Today is a special day at North London Cares – it's our birthday!
Nine years ago today, with no plans and no money, we began our work spontaneously, amid rioting in our city. We knew then that people had so much to give to their communities, but too many had felt locked out for too long. They were older people with deep roots in their neighbourhoods, but with dwindling connections as the world moved at breakneck speed all around; and they were younger people, with hundreds of connections in the social media age but often no roots, or no sense of community, in their neighbourhoods – from Kentish Town to Kilburn, Holloway to Highbury, Camden to the Cally.
On that first evening, August 8th 2011, we put live a website, not knowing what to expect. Within a few hours we'd had 5,000 hits, and had signed up scores of people to get involved in the post-riots clean-up. A month later, we piloted a mini-project mobilising people to support a local school, and invited volunteers to collect and deliver coats to shelters across north London.
As we were doing so, we were honing our lasting mission – to connect older and younger people to share time, laughter and new experiences; to reduce loneliness and isolation through mutual relationships; to deepen connection, belonging, purpose and power; and to bridge the gaps across social, generational, digital, cultural and attitudinal divides.
Our intention was to connect our neighbours to the changing people and places around them – people and places of deep heritage, healing and hope. We believed then, and we believe now, that bringing the generations together can help connect the past to the present to the future. In an era of challenge and change, that's more than a nice to have – it's vital. It's vital because disconnection is a personal, public health and a political crisis – heartbreaking for individuals, unsustainable for public services and corrosive of our togetherness.
Nine years on, we're proud of how you have taken on that mission with determination and with love. Some 9,000 older and younger neighbours have shared over 2,200 social clubs, 9,000 one-to-one hours and 220,000 interactions across the generations. In doing so, you've reduced isolation, improved confidence and agency through the power of your relationships, and helped people to feel part of our changing world, rather than left behind by it. And we're so proud of how North London Cares has inspired our sibling charities South London Cares, Manchester Cares, Liverpool Cares and East London Cares – under the umbrella of The Cares Family which this year is starting new projects to build connection in new ways. Together, the family has brought over 18,000 older and younger people together for 500,000 interactions.
2020 has, of course, been different. But even though this community has been physically distant since March, in many ways it's never been closer together. 1,870 neighbours have shared solace during the lockdown, through over 80 virtual social clubs online and on the phone, through new Phone a Friend friendships, and through the sharing of Alone Together packs. The community has also rallied in new ways, building connections with our amazing partners across the voluntary sector in Camden and Islington.
Just as in 2011, our communities are at a crossroads again: we can fall apart and be divided and distant from one another, or we can come together, know one another more deeply, and build connection and community. If the lessons of the last nine years teach us anything it's that while loneliness is aching, and a gateway into so much pain, neighbours sharing time and experience is the surest route to togetherness.
We're excited to see all the new relationships that will grow over the next nine years, and we're grateful to everyone – partners, donors and of course the older and younger neighbours who make this community what it is. Happy birthday to you.
Read our blogs on our previous birthdays, and sign up to be part of it.
Posted by Alex Smith on Thursday 6th August 2020
Alex is NLC's founder and CEO.