‘It Makes You Feel Part of the Community’: Chat Over Chai Pt II

How has the pandemic affected the local voluntary sector? In the second of a two part series, Covid-19 Community Reporter Paris Ali-Pilling interviews Sandra Hall, Chair of Chat Over Chai. Read part one here.

Transcribed by Angela Cheverton.

Paris: In part one you mentioned how you were using tech to communicate, how has the group adapted to using tech, instead of real-world interaction?

Sandra: It was difficult. I remember asking the group in the beginning. Either they don’t have the right facilities, the Wi Fi connection, or the ability to use technology. So, some people take a long time [to get used to it] and there were some folk who have done really well. Zoom has become a way of life and a way to connect with groups and discussions. I had some help learning how to use [Zoom], but I’m fortunate to have folk in my home who have that ability and have helped me to quickly get used to using it.

The main thing at the moment [is], most people have mobile phones, so we’ve been able to use that, but I would like to get better at using Zoom. If we did have to run a meeting and people were able to get more equipped through talks or discussions, that’s something we need to be looking at for the future, how are we going to connect because the virus is not going away completely, even if we have [more] lockdowns. Winter months are coming, and we don’t know how we’re going to be affected.

We’ve been running a few social distancing picnics, at the Cumberland [House] Museum Gardens. We make sure that [we try not to] break any rules, but we thought people were really missing seeing each other, and [struggling with] not being able to meet. We thought, while the weather is good let’s encourage a couple of folks, even it’s a couple that will come out and just chat and talk to each other and know that there’s someone they can find some comfort with. It has been good.

What do you see for the group going forward when it comes to coming together again?

Well, like everybody, we hope that it would be normal. You have to go into meetings and just be able to chat, and hug, and talk, and eat together. I mean, a lot of our meetings are surrounded with food. We are a group [that] likes having food together, and it’s so sad that we can’t cook, plan, and make things, and do things together.

I’m open to trying different things. We need to have a risk assessment for going back into the building, Havelock Community Centre have said to us that we need a risk assessment. And we need to be masked, so nobody will be able to go into the building, unless you’re fully masked. And then the other problem is that we normally serve teas and coffees so we’re going to have to find a way of using the facilities. We have to make sure that everything is germ free and we’re using gloves because we want to keep people safe.

We don’t want at the end of the group [for] somebody [to] come back and say they’ve had COVID because we were careless. My worry is that we need to be very stringent on all the rules, but at the same time, if we can get people back in, and we can get presenters to come and talk to us and people are really buzzing about [potential] projects. We loved as I said to you, working on the D Day Museum sari project and the Chatterbox project, so they really want to get back into doing something because it helps your self-esteem.

As a mother, when you’re at home maybe you don’t have any other outlet. When you do a project it really builds you up. It really makes you feel wanted, it makes you feel part of the community, it makes you feel that people care about your wellbeing. We’re definitely open to people offering us projects that we could possibly do, so if there’s any projects in the city that would benefit a small group of women, and we could get involved in it, we’re happy for people to send us ideas. And if we can, if it’s the right thing for us, we will go with it.

Is there anything else you would like to talk about that we haven’t covered?

We talked about isolation and I don’t know if I mentioned things like funerals and marriages and where people were not able to visit family in hospitals. I know some people who were ill and/or had parents in hospital, and they couldn’t visit them. I think that was so difficult. If somebody died and you couldn’t spend those last moments with them. That’s so sad to me.

I also want to say that making appointments with the doctors, people may be suffering with situations at the moment. They don’t want [an] appointment because it’s such a long-winded way to get a doctor’s appointment. You need to go online, you need to call them up, and it’s so difficult if your [first] language is not English.

If you don’t have the facilities of an iPhone, how do you actually get stuff in? How do you get through to doctors if you need help? These things are a big concern to us. We need more ways of letting people know. I know that maybe a newsletter could help the people there and so these are some of the things that you could access if you can’t get help.

The HIVE put up a project on uniforms for school, for going back to school if you didn’t have a school uniform, it’s expensive now to clothe and to find things. What I want to say is, could we have more coordination [between] the groups, the things that are happening in the City of Portsmouth so that it’s open to a lot more people’s knowledge. And then we can actually signpost people saying this is the situation, if you need food go to the food bank, if you need clothes or help, this is where [to go].

That’s what we need, a bit more help.

What would you say to policymakers, to the local council, MPs or government to help your group and its members?

I think we are getting more funding and the more we get a voice, like saying things about how the community is struggling, I think these things would definitely help. In the past, we did have an MP coming to our group and listening to the concerns about the community, [such as] if people had issues not paying their rent or their electricity bills.

How are we going to meet some of the local needs of people who are furloughed, who don’t have enough finances? Can they create more job fairs, or [places] where people can get help and counselling about getting back into work, and finding ways of supporting or supplementing their incomes?

If businesses have closed down, are there any helplines to deal with that type of thing? Because I’m sure that if you lose your job, as a man you must be really feeling your lowest. So, we need more assistance, more programs out there to get people back into work, or helping people who are vulnerable staying at home, supporting elderly families.

For example, if you have older parents living at home with you, you have children, and you are working, how do you manage to do all of that at the same time without it causing extreme anxiety to your mental health and to your wellbeing?  There are definitely struggles people are facing. We want to get people on the doorsteps talking to people and listening to what is needed in the community. I think that’s so lacking, listening to the needs and then actually putting it to the government, putting it to the people higher up.

Unless those things are being taken seriously what is the point? We can say all we like, we can shout and scream and have inner protests, but unless some of these things are taken seriously, I think people will just become disillusioned.

But I want to be positive. People have had some time to stop and to take a little bit of cognisance of what’s going on. [You’ve had] more time with family life, more time to play games with your children, [and] more time to connect with your loved ones, [it] is a positive thing.

Thank you for the opportunity to interview you.

Thank you for inviting us to participate. We really appreciate Star and Crescent’s involvement in Chat Over Chai, following us and making our little group known about what we do. Hopefully it will be a positive message that we want to be there for the people in Portsmouth.


S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:

  • voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
  • small businesses and self-employed people
  • BAME communities
  • people with disabilities

We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.

If you are interested in sharing your experiences in any of these areas, get in touch with us over on Facebook and Twitter, or email us at submissions@starandcrescent.org.uk

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