing project. Previously Sasha has worked at Age UK and Coram, and volunteered at our sibling charity North London Cares.