Over the last few years Community Circles have worked in both extra care and local communities to bring people together around shared interests. Focussing on what matters most to people, exploring their life histories, and then planning with them if and how they would like to connect and contribute to those bigger Circles. This has helped us to organically grow a self-sustaining model of support. 

We have recently started working alongside ‘Making Space’ with their carers support services with the aim of developing carer led peer support interest groups. To further strengthen natural support networks, the carers teams also want to develop buddy schemes within and across services. 

I was invited to spend a day with carers team members from ‘Making Space’ with the brief to provide a Community Circles experience. Area managers wanted to see how we could introduce Circles to the teams in a way that felt fun and explorative, a way that we could incorporate Circles approaches without it feeling daunting or overwhelming. I thought about the essence of Circles and felt that on the day we could explore the things that matter to us as individuals, the contributions we can make and the sharing of our stories. 

My first suggestion was to have a shared lunch, where we could all bring along a recipe, a recipe that meant something to us, and with it we could share a memory, a moment or maybe multiple moments of happiness attached to that food. We also chatted about activities where we could share the things that matter to us, those things maybe we take everywhere with us and why we feel they are important to us. Lastly, we thought about something we could do together where teams would visualise an event that they had to plan but where they had no money. Instead, they had to think of ways that they could help make the event a success by giving what they know, their time, their knowledge, and their skills. 

Our event day arrived and everyone attending brought a different type of food. We got to taste everything from baklava to fruit bread and family recipes for Greek salad, meat curry and vegetable dahl with sides of spiced chutney and onion bhajis. Hearing people’s stories behind the recipe choices was a joy, they shared memories of cooking with grandparents and parents, for and with neighbours and told of amazing cookbooks full of recipes handed down through the generations. When it came to planning their low-cost events, teams got creative and made mood boards of their day. They thought about what they could make, grow, sew, and sing and added images to represent each to their boards. Each team presented their mood board to the room, which were met with many ‘Ooh’s’ ‘Aahhs’ and cries of ‘What a great idea’ from the rest of the room as well as lots of laughter.  

At the end of the session teams talked about how they really got the concept of Circles. They could see how they could start to contribute, talking about how they could share foods with others in the future. One lady talked of how if felt ‘like the old days, where neighbours would come together to share food and support each other’. Others added that they were planning some new groups and the day had sparked ideas of how they could start to explore what people may know and what they could bring to their respective carers services moving forward. I look forward to seeing how creative approaches can support Making Space carers Circles from here on in. 

Sharon Wilton