This spring our Love Your Neighbour programme will celebrate its third birthday and over the past few years, we have seen the programme grow and flourish. We have learned all sorts, laughed a lot and have met some very special people along the way. During this time of reflection, our Love Your Neighbour Coordinator Vicky has taken the opportunity to look back on these past three years and wanted to share some of her favourite memories and thoughts.
Looking back, our first year was full of excitement and so many fond memories of people that we met. By the time we started Love Your Neighbour, we were already running Social Clubs, Outreach and Fundraising and this really helped when it came to meeting both volunteers and older neighbours. So Love Your Neighbour was the last programme to get off the ground, the final piece of the puzzle.
Through knocking on doors, we met people like Jim and by sharing stories on social media we met people like Becky, and soon we had our first few matches. Friendships just like Becky and Jim -who to this day are sharing letters and texts- and Kathleen and Sharlene who shared over 170 hours of conversation and laughter.
These special friendships helped us share the meaning of why Manchester Cares was created, the importance of connection and just how impactful and meaningful intergenerational friendships can be.
Starting a new charity can have its challenges. After the excitement of year one, year two was about finding our feet in our amazing city. As we learned more about the people and communities we were working in; we adapted, we changed and we developed.
We were attending more community groups and meetings, knocking on more doors, hosting bigger volunteer events and we were working with more businesses. Both referrals for older neighbours and volunteer applications were gathering momentum and we welcomed so many amazing characters into our network.
One of my favourite memories from year 2 was going to a Social Club with my Love Your Neighbour match Beryl (photo left), we went to the Police Museum and as you can see we had a great time learning all about the history of police in Manchester and trying on a few outfits too! This summer Beryl and I will celebrate our three years of friendship and I can honestly say, that our friendship is the best thing to come out of the past three years, for me.
Our last year has been a year like no other and as the nation became more isolated overnight, we quickly realised that friendship, connection and our Love Your Neighbour programme is more important than ever. Over the past 12 months, we have all experienced loneliness and what it can feel like to look at the same four walls day in and day out. And for a programme whose soul is bringing the outside world for those who are unable to get out, we knew we had to learn, change and adapt once more.
In March last year, we launched Phone a Friend, our phone friendship matching programme. The weekly visit, brew and natter switched to a weekly chat on the phone. The pandemic hasn’t stopped us from meeting new people or introducing new friends. In fact, we have introduced more new pals than ever, with our programme nearly doubling in size and we are excited to be welcoming a new staff member to work on Love Your Neighbour.
Phone a Friend pals haven’t been the only ones catching up over lockdown. Many of our Love Your Neighbour friends have swapped their weekly visits to phone calls and the occasional socially distanced visit too. Like Ernie and Lorna, when Lorna visited Ernie and sang Happy Birthday through his door with his favourite sweet treat, a trifle; or Alfie popping to see Nora with a Christmas pudding (photo above right).
So after matching up over 80 younger and older neighbours over the last three years, what have I learnt about friendship? There’s no golden ticket to a friendship. We can’t predict which two neighbours will make great friends. There are things we can look at which will hopefully make the friendship practically easier, like location, and things that can spark initial conversations like shared interests, but ultimately it is down to individuals.
What we have learned is where neighbours both young and old, invest their time sharing each other's company, more often than not, they will share stories and laughter. The more stories and laughter they share, the more things they find that they have in common. As Jim and Becky shared they might be very different ages -with a few decades between them- and they might live very different lives, but their attitudes, outlook and perspectives are very similar.
So what happens next? We will continue to learn, be inspired and thankful to those who we meet. Sadly no friendship can last forever but in our programme the heart, passion and wisdom of those that we meet lives on. Kathleen, thank you for driving this programme forward and reminding us never to give up. Edith, thank you for being the life and soul of the party, Graham, thank you for inspiring us to push boundaries and do everything with a cheeky smile and John, thank you for reminding us of the importance of human contact. 💜
Posted by Vicky Harrold on Friday 12th March 2021
Vicky is Manchester Cares' Programme Coordinator managing our Love Your Neighbour programme.