On March 20, 2020, two local volunteer groups in Medway, UK, merged to create the Mutual Aid Road Reps (MARR) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. MARR’s goal is to help address the immediate needs of Medway residents that may have arisen due to the strict lockdown restrictions. One of MARR’s most successful initiatives is the Let’s Get Chatty (LGC) service.
The Let’s Get Chatty Service
Offering Medway residents a sense of community, LGC has over 30 active volunteers and has reached nearly 100 local residents. The LGC service includes:
- Friendly phone calls. Volunteers offer a friendly and supportive ear to isolated individuals through weekly calls. Shila Jassal, the LGC Coordinator, says, “A lot of people were feeling very isolated and lonely. They needed to chat. It was like everyone became very insular in their homes. So the idea was to say, ‘here we are if you need to chat, please get in touch.’”
- Coffee, Chat and Connect morning sessions. To give people an opportunity to meet face-to-face safely, LGC started hosting Coffee, Chat, and Connect sessions twice a month in local cafes last September. The idea is to help individuals feel connected with one another and with the outside world after months of being in lockdown.
- Walk and Talk Sessions. During the second and third lockdowns in the UK, LGC temporarily stopped hosting the Coffee, Chat, and Connect morning sessions. When LGC got word from the government that volunteer groups were allowed to meet outdoors, they decided to do “Walk and Talk” sessions to continue providing a way for people to come together safely. “Those who came really benefited from the walks. What’s been great is we’ve been to some really beautiful, scenic places. And we can still get our coffees and talk and get to know each other.”
The International Pen Pal Scheme
Recently, LGC introduced a new initiative, the International Pen Pal Scheme, to expand its community and give people a chance to connect globally with others in isolation.
PenPals will be able to connect with each other using social media platforms to participate in group sessions. In sharing the inspiration for her newest idea, Shila told us, “I started to notice how there were people around the world that were feeling disconnected. I thought it would be great to reach out to people worldwide and share experiences to reduce the sense of social isolation. For me, It wasn’t even about distance. It was literally about the commonality of the human experience and being there for each other. I wanted to cut across borders; I wanted to cut across all the differences that people think divide or separate us.”
LGC aims to continue their good work in Medway and globally with the International Pen Pal Scheme even after the COVID crisis is behind us. A significant success of LGC has been the forging of the local community and the ability for people to come out and join with others where they may not have done so otherwise. In reflecting on LGC’s accomplishments this past year, Shila says, “It’s helped people come out of their shells and become happier and content in the area. It gives me such a joy to see that.”
Want to be a Pen Pal?
To join LGC’s International Pen Pal Scheme, or for more details, email firstname.lastname@example.org.