By Christine Durrant, Community Builder for Preston, Paignton
As a community builder I am often asked what is a typical day. The answer is always there is no such thing as a typical day. However, there are some things that feature regularly. One is that we are more likely to be found out in the community than in an office. At one stage my husband thought I had taken up residence in our local pub, the Old Manor Inn at Preston, where Mandy and her team have been so supportive of Ageing Well and what we are trying to achieve.
We started out with a few ad hoc coffee mornings. These were quite well attended but nothing much came from them until someone suggested that we meet more regularly. We tried fortnightly and numbers improved marginally. Then the members said they wanted to meet weekly. I couldn’t commit to supporting them every week but by then it was evident that we had a core group who could and would commit to being there and welcoming new people. They gave themselves a name and ‘Manor Mates’ was born.
Once the community took ownership things began to happen. Friendships were formed and members were meeting outside the group for lunch or inviting each other to join them at U3A and other activities. Some of them meet to play cards and have learned to play Mahjong. Others have joined forces to go on coach trips organised by Karing. One day they decided to go from coffee at the Manor to lunch at a local café. New people are always invited along and for some who were finding it hard to eat alone this has had a very beneficial effect on their lives.
A fortnightly minibus trip to the Willows grew from a conversation at the coffee morning and an introduction from the community builder to community transport.
At the same time as Manor Mates was developing, I had made contact with a lady who was new to the area and missed playing pool with her friends as she used to. For many months we met just once a month. When we found a couple of other players to join us, we made it twice a month. Then we found someone who, like the original lady, wanted to play every week. Once again making it a weekly event made all the difference. We added darts to the mix and suddenly there were 8 people coming regularly.
Some people from the Tuesday Club, a coffee morning at Occombe Farm Café, wanted to do something social in the evening. Thus, we started a monthly Skittles evening at the Manor. From that grew a desire to play skittles during the day. A conversation with Mandy and the Friday morning skittles group was born. Again, they meet weekly and everyone enjoys it.
You can see why my husband thought I lived at the pub!
So, what does a community builder do?
We seek out the assets in a community. These might be physical places, good venues which are open, clean and accessible. They might be possible venues which with a bit of TLC could become something great. They might be venues with helpful, welcoming people at the helm who want to foster community in their area.
Other assets are people who naturally like making connections with other people; who introduce friends to friends for the sheer pleasure of seeing them enjoy each other’s company. These are the people who really make the welcoming atmosphere you find in Ageing Well groups.
We look for local knowledge. The people who know who is good to speak to about any given thing. The ones who can introduce you to the movers and shakers in the area. The ones who can help move things forward. We share that knowledge with those we meet.
We listen for the great ideas that are waiting to grow. The people with passion who want to improve things for their neighbourhood. We draw alongside them and help them realise their dream by connecting them to venues and other people who can help them.
We write about what we have found in our local magazines or newsletters so that all this local knowledge is shared helping people to find what is already there but also be inspired by these possibilities.
It is amazing how often one seemingly chance meeting can lead to something wonderful happening. If you haven’t yet met your community builder why not give our office a call on 01803 212638 and get their contact details? Alternatively, visit the Community Builders’ page here on the Ageing Well Torbay website. Make that connection and see the difference you can make in your community.
Christine Durrant has been the community builder in Preston since May 2015.