It might seem like an iron-clad rule, but here are three places where it’s okay to go ahead and chat with a stranger.
I wonder how you view your next door neighbours? Do you think of neighbours as being noisy, nosey or a nuisance? Or do you see your neighbours as “good”? Continue reading Neighbours: a dirty word?
The idea behind Casserole Club, is simple: we connect people who like to cook and are up for sharing an extra plate of hot, home-cooked food with a neighbour who could really benefit from one.
You may think that Casserole Club- the community that connects cooks with spare portions to those in their community who might not be able to cook for themselves, is only about sharing food.
With a tagline “Do something great with an extra plate”, Casserole also aims to build local relationships between neighbours. Of course as well as that, many old and housebound community members live in isolation – so this project is dealing with two fundamental issues in one go.
So, Casserole has the potential to help tackle the growing social problems of loneliness and malnutrition among older people, and at the same time help connect people with their neighbours. Here’s an example from Meal of the Month, a regular feature on the Casserole Club blog.
Lucy, a Cook from Tower Hamlets, cooked spicy mint lamb for elderly Diners John and Helen. The three have shared a couple of meal shares before, but due to a busy summer they have just got back in touch. When she went around with her dish on Saturday, Lucy tells us, it was absolutely lovely. She was invited inside by Helen for a cup of tea and a chat, where Helen enjoyed telling Lucy all about her previous nursing experiences. John, who is ill and usually stays in bed during the visits, was well enough to come sit with them and enjoy the conversation. He thanked Lucy for her visit and was happy to have company. Helen and John have lived in Tower Hamlets for a long time, and described to Lucy – a Tower Hamlets resident of 6 years – how the area has changed over the years and how the olden days compared to today. Lucy was pleased with the visit and, even though she is going away in a few weeks and has a hectic schedule, she is hoping to arrange another meal share before she leaves.
That’s just one example of how Casserole addresses an aspect of community life our communities used to do for itself – and there are many more.
As Casserole cook Katie told us: “Shared dining experiences have been the fabric of communities since forever, and if we want to “rebuild” communities, food seems like a good place to start.”
“After two generations of ‘on your own economics’ it’s hard for people to ask for and receive help from their neighbours.” These are the words of a member of a Resilience Circle in the US. Local community support groups based around mutual aid and action, Resilience Circles are part of a growing movement in the US and elsewhere in the west to recreate local support networks in the face of declining social and economic conditions.
Her words struck me as being pertinent to discussion of the shift from transactional welfare – and indeed from a transactional consumerist economy – to a welfare system and economy based around relationships, gifts and people.
The values our society has promoted over the last thirty years – independence, greed, never having enough – have become so ingrained that we are now finding it necessary to relearn the instincts of care, of giving, sharing, supporting – and receiving support – that previous generations would have taken for granted.
Her words reminded me of a charity boss from Zambia I met a few years ago who came over to work in New Start’s parent company CLES on a placement. It was the first time he had left Africa and when I asked him what surprised him most about British life, he spoke about his surprise at how little British people interacted with their neighbours and supported each other in their communities. In his community his neighbours are an integral part of his life, and homeless people and others in need are automatically looked after within the community. While in the west we have structures and services – which demand ever increasing amounts of money – to help those in need, in many other cultures mutual support for those in your locality is a given, making many social services unnecessary.
So do we need to re-learn our need for and dependence on our neighbours and to recreate the mutual support networks we have lost?
Co-produced services are helping us to understand again the value of mutual support. Casserole Club for example invites local people to cook an extra plate of food for a neighbour in need, replacing meals on wheels with a far more personal service. Participle’s Circle Movement helps elderly people be looked after in their homes by re-building local social networks.
The flourishing of the gift and sharing economies are bringing new understandings of how we can relate to and look after each other without the conduit of money.
Sometimes it takes a shock to remind us of our own vulnerability. I was lucky enough to meet Edgar Cahn the founder of Timebanking a few years ago. He invented the concept of timebanking while recovering from a heart attack aged 44 and understanding for the first time what neediness and dependency mean and how the current structure of services treat those in need like passive recipients.
Timebanking works by building up the ‘core economy’ – of family and community and care – things that usually have no value in the market economy. It highlights reciprocity and interdependence and values everyone equally.
But Cahn doesn’t want to return to a dewy-eyed past idea of trust and community. And it should not only be in times of shock that we develop and rediscover our interdependence with each other and revalue human support. Instead Cahn imagines a new understanding of humanity which values and respects every individual’s opportunity to create and develop, just as Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics imagines the Age of Reunion, defined by an abundance mentality and the generosity of a connected self.
At a time when we’re told there are no alternatives to an economic system that has created and continues to create harm and when welfare reform is focused on saving money rather than caring more deeply for the vulnerable, the need to rediscover and value the relational has never been greater. Every baby step away from the transactional and towards the relational is a step towards the new understanding of humanity that Cahn and others have envisaged. And it starts by re-connecting with our neighbours…
Clare Goff is editor of New Start Magazine.