A local group aiming to reduce social isolation and bring people together has created a welcoming community for people from all backgrounds. Chat over Chai volunteer and committee member, Lynne, reports.
The Thursday Chat over Chai group began as a safe place to which the Independence & Wellbeing team (IWT) could refer members of the community who they felt would benefit from an informal and informative friendship group to support their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, whilst reducing their risk of social isolation.
From a handful of people – mostly but not exclusively over 50 and from minority ethnic backgrounds – the group has become a wonderfully diverse group of people with very different histories, experiences and needs who come together for a stimulating programme of talks, courses, events, experiences and outings which have enhanced their learning and understanding in many areas, enriching their lives.
We have had opportunities to learn more about our city and what is available to us; been informed about issues affecting our health and wellbeing; we’ve made jewellery, sketched, sewed, played musical instruments, played games, cooked, eaten, celebrated cultural events, festivals and birthdays, danced, learned and laughed together in sessions led by professionals, teachers, volunteers, enthusiasts and members. We have drunk tea of course and most importantly, we have made friends.
I joined the group shortly after retiring from a long career in Early Years education, within which, as well as teaching, I had held posts for equalities, inclusion, diversity and English as an additional language both locally and nationally. I joined Chat over Chai at the invitation of Rowshonara Reza, a one-time colleague and long-time friend and founder of the group. Now we have a committee, of which I am a member; I benefit from the group in many ways and am able to contribute to it as well as receive from it, both elements being important.
I was recruited partly as a volunteer but also as someone suffering from a whole lot of ‘loss’: recently widowed, recently retired and having become an ‘empty nester’, often alone. Like so many people of my age, and in my situation, I was, and am, as vulnerable to the debilitating loneliness and social isolation which blights our society as anyone else.
One of the things I value most about this group is that it is not overtly aimed at one specific group or type of person. There is something for everyone here, it is a ‘come as you are’ group, properly inclusive and truly diverse; no one needs a label to attend and there is no one specific thing we all have in common – except perhaps a desire for friendship, companionship, somewhere to be for a little while – the group does what it says on the teapot!
Chat over Chai runs every Thursday at 12.30pm – 2.30pm at the Havelock Community Centre, 324 Fawcett Road, PO4 0LQ. Why not head along and check it out?