In Batley and Spen, Jo Cox’s constituency and place of birth, we’re taking this January’s Great Winter Get Together as an opportunity to celebrate the people, projects and organisations that have kept us connected this past year.
We have been chatting with local people who have shown the power of social connection this past year. We asked them: “Who would you like to celebrate? Who has helped our communities feel less lonely?”
Tineke is a peer talk facilitator. Tineke’s church community actively contacted people by phone, creating a WhatsApp group to include those who are digitally excluded. She said:
“When the first lockdown came many of us felt bereft of purpose and isolated.'' But after her church community came together, “Relationships have been strengthened and for some (me amongst them) a new purpose found: I still make regular phone calls and others ring me 'to keep me updated.' (but really looking for an opportunity to talk with someone). The challenge now is to keep that cohesion.”
Kerry is a community development & engagement worker for the Royal Voluntary Service. Kerry wanted to celebrate four volunteers, who she calls: “the most compassionate, caring, hard-working & dedicated people you could care to meet.”
“Judith & Anne are the joint Volunteer Co-ordinators for the Lunch Club and have volunteered with the RVS since 2018 & 2019 respectively. Throughout the pandemic, they made weekly welfare calls to their members, splitting the list in half so the members could hear a different voice each week. …. They are always happy to volunteer their time for community events, and even when attending as guests are never afraid to roll their sleeves up and help with the washing-up etc. They do everything with a smile on their faces, and I know that the members really appreciate the time and efforts that these ladies put into the group.
“Celia & Tricia go above and beyond for their care and compassion shown to two of our members, who you know personally, Len and Shirley. These two ladies were rocks to Len & Shirley, with regular welfare calls, shopping support and generally caring about their well-being and welfare. The time & care given by these two amazing ladies was second to none, and I am proud to have them as RVS volunteers.
Sara is a writer and freelance arts and culture communications specialist, living in Leeds. She works for 6MillionPlus a creative arts project that exchanges stories of the Holocaust, genocides and contemporary persecution at home and abroad. They hope to challenge discrimination of any kind and work towards a kinder future.
"6 million+'s project Small Contentments was one of my highlights of lockdown. It was a creative project which saw refugees and migrants, families, students and artists from Leeds and Kirklees created cubes inspired by Rahat Lokum (Bosnian Turkish Delight) to remember 25 of the 8,372 men and boys murdered at Srebrenica.
The project took place at the beginning of the first lockdown, when so many people were feeling down and isolated from their friends and families - and many people, including me, found that their creativity was at an all-time low. Friendship and connection flourished during the process of people making their cubes at home - and soon the project WhatsApp group was full of pictures of peoples gardens coming into bloom, recipe recommendations, reassurance, encouragement, celebration, deep discussions about art and creativity and even tips for insomnia, with people in the group who couldn't sleep using the WhatsApp to communicate during the night.
It was an incredibly moving project to be a part of - and for me showed that even though we couldn't be physically together, deep and meaningful connection could still be made during lockdown."
Katie Todd is a member of More In Common Batley & Spen. Katie told us she would like to celebrate the Craft and Chat sessions The Jo Cox Foundation set up, hosted by our Yorkshire Programme Officer Hafeezah Soni.
“I still have all the things I made from my pom-pom hedgehog, my craft apron, my banner with the rainbow on it. It was great to see all off the folks every week, watching my online friends, hearing what they had all designed. Seeing the kids loving getting messy with the paint and adults helping their children or Grandchildren. It really was a very clever programme. We all enjoyed our time together and it was so well timed bringing people together online, with no danger of COVID.”
Celia and her husband unfortunately had to shield due to medical issues, but she says that on reflection so many people deserve a mention for helping the situation feel less lonely.
“Hafeezah from the Jo Cox Foundation helped me create new friends, try new things and she was really super when everything was the same. She gave us focus and was an excellent leader of the group-super.
Kerry from RVS supported me in my efforts to help isolated people. She is enthusiastic and realistic, a very clever lady. Our little team, the Butterfly House, Craig Munns, Tricia Hardy, Gillian O'Neil. We all kept in touch, supported one another and shared ideas.
Finally, our family were brilliant looking after each other supporting each other.”
The Batley Poets started #ShareAPoemSunday during the first lockdown initially on Twitter.
“#ShareAPoemSunday was a chance to release and share thoughts whether they be of the pandemic or not. It gave an opportunity to bring a smile, make someone laugh, share your poem or your favourite poem, say something you wanted to share under a safe hashtag, for poetry falls in a safe place.
It became a weekly hashtag that Tweeters would write something for, often waiting for the official start to share their scribed words.
It built a community supporting each other in what was a time of uncertainty.
Looking back at the tag on twitter you can see how popular it became.”
Let's celebrate the people in our communities, the individual acts of kindness and the friendly smile on our travels. Let's create better stronger communities and reduce the stigma of talking about loneliness. You can learn more out about our Yorkshire Programme of work and how we aim to foster social connections here.
Stories facilitated by Hafeezah Soni, Yorkshire Programme Officer