Having visited most of the locations that are offering Companions Hours and spoken to so many different people I wonder whether Gillingham is on the way to being the friendliest community in the country!
Whilst I was in Gillingham I had many conversations that repeated themes I have heard elsewhere or thoughts that I have had and this blog is intended to summarise some of them.
"Such a simple idea!"
Belinda Ridout, Mayor of Gillingham, did an opening speech that included the words ‘Very often it is the simple ideas that are the most effective!’ Starting with a cup of coffee….. it gives people an opportunity to be near people who can offer friendship and it is entirely up to the individual to make that choice by use of these simple but clever ‘Chat Mats’. For use anywhere, at any time - on the train, at home, in a café, at work or during the ‘Companions Hours’ held at locations all over the town.
"It’s not for me, I’ll talk to anyone!"
The challenge is that none of us our mindreaders. When we sit down to have a cup of coffee we may be by ourselves waiting for a friend, having a break on a long journey, taking a rest from looking after the children or just wandering around trying to escape the four walls that are our home. No one knows. Even when you have a green Chat Mat on your table another person wont know if that is because you are lonely or because you ‘will talk to anyone’ but it gives people ‘permission’ to sit down and ‘Say Hello’.
"But I don’t drink coffee."
Ok, so maybe the name is misleading – we really don’t mind whether people start a conversation over a cup of coffee, a pint of beer, or a glass of orange squash. Indeed I know of one gentleman who goes along to a Companions Hour and has a glass of water. The idea is that it should be easy to arrange as the café is already there, that you don’t need to commit a specific time, or even lots of time – a drink is quicker than a meal especially for a first conversation and indeed where it might be difficult to join someone part way through a meal its easy to join in part way through a drink. What is important is starting the conversation. Just start by saying hello.
"How do we spread the word?"
Almost without exception people say this is a good and simple idea but how do we tell everyone about it? As I had the conversations with people while handing out Chat Mats in the street there were plenty of suggestions:
- ‘There are lots of us who catch the bus and sometimes have a bit of time to fill. There’s a coffee shop right by one of the bus stops – I will take some Chat Mats for some of the others to use there.’
- ‘We don’t have this where I live – I wish we did. With all the funding cuts I cant believe our Health and Wellbeing board wouldn’t want to give this a go.’
- ‘I go to a senior citizens club perhaps someone could come along to tell us more so that we have a way to meet up outside of the club hours.’