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Carly's blog - It Takes Two

Carly Halpin, Community Development Worker, updates us on It Takes Two, a project that is building community connections.

 

Hello from the diverse London borough of Greenwich; a suburb that feels distinctly progressive while being steeped in antiquity, surrounded by Maritime legacies, rich Royal history and relics of proud scientific discoveries.  It is ‘the place where days begin and end’, as Charles Jennings titles his historical analysis of the area, referring to the institution of Greenwich Mean Time through the establishment of the Meridian line, which sits at the centre of all world time zones.

The home of ‘Mean Time’ seems a poignantly apt location to start exploring the phenomenon of loneliness.  Loneliness may manifest as a melancholic boredom and the feeling of being frozen in time, or the frenzied anxiety of time ‘slipping away’ without a meaningful relationship or activity to mark it. Either way, the experience of time passing, of waiting and wanting, is alienating when one is lonely.  

‘It Takes 2’ begins to tackle this phenomena, by recognising loneliness has become a serious public health issue that needs to be addressed at a grassroots level in our communities.  Here at Avenues we are charged with the privilege of creating conditions where people across the community can get together to develop their hobbies and find companionship through shared interests. This is our task on the project in Greenwich and Bromley.

Recent research suggests that the absence of friendships and social connections are as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  Positive social networks not only help us to live longer happier lives, but also help us to recover, when we do become ill or experience crisis in our lives. 

Yet loneliness is reportedly increasing all over the world.  It is possible to predict that people may be at risk of isolation in far flung rural regions, but the idea that people are lonely in our buzzing, ever crowded and connected metropolis’ seems illogical and absurd.  However, surrounded by millions of others in dense urban environments, the cruel irony of loneliness is rife.  We are only just beginning to realise that physical proximity on its own does not reduce the feelings of isolation, as more and more people are admitting to feeling abandoned and alone in our swarming cities.

Now we understand that cities are also lonely places for people, and this loneliness is not created by physical solitude but by a lack of meaningful connections; the intimacy and understanding of recognition that one craves in relationship with others.

The experience of loneliness oscillates between the yearning for companionship and defeated self acceptance when it is not found.  It brings about that nagging feeling that we do not have the things we should, and what others have seemingly achieved with relative ease.  Associated with this, the idea that this ‘feeling of lack’ is brought about by a failing of our person or flaw in our character.

This phenomena; loneliness provides a lens through which we can consider what it means to be alive.  What is the opposite of lonely?  Attached? Connected?  And how do we connect, and form attachments with others when we find ourselves in this uneasy state of being?  How do we live, when we do not have the quality of meaningful connections or intimate relationships we desire?

We all feel lonely at some point of time in our lives; however, for most of us, this feeling is temporary and may even provide us with opportunities for much needed self acceptance or discovery.  But what happens to our ability to form relationships if the mind and body are connected in a way that means we communicate differently or if we have learned throughout our lives that human relationships are not always good? 

It is easy for people with learning disabilities to become invisible in their communities, and it is our role to challenge this when we share time with people.  ‘It Takes 2’ provides valuable learning opportunities for everybody in the community, where we can discover fascinating things about each other and build solidarity and social bonds.

The project is co-produced by ambassadors supported by Avenues who represent the views and interests of people we support.  Our ambassadors are passionate and enthusiastic about people, relationships and their community and sit on the It Takes 2 Steering Committee, teaching us and bringing their lens on the world so that decisions that have a big impact on the project can be made together.

One of our ambassadors in Greenwich, Julian, recently challenged me at a Steering group meeting, when asked about his experience on the project thus far.  “You said you were going to help me to find a job!” Julian said, “When am I going to start working?”  I didn’t have much of an answer for Julian – he had expressed to me that finding a job was top of his agenda, and the way he wanted to make new connections in the community; we hadn’t delivered!  I had been busy helping to establish the project in Greenwich, recruiting and getting to know people on the project, familiarising myself with voluntary and community groups, promoting and presenting the project around the borough, and Greenwich Mean Time had run away from me! 

I realised that  I needed to work ever more closely with Avenues support staff, working as the backstage technicians to support people to live their lives, if we are ever going to be able to support people to make the connections we have promised. Led by Julian, several of us came together, including Julian’s Key Worker and Support Workers who have the privilege of supporting people to live their lives in Greenwich to think about what needs to happen for Julian’s ambition to become a reality. 

Julian and Russell (Julian’s Key Worker) registered online with the Volunteer Centre in Greenwich, and then visited the centre to discuss opportunities they had identified together that interested Julian. Together every one talked about ideas, suggestions and stories from Julian’s past experiences that we could build on to find the right opportunity. 

Julian’s key workers offered to support Julian to both promote the project and look for work by delivering ‘It Takes 2’ leaflets to local businesses.  By talking to business owners about the project Julian was offered two positions! The first, helping Aaran Solicitors as an office assistant, the second, providing refreshments for students at Recovery College.  One thing we learnt here was that people are desperate to exchange with each other, they are just waiting to be asked!! 

Julian has already taken on his role with Aaran Solicitors, which he loves. Just this week, Julian received an email from the Volunteer Centre inviting him to apply for a volunteers role at Memory Lane Café, an opportunity his key worker helped him to identify.  Working together across the organisation led by Julian, we have been able to support him on the path to work, the first steps to making new connections.

When someone is ready and asking to exchange with their community, ably supported by the likes of Avenues support staff and Aaran Solicitors opening their doors and their hearts ‘It Takes 2’ can really make a difference. But - we are all on this together.