The Gift of Community

by Charlotte Kirin

shallow focus photography of yellow star lanterns
Photo by 一 徐 on

Some of the old Neighbourhood Cares team went back to Soham to distribute gifts from the Giving Tree, organised by the community pharmacy.

We spent an hour in what had been our office in the library, and it was like it had always been – Leigh told us how much she loves her new job with young adults, and how she has retained her determination to change the world. Sian talked about how welcomed and valued she’d felt in the Older People’s team she’d gone onto, although she has decided to move onto a post in a school in Soham to fit better with her life, in a way that Neighbourhood Cares team could accommodate, but is more difficult in a large area team.

Sian’s young daughter was there too, making labels for the gifts. Wendy, who still does some work in Soham, was there, straight from a meeting with some of the members of Soham Community Association. Janine the librarian came in for a minute to catch up and share Christmas wishes.

Then we took presents and went visiting. I went first to Louise, whose welcome and thanks far outweighed any gift I could give her. Louise still goes to he drop in and to the friendly dogs event, and is still in regular contact with Wendy, and perhaps most powerfully of all she has the telephone number of someone else we worked with in Soham, someone who understands depression and grief, and the need for connection, and the feeling of being told by services that the way you live makes you a cause for concern and a subject of referrals. Louise and Margaret’s friendship is one of the unexpected, unplannable, unmeasurable legacies of the Neighbourhood Cares team.

I went from there to see Jonathan, who we had worked alongside for a long time to make it possible for him to remain in his own home, until he ceased to recognise it as his own home and started getting lost, in his living room, in the street, and then on the main roads. We planned a move for him, into a residential setting on the edge of the town, a difficult step that I could never feel totally comfortable with – Neighbourhood Cares existed in part to try and prevent  those moves from having to happen, on the basis that people are nearly always happier and healthier in their own homes. When there seemed to be no other way, we argued strongly for Jonathan to be in a setting in Soham, where he could continue to attend drop in sometimes, and could stay in touch with a close friend who lives in the town. We also managed to persuade the home, over a period of a couple of weeks and through gentle persistence and exposure, that Jonathan’s dog Jack should be accommodated too.

Jonathan, Jack and I were delighted to see each other. Jonathan, who has the most wonderful, multi lingual vocabulary, also has aphasia, which results sometimes in beautiful poetry. “How is it Jonathan, living here?” I asked, aware of the inevitable restrictions and infringements of being in a residential home. “I feel I am resting in the right nest for me” he said, and I absorbed the relief and gratitude of being able to believe that the work we had done with him had been the right thing, the best we could do.

While I was there, a member of staff introduced herself to me as the daughter of Sam and Sheila. Earlier in the year, I’d worked with the family to arrange for Sheila to have a short term stay there while adaptations were made to her home. Again, we’d argued that even for a short stay, there were important reasons that Sheila should remain in Soham, so that Sam could visit, and could keep her up to date with the work being done to put in place the tracking, new bathroom and extended bedroom that would allow her family to continue to deliver the majority of the support she needs. While Sheila was in the residential setting, her daughter had got talking to the manager, and had subsequently started working there for a few hours a day. I was able to send my love to Sheila and Sam, and to marvel at another small link that was made as a result of place based working, There’s some economic benefit there, alongside the human value, but I don’t know of a way to measure it.

The team met up again in the churchyard where there were carols with the band of the Soham Comrades Club, and refreshments provided by one of the Scout groups.  Eleanor, the vicar who worked with us to make sure that Peter had the funeral he wanted, Xanadu and all, greeted us, and we got talking to somebody who has just joined the community association. We sang carols and heard readings about Christmas and making a home in the place where you find yourself, and connections, and kindness.

Happy Christmas Soham.

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