On March 13th, East London Cares along with the rest of The Cares Family suspended face-to-face activity amid the emerging Covid-19 crisis – because our neighbours' health is our number one priority.
It was a painful decision to shut down programmes we'd spent so long building, but especially so because many of the older people in our communities are most vulnerable to the effects not just of the awful new virus, but also of social isolation. From early on, fear of loneliness was presenting as strongly as fear of the illness itself.
So as we suspended our regular activity, we promised:
"East London Cares will continue to communicate with our older neighbours remotely, to make sure people feel part of our changing world, rather than left behind by it. That is more important now than ever. So over the next six weeks, we will develop new ways for older and younger neighbours to stay in touch – by chatting on the phone, by sharing favourite books and films remotely, by sending one another videos, and by generally nurturing the ties that bind us together: our relationships."
Today, we're proud to share how we've re-invented our programmes for these extraordinary times – always maintaining connection, community and our values (kindness, community, trust, bravery, learning) at their heart.
As we thought up new ways to keep people together, nothing in our programmes was sacrosanct; our fidelity was to the connection of older and younger people in our communities, rather than to our traditional ways of working.
But what we've learned again is that those long-developed programmes hold deep value. So, fittingly perhaps – as we all re-discover the timeless in an age of rapid change – our new work broadly falls back into our existing frameworks, with some exciting new additions.
Social Clubs – in normal times, our social clubs are group activities bringing older and younger neighbours together to share time, laughter and new experiences. Sessions include our much-loved dance parties, new technology workshops, choirs, Desert Island Discs nights and so much more. These have now become Virtual Social Clubs – quizzes, group yoga sessions, discussion groups and more. We're aware that only about 40% of the older people we work with have smartphones or WiFi at home – so we've also developed ways that people can call into these clubs from their landlines too.
Love Your Neighbour – in normal times, this programme brings together older and younger people to share time and friendship one-to-one, often in people's homes. Friends share meals, games, company and companionship, bringing a little of the outside world in for people who can struggle to get out. Now that all of us are more physically distant, these relationships have moved onto the phones. Long-standing friends are calling one another regularly, including on FaceTime. We're also making new matches between younger and older neighbours who will speak often for the duration of the crisis through our new Phone a Friend project.
Outreach – in normal times, our outreach is how we identify and invite older and younger neighbours to be part of the community. We go to where people are, through door-knocking on local estates; stalls at supermarkets, chemists and GP surgeries; and events at faith groups and community centres. We also exchange referrals with our partners across our neighbourhoods in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Our re-invented Outreach will still focus on those key referral routes to help older neighbours get what they need but will also now include weekly check-in calls from our staff to neighbours most likely to be isolated by the lockdown, as well as deliveries of food and medical supplies where those are needed.
#AloneTogether – all this reinvented work will be facilitated by our brand new #AloneTogether activities which harness technologies old and new to help neighbours stay connected in a disconnecting time. Every month for as long as the crisis continues, we will invite younger and older neighbours to share poems, games, jokes, recipes and creative arts projects online and by post to offer a little reflection, distraction and connection. In April, we sent 3,887 of these daily activity packs to older neighbours who are part of East London Cares, South London Cares, Liverpool Cares, Manchester Cares and North London Cares. And we're inspired that the packs have also been downloaded over 2,200 times and shared by individuals, community organisations, businesses and councils across the country.
All of this work is being powered by people through our crowdfunder and partnerships with so many wonderful local, national and international foundations and businesses. We couldn't help so many older and younger people stay connected without you – thank you, and please donate if you can (all gifts are being doubled).
One of the partners which has helped East London Cares and The Cares Family to grow and progress over many years is Nesta. Over recent weeks Nesta have been supporting us to evaluate our re-invented programmes for this moment of emergency even as we've been developing them. You can read those mini-evaluations of our new projects below.
If you are over 65, living in Hackney or Tower Hamlets and would like more information or support, please call our team on 0207 118 4949 and follow option 3, or email [email protected] To learn more or to make a referral, please click here.
Posted by Alex Smith on Friday 17th April 2020
Alex is NLC's founder and CEO.