My first experiences of North London Cares occurred when I attended their Winter Party and Snow Ball in December 2018. I was immediately struck by the incredible levels of fun, warmth, and unity that existed within such a diverse group of Londoners.
Over the course of these two events I had the pleasure of getting to know older neighbours John, June, Marion, Richard, Harvey, Laura, Betty, Jeeva, Mike, and Virdon. I also met younger neighbours Chloe, Micah, Joe, Sarah, and Toni. We sang, danced, won raffles, lost quizzes, took photos, got covered in ‘snow’ and enjoyed impressive amounts of food, drink and festive cheer!
North London Cares were obviously doing something very special. And so last week it was with great excitement and enthusiasm that I joined them as an Outreach Officer on their Winter Wellbeing project. I couldn’t wait to communicate their amazing work with the people of North London!
My first day was spent meeting the team and learning more about exactly what the charity do, and how they do it. Everyone was really friendly and more than happy to explain anything I needed or wanted to know. I could see that the warmth and togetherness I felt at the Winter Party and Snow Ball were no accident; they were at the root of everything North London Cares stands for.
My second day gave me the opportunity to put my learning into practice. Along with Roxi, the Outreach Co-ordinator, I visited the Highbury Quadrant Estate in Islington. We knocked on the doors of over 30 older neighbours and explained how our Winter Wellbeing project can help them to stay warm, active, healthy, and connected during the coldest months of the year.
Virtually everyone we spoke to was happy to hear what we had to say, and in return were willing to share anecdotes and their knowledge of the area. Our presence appeared to be appreciated, even when the neighbours didn’t require any help.
One of my highlights was meeting Rudi. He invited us into his flat and proceeded to show us how it doubled as his art studio! We were blown away by his talents, and he told us how happy it made him to talk about his work.
Rudi moved to London 3 years ago and had been so focused on his art that he hadn’t made many local connections. He was therefore really happy to hear of our Social Club programme and the idea of meeting neighbours of all ages in his local area. We even discussed the idea of him coming along and teaching some of his skills!
My third day demonstrated the stark contrast in the work carried out by North London Cares. In the morning I attended a social club where we watched the London Symphony Orchestra play a concert at their home in St Lukes, Islington. Over tea and cake beforehand, I met and chatted with older and younger neighbours Doug, Abby, Yahir, Peter, Rachael, and Rosie. We all then enjoyed 45 minutes of classical recitals by some very talented musicians. It felt like such a treat!
In the afternoon I made my first ‘delivery’ of a blanket and some warm clothing to Joyce* at her home in Islington. Chatting with her really helped me to understand how easy it can be for people to feel lonely and isolated, especially if they are restricted by their health or mobility.
Having returned to the office I explained what Joyce and I had discussed, and I was reminded of another North London Cares programme which could help her. Love Your Neighbour is a friendship matching programme that introduces an older neighbour to a suitable younger neighbour from the local area. They enjoy regular one-to-one time together and create a companionship that defies the generational divide. It is ideal for older neighbours who aren't so easily able to leave their homes.
It can be easy to forget neighbours who are dealing with personal or social challenges, especially when we are surrounded by so many opportunities to live well and enjoy ourselves. North London Cares are acutely aware of this and work extremely hard to make sure everyone has a voice, no matter what their situation.
Over the weekend I joined the Coffee and Craft social club in Kings Cross, which runs every month. Younger and older neighbours chat over hot and cold drinks whilst letting their creative streaks run wild! I spent the afternoon having lots of fun with Richard, Betty, Kate, Sarah and Megan, whilst I entertained them with my rather unrefined creative abilities!
The event was run by Cause Corps, one of North London Cares’ community partners. Each month Cause Corps bring along a new creative challenge with the end products being donated to charities and other deserving causes across London. It was an example of how working with partners helps North London Cares to widen and deepen their impact.
The next day this theme continued when I learned more about ‘signposting’. North London Cares acknowledges that their programmes are not able to help every neighbour all of the time. They therefore make huge efforts to connect with a whole host of other agencies and organisations, each of whom are able to use their expertise to provide specialist services. I spent some time helping Tom* to discover the support and assistance he was entitled to having recently lost 80% of the sight in one eye. It was a very humbling and rewarding end to my first week.
And what a week it was! Eye opening, varied, challenging, sociable, and incredibly interesting. The only slight embarrassment was having to be rescued from a broken lift by the Fire Service!
As I embark on my quest to spread the good work of North London Cares, the following headlines will form a very important part of my story:
1. There is no ‘I’ in North London Cares – everyone exists for each other, and by embracing our natural desire to be kind and compassionate we can all help to create a happier neighbourhood in which to live, work and play.
2. Stories create connections, connections create communities, and communities create change – we all have a story to share, and doing so creates a sense of belonging and appreciation in this sometimes lonely and isolating city.
So, should we have the pleasure of meeting over the next few months then let’s do our North London community proud by swapping tales and creating positive change!
* Name changed to protect identity
Posted by Matt Scaysbrook on Tuesday 15th January 2019
Matt is an Outreach Officer at North London Cares.