By Wendy Lansdown | On Twitter @wendylansdown
On Sunday Patrick Quinn, the founder of the Ice Bucket challenge sadly died aged 37 of motor neurone disease. What an amazing legacy and inspiration he leaves. It made me nostalgic for that year when icy water brought so much fun and awareness, and personally at the end of that long hot summer (or is that just my rosy specs?) I got involved in a local community off-shoot – the Nice Bucket Challenge which saw neighbours exchanging buckets of lovely stuff… including many courgettes!
Every day I’m amazed by the creativity of individuals and the ingenuity of communities working together to move mountains. Just recently this has been super-charged, and it drew me back to our blog to grasp the opportunity to appreciate, reflect, and ponder on how through our Think Communities approach we (folk in the public and voluntary sector) can support in the most useful way and amplify the effect, or perhaps proliferate through positive contagion, as we wrote about in Neighbourhood Cares in the days before Coronavirus. I would really value your insights and help on this – please do get in touch.
Since the beginning of the pandemic a few East Cambs organisations have worked together to host a Zoom forum, a monthly space for community connectors, conveners and leaders to get together, share learning and collaborate. One of the core themes emerging has been an increasing concern about an imminent mental health crisis, and forum members feeling ill-equipped to respond. After an interesting discussion and exchange of experiences at one meeting, one of the Mutual Aid group members invited Tony Sigrist from Talking FreEly along to our next. What a brilliant invitation… Tony had founded this organisation to raise Mental Health awareness and skills in our community. He had the experience, knowledge and passion that people supporting their neighbours were calling for. We formed a partnership, Tony kindly providing his time pro-bono to train up to 100 volunteers in the district on the Mental Health Aware course via Zoom. With Talking FreEly jointly funding the materials alongside East Cambs District Council, and the County Council promoting and coordinating. So far over 60 people have been trained, with superb feedback, including one person who is planning to go on to the advanced course and become a mental health champion for her community.
Some of the towns and villages have their own online networks for collaboration. Following Neighbourhood Cares, I feel privileged to continue to be involved in one in Soham where a bunch of us from the local Foodbank, churches, schools, social prescribers, library staff and community association link up. As so often happens, some of the best discussions happen before the meeting really begins. As I joined, a District Council colleague was sharing how her small village of Coveney had been adapting their usual events for pandemic times and the Soham vicar’s ears pricked up at the idea of mini-fetes. Unable to have the usual scale of festivities, Coveney residents had adapted one big event into a series of mini ones spread across a month rather than a day. A few chats and a visit later and Soham had its own mini fete with its own local flavour … complete with pumpkin fair paraphernalia and more…
The following week my colleagues Agnes and Yannick brought together our Time Credits Earn Partners. Tempo Time Credits are earned when people give time to participating organisations and can be redeemed on a wide range of activities from a swim at the local pool to entry to the Tower of London. As with so many areas of life, it’s been tough lately – challenges for earning with many volunteering opportunities on hold, and equally with spending – almost all venues are closed. Again the meeting provided a good connection point, a place for people with a shared sense of purpose and values to share ideas. This time the connection sparked a brilliant idea from the Linda at Pinpoint – the Parent Carer Forum for Cambridgeshire, run by parents for parents. One of their biggest challenges currently is the extreme isolation of the families they represent. Discussing this issue led to a creative idea for both earn and spend…. Where children’s birthdays could not be celebrated in the traditional way, then their day could be made special by volunteers dressing up to wish them a special Happy Birthday over Zoom… within 10 minutes we had suggestions of everything from puppets, juggling and Am Dram to singing, dancing and balloon sculpture! Student Community Action’s representative Caroline was on the call and plans are already well under way to make this idea a reality. And Agnes is working on a development of it… to bring Santa’s and elves Zooming into people’s homes as an alternative option for people to earn and spend Time Credits this Christmas.
There’s not a day goes by when I don’t feel lucky to be in a role which gives me so many opportunities to work alongside brilliant people who are making great things happen at a local level. Now that I’m a few months into this role, I’ve also had the opportunity to start collaborating with others who share the same aims. This week I’ve been working with Granville, CEO of Voluntary and Community Action East Cambs who is leading on the development of a Community Support Network for the district. In the first instance this is as simple as identifying a group of people who are interested in their communities and sharing news of what’s happening and opportunities to get involved. We hope it will evolve from there into a supportive network of community minded people who harness energy, help each other out and build ideas together.
Excitingly, we are currently advertising Community Connector posts (deadline is 29 November) . The focus of these roles is to walk alongside communities supporting them to build on their strengths and resilience to create places where people live happily and healthily for longer. Reflecting on the power of collaboration, we think that a good way to kick off could be a socially distanced road trip (Lockdown allowing) around the district. On the way creating positive stories for a range of communications channels in the form of mini-films, vox pops and photos, populating a map with all the interesting stuff we find along the way. It will be well worth a visit to Coveney… where on 5th November residents all turned out on their doorsteps at 6.30pm, sparklers in hand for bonfire night!
Simple ideas worth spreading… it feels like we’re creating our own community version of TED talks… or the (N)ice Bucket Challenge… or perhaps in reality our own unique East Cambs shaped way to celebrate our incredible communities, learning and growing together.
I think adapting Neighbourhood Cares learning may be helpful again here. Similarly, to the way our Neighbourhood Cares team recruited for people with shared values and work within an agreed framework, I wonder if it might it be a case of inviting community-minded people from across the district to join together as a light-touch team, igniting ideas, inspiring each other, and taking community ingenuity viral? If you’re thinking about this too and have insights and challenges to share remember to get in touch. Thank you.