In this time of crisis it’s been heartening to see the many different ways community spirit is shining through in towns and cities across the world – from hundreds of thousands volunteering for the NHS in the UK and children sharing rainbow pictures in their windows, to people singing from their balconies across Europe and beyond.
This renewed sense of community will be vital in helping us all through the coronavirus crisis, and it’s something that community organisations have been nurturing and supporting for many decades, especially in recent times, with many people feeling the financial and social impacts of austerity and rising levels of loneliness – way before physical distancing and self-isolation.
The Salvation Army’s Open Table
One of these organisations is The Salvation Army in Sneinton, who invited the community to sit down and share a weekly meal together over the winter, via a project called Open Table supported through our Community Grant scheme. Abi Pitt from The Salvation Army explained:
“When we asked for feedback about Open Table, community spirit was mentioned on several occasions by many participants, with 100% of people answering ‘yes definitely’ to the question ‘do you feel a sense of community at Open Table?’.
“People loved that we had a wide mix of people joining our meals as it meant they also felt accepted in this environment. People felt like this was their social environment too, with many having Open Table as their only social space during the week, for a variety of reasons such as anxiety, depression, lack of confidence, not feeling accepted elsewhere etc.
“Many people commented on the food, we only used fresh vegetables, and although some people would have also liked meat, we found that many people really enjoyed our meals and requested their favourites.”
A sense of belonging
Sneinton Salvation Army used their Community Grant to buy cooking equipment for their latest Open Table project, which ran for 10 weeks from December to February, including pans and having a donated cooker fitted. They also put the money towards food for their weekly Open Table meals, which included dishes such as vegetarian stew, homemade soup and jacket potatoes.
Abi continued: “Open Table drew people from many different backgrounds and we were passionate about being a welcoming meal in our community. We encouraged people to join in to make sure they felt like they belonged and were valued. We did this by doing everything together, from setting the table, serving each other and spending time over food, to packing everything away and doing the washing up.
“We also felt able to have deeper conversations with some of our Open Table community, because they returned on a regular basis and we have a relationship with them. We knew this meal was very important to people.
“Sneinton is an area where people come and go and it was nice to have a homely space where people could just be. Open Table supported 171 people in total, with around 17 people joining in every week, from young people to the over 50s.”
What participants thought of Open Table
The Salvation Army had a range of responses to the question ‘What’s your favourite thing about Open Table?’ including:
“getting to know new people”
“the lovely food and friendliness”
“having someone else there for company and eating together”
“the honest people and good conversation, group bonding skills”
“the sense of community and connection”
“open hearts, food, hospitality is top notch”
“food, safe space to be”
“meeting people from different backgrounds”
“the conviviality in a peaceful, accepting environment”
All of those responses are a brilliant description of community spirit and fingers crossed we will be able to share community meals together again very soon. In the meantime, it’s encouraging to see people find new ways of supporting one another in this time of physical distancing and self-isolation, whether that’s online, through volunteering, or simply by respecting each other’s space and staying 2m apart when we’re out exercising or shopping for food and medicine – helping to save lives in our communities and protect the NHS.
How is your community connecting?
We’d love to hear examples of how your neighbours, street or community has found new ways to support each other and celebrate community spirit through the lockdown. Email us to share your stories.