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As part of Leicester Ageing Together’s Community Connectors programme, Connectors identified the need for a community-based initiative, Close Encounters. The simple aim of Close Encounters was to help create a shared space to encourage neighbours to look out for one another. The results are powerful stories of trust-building and community empowerment.
Community Connector, Deborah Harris, explains:
“Tragically, the idea for Close Encounters came from local news about people on the estate who had died alone in their bungalows, and whose bodies hadn’t been found until a few days after. People expressed sadness about living, and dying, alone. We wanted to create a relaxed outdoor Pop-Up café space where neighbours could get to know each other, and hopefully look out for each other.”
The initiative used Asset Based Community Development, (ABCD), an approach based on the principle of identifying and mobilising individual and community ‘assets’, rather than focusing on problems and needs (i.e. ‘deficits’). Debs explains:
“Using an ABCD approach we made contacts through our Pop-Up café in the local community centre, and identified two cul-de-sacs to test our approach. Each of our contacts acted as a ‘Close Host’ and was involved in the co-production of the Pop-Up cafe events. About a week before the event, we sent out personalised hand-written invitations to all households in the cul-de-sac. On the day, we came with gazebos, deck chairs, cream-teas and sun umbrellas to support the host of the Pop-Up café. We played board games, and shared information on local services around the area. It’s important to take services out to people, and not just expect people to come to services. At the end of the session – we left people to it – they’d brought their own chairs, and they carried on playing dominoes.”
Attendance at the events was high, and this success is attributed to the trust built up between Community Connectors and the Close Hosts. The personal touch of receiving hand-written invitations helped the neighbours feel valued – that their presence mattered. Information was gathered on the reasons why residents didn’t attend. Community Connectors gathered feedback from participants at the events, which was overwhelmingly positive. The events also gave an opportunity for residents to seek help about local services; for example, a resident with damp in their house was supported to report this to the local council.
The Community Connectors spoke to a ‘Close Host’ six months on and heard that neighbours are now connecting more with each other. The Host found that hosting the Pop-Up Café was a positive experience and is pleased that they now pull together more as a collective community. “We used to wave at each other, but now there are more connections. We know what to talk about. We’ve arranged a Christmas meal out together!” explained the Close Host.
Other indicators of positive impact include:
- The Community Connectors referred one of the residents to a course, and this positive experience has led to the setting up of a local Family History Group based in a local church
- A lively and creative residents’ Poetry Group has been featured in the Leicester Ageing Together newsletter
- Residents are reporting the lessening of tensions and improved relationships between neighbours
A ‘top-tips’ guide for being a ‘Close Host’ has been distributed to all residents in the cul-de-sac to encourage someone new to develop the confidence to take on the leadership and coordination role next time.