A year ago South London Cares, a new community network in Southwark and Lambeth, opened quietly with a small “Stockwell Startup” gathering at a day centre near the tube.
That little tea party, on that Friday afternoon last August, was a chance for young professionals and older neighbours – people who wouldn’t normally interact in this unrelenting capital of ours – to spend a little time and get to know one another. The hope was that locals would be inspired by the lives, stories and personalities, and the richness of the people and places, around them.
Frankly, it was a bit of a risk. Although I’d had the experience over three years of establishing North London Cares, our sister charity above the river which had at that time signed up 800 young professionals to hang out with 1,000 older neighbours, we had no certainty that the model could translate.
Southwark and Lambeth are unique places with unique histories. They’re different from the boroughs to the north, east and west. They’re full of local colour, dynamism, life. But they’re also full of isolation, loneliness and anonymity.
That’s why we wanted to set up South London Cares. Our instinct was that, just like people, while each life is individual and each perspective subjective, the human experience is universal, and sharable. Our goal was to bring people together across deepening, seemingly insurmountable social lines to combat loneliness, expand horizons, and help people stay valued, vibrant and visible.
That first tea party, with Sam and Jenny, William, Benita and just a handful of others, gave us an injection of confidence that, with a twist of south London zest and the support of local businesses and charities, we could create a network of younger and older neighbours hanging out and helping one another for the benefit of all.
And over the past year, that’s exactly what our amazing volunteers have created.
Albert and Anya have shared tips on social media, and built a friendship across the ages. Lupita and Charlotte have helped each other with their Spanish. Beryl has shown Georgina how to live in the moment. Lorna has found a better work/life balance.
Nearly 200 young professionals have already been actively involved, sharing BBQs, trips to city corporates, Franco Manca pizza-making skills, advice on how to stay warm and so much more with some 400 older neighbours – through 160 social clubs from Brixton to Bermondsey, Waterloo to Walworth and our one-to-one Love Your Neighbour project.
As we celebrate South London Cares’ first birthday, we’re so encouraged that so many young people have been part of 6,000 interactions, 700 shared meals, and mad, mad challenges including week-long triathlons to raise money for the charity.
And as we remember that little gathering in Stockwell, we’ll always recall the words of another of our older neighbours, Helen, who over 96 years has seen this city change so much: “I keep hold of my memories and play them back to myself, but it’s not as good as talking about it with someone. It makes me feel young again – at least 10 years younger!”