The Branch run many community initiatives and the Connected Community Fund funded an ‘Creative Connections’ initiative spanning a number of projects:
- The Connect Café – more information below
- Come to Tea – a monthly tea-time session for older members of the community which also gives those with additional needs the opportunity to bake cakes and help out. A team member said seeing some of the most vulnerable in our community, “grow in confidence and self-belief is so rewarding.”
- Full Circle – an intergenerational project at a local primary schools bringing a group of pupils and older adults together to eat lunch, build relationships and enjoy fun activities. “The kindness and nurture that the [older] volunteers show the young people gives them a sense of self-worth and being seen.”
- Out to lunch – a regular lunch club for older members of the community which is a hugely effective way of offering companionship and a nutritious hot meal to help combat isolation and loneliness. Volunteers offer transport and bring people to the lunch club.
- The Branch ‘Connections’ exhibition project brought together the creative outputs from workshops in the various groups last summer. The artwork produced was presented at an exhibition based on the theme ‘connection’ which ran during July and August last year at Chipping Norton Theatre Gallery. It was also a great way to draw attention to what is on offer locally and gave those who exhibited, “a sense of pride…that was palpable.”
CONNECT CAFÉ – Lisa Stead (Project Development Manager)
I visited the Connect Café on a wet and windy day in November. I was glad to get inside from the weather and was greeted with a warm welcome. The Connect Café was initiated by a life skills group (budgeting, managing life and home) who then met online during covid to stay connected and started a café for the group after lockdown. The group then decided to open the doors to anyone in the community.
The café is a lively space with a great atmosphere and plenty to do. You can have a cup of tea and chat, enjoy a game of chess and do an art and craft activity as well as receive advice and support. The day I visited a group were making Christmas baubles and finishing a mosaic star which would be photographed and made into a Christmas card. One active member of the group exclaimed, “I love coming here”. A beautiful, ‘Connection’ embroidery hangs in the room, created by many of the attendees and a volunteer made the point, “Everyone has a contribution to make (regardless of their skills).”
Citizens Advice have a surgery and there’s also a help desk. It’s a place for the community to see a friendly face, have a cup of tea and a chat. It also acts as a triage system for highlighting and finding the different kinds of support an individual might need.
A team member mentioned, “It’s an important space for people each week to come and meet others especially those who are lonely.” A participant agreed, “I try to come most weeks…I come to socialise and I enjoy meeting people. It gets me out of the house so it’s good for my mental health.” One of the volunteers observed, “Rural isolation is a problem for many,” and a participant living in a very rural location told me that they travel 7 miles to attend the café. They have been offered practical support as well as an opportunity to socialise.
It’s also a great intergenerational space. I saw a very thoughtful lady bring in a book for younger person as she thought it would be helpful. Two men of different ages were chatting about having a game of chess next time. Both admitted to not being particularly good but one mentioned an AI app to help them with strategy.
For the Ukrainian refugees who attend its an opportunity to, “meet people like me.” Those in the same position who can understand each others situation. Also, learn how to integrate with the wider community and gain practical skills with a translator on hand to help with communication. One of the men described it as, “quality time.”
It was clear that the café is an important place for those who use it, providing a chance to socialise and make ‘connections’, be creative and receive support when needed. The consensus was that it is a very friendly group where you get a, “warm welcome,” as well as receiving practical support such as help to fill in forms, it provides, “A chance to off-load and chat.”
A team member sums it up beautifully, “The Connect Café continues to grow and draw in some of the most vulnerable and elder members of the community. It is a wonderful mix of people and when I was there it was a real joy to see the generations mixing, sharing stories together and encouraging each other in activities such as craft and board games.”
How wonderful it would be if every community had a Connect Café!