This month, we had our first face-to-face social club at Manchester Cares since March 2020.
Hamidan, 74, attended our second face-to-face club last Friday and said ''I made a new friend today, I am happy, so happy.''
Although we’re so happy to see some neighbours in person again after such a long time, It’s been a long journey to get to this point. For almost 10 years, programmes at The Cares Family had been all about supporting older and younger neighbours to forge connection and friendship face-to-face in their communities.
Here at Manchester Cares, we were running 15 Social Clubs each month across Manchester, and supporting 90 friends to spend time together one-to-one in their homes through our Love Your Neighbour programme.
And, through our Volunteer & Outreach programme, we were out and about in our community in all kinds of ways, helping to connect neighbours to our programmes or our neighbourhood referral partners.
Our Covid-19 response programmes
On the 13th of March 2020, Manchester Cares along with the rest of The Cares Family, suspended face-to-face activity to protect our community.
But we knew we needed to also protect the friendship and connection we’d spent three years building in our community, too. So we began furiously piloting all kinds of initiatives, from food and medical supply delivery to over-the-phone tech support and our first forays into the world of hosting Zoom events. What we were hearing on our calls with our neighbours and community partners helped us to shape those pilots, by understanding what gaps there were, as well as what was already being done by others.
We quickly realised that other brilliant organisations like GoodGym, Age UK, local pharmacies and councils were better set up to provide practical support like delivering food and urgent supplies and that with nine years of collective Cares Family experience connecting people to tackle isolation, we were best placed to focus our neighbours’ social needs.
So we made sure that our pandemic response work followed the same programme formats that our community knew and valued but with some exciting new additions:
Our Social Clubs became virtual – all our usual quizzes, dance events and yoga sessions were hosted on the phone and over Zoom, instead of in-person. Although this meant we couldn’t physically be together anymore, it did mean we were able to provide completely new experiences for our neighbours - some highlights include a (virtual!) trip to the Sistine Chapel, as well as visits to art galleries all across the world. It also meant neighbours who had moved out of the area were able to spend time together again remotely in ways that hadn’t previously been possible.
Our Love Your Neighbour programme became Phone a Friend – which saw friends switching in-person home visits, to regular phone and FaceTime chats.
Our re-invented Outreach work still focused on key referral routes to help our network to access urgent things like food and medical supplies. We also spent time supporting neighbours to gain skills and confidence using technology, through one-to-one support, as well as, in some cases, access to devices through community partners. This helped neighbours to join our virtual social clubs who would have otherwise been unable to, as well as enabling them to independently access other community events and vital services.
And we introduced a brand new #AloneTogether activity pack - that shared creative activities with our network online and via post each month, to offer a little reflection, distraction and connection.
Our March 2021 Programme Review
In March 2021, a year after we’d first gone online, we took time to reflect on what we’d learnt from 12 months of a very different way of working, through a national programme review with our sibling charities.
As restrictions began to ease across the country, we were eager to transition back to face-to-face programmes. But we knew that we couldn’t just revert back to the same programmes we’d been running before the pandemic. The aim of the review was to create programmes that were safe, creative, local to Manchester and, importantly, hybrid. As our Managing Director, Jane East, wrote back in April, one of the most important things we’ve learnt over the last year is that “in order to be truly inclusive, our future has to be hybrid.”
So we’re excited that our programmes will include a mixture of face-to-face and remote programme options moving forward, which we’ve taken every precaution to ensure are Covid-safe.
Our ‘new normal’: Hybrid programmes
Our Social Clubs are free group activities that will now take place several times a week in person (face-to-face), over the phone and online, over Zoom, as we’ve heard that being able to join our events remotely has made them more accessible for many. They will take place on weekdays, evenings and weekends and include Pub Quizzes, Desert Island Discs, Plant Club, Cooking Club, Cuppa and a Chat, Chair Yoga, Cares Family Monthly Disco, and more.
#AllTogether Activity Packs
As a result of positive feedback from our network, the #AloneTogether project (a monthly activity pack of creative tasks) has been retained as part of our programming - though it has since been renamed #AllTogether to better reflect post-lockdown life.
Love Your Neighbour
The opportunity for phone friendship has now become a part of our core Love Your Neighbour programme offer, so we’re no longer using the Phone-a-Friend branding. Through this programme older and younger neighbours will now have the opportunity to share a one-to-one friendship over the phone, in person or a mixture of the two.
Volunteer & Outreach
Through our Volunteer & Outreach work, we will be getting physically back out and about in our community again, to identify and invite older and younger neighbours to be part of our programmes, as well as to refer to partners across our neighbourhoods. Through this programme we will also be supporting our neighbours to bridge the digital divide by facilitating one-to-one technology support. Where possible, we’re aiming to offer over the phone support to help older neighbours to access our online activities through Zoom, as well as build their skills in other areas, such as in how to navigate the internet or set up an email account. So if you have access to the internet on a smartphone or laptop, but aren’t sure how to video call - we can help! Please note that unfortunately, we’re not able to provide any tech equipment, tech advice or support with getting connected to the internet - as sadly we’re not tech experts.
If you are over 65, living in Manchester and would like more information or support, please call our team on 0161 207 0800 and follow option 1, or email [email protected] . To learn more or to make a referral, please click here. To volunteer on one of our programmes, click here.
Posted by Laura Wilkinson on Tuesday 25th May 2021
Laura is Head of Programmes at Manchester Cares