I love nattering and the wide variety of conversations you can have with people; from putting the world to rights with the postman on an early dog walk, to chatting at the bar with someone because you’re both wearing a James t-shirt on the way to a gig or just a few minutes of company and conversation with someone on a train.  

I give a bit of my time each week to chat to someone on the phone.  Lockdown restrictions limited some opportunities for conversation and I missed that, so when I saw a post asking for volunteers to chat with people on the phone I signed up.  This was to support a need in me that I was missing and also hoping that someone would enjoy chatting with me.

I could be labelled as a volunteer and it’s true I do give my time freely but the reason I spend my time chatting on the phone is because it supports my own wellbeing, I enjoy the conversation and connection.  I sometimes struggle with the notion of ‘volunteering’ where there feels an imbalance of power between the volunteer and the recipient.  The gift of time is one of the greatest things we can give but how can we share our time together so that relationships can be reciprocal, where we can walk alongside each other and recognise the contributions that we can all make?  Camerados suggest that if we see someone struggling, instead of offering help we should ask people to help us.  This helps convey our trust in others, gives people a valued purpose and a space of belonging.  “Can you do me a favour” is a really powerful ask which supports reciprocal relationships where power is shared and everyone benefits.

Circles Connected is our offer in local communities where we work alongside people, helping people do more of whatever matters to them and explore opportunities to connect people around shared interests where friendships can flourish.  

Instead of ‘volunteering’ we are exploring community contributions; 2 hours a month doing something you love where we could invite other people to join you, an opportunity to support your own wellbeing through giving and connecting with others.  I remember a few years ago asking my husband to volunteer with someone living with dementia, he said no because he didn’t feel confident doing that.  When I asked him if he wanted to come and chat to Jim about motorbikes on Friday evening and suggested he bring some beers with him, he was really keen and together with Jim and some other motorbike enthusiasts they had a great couple of hours together.  The opportunities for shared interests creates a space where we all have a sense of belonging and supports everyone’s wellbeing.  Reflecting back on this now, my learning is not only about the language I used and being specific about what I ask for but also recognising the interests we have and the enjoyment we gain when we can share them with others.  

A friend of mine is hosting an open water swim meet up once a month; he’s set up a Facebook Group, created an event and there’s lots of conversation about what cake people are bringing.  I’m really looking forward to having a regular get together and meeting new people for swimming, cake and conversation…I might become a swim host too, I may try new cake recipes, we may find we have other things in common…who knows where the ripples of connections will take us…

How would you spend two hours a month doing something you love and bringing people together?  Do share your ideas with us by emailing cath@community-circles.co.uk.

Cath Barton