I love Christmas. But not everyone does. Infact, a YouGov survey in 2019 revealed that 1 in 7 people don’t like Christmas. And to be honest, I’ve probably had a love/hate relationship with it at different times in my life too.
I spent most of my life as part of the Salvation Army, including playing in the band. This of course meant copious amounts of playing of Christmas Carols on cold street corners or occasionally we got to go indoors. It was always fun at the start of the month but slowly waned as the month went on! One highlight back home in Canterbury though was the Christmas Eve Community Carol Singing in the town centre which, on a good night, would have around 5000 people in attendance. However I’d felt over the rest of the month, I always got lifted by this event. A little part of me still misses this workload – but I soon get over it!
In later life, I was running a Furniture ReUse Project linked to a Homeless Resettlement Unit. It was my privilege to give the team a couple of weeks off at Christmas. However, it became clear that whilst this seemed a great gesture, it was not well received. This project was a lifeline for my team and what I was sending them off to was usually 2 weeks of solitude. I felt bad that it never crossed my mind. So before long, I organised that if they wanted, they could go into the warehouse and do some cleaning and basic maintenance work. Christmas had become a negative time for them – reminding them often of what they had lost in their lives. They needed to keep busy and not be left to wallow in their own company.
During this time, my view of Christmas changed considerably. While understanding more about the team I was supporting, I also got married and became a dad. I had two opposite extremes of the season. Avoiding loneliness versus childhood amazement.
So, to quote from the carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, do you experience “tidings of comfort and joy” this Christmastime? Or do you take more inspiration from Charles Dickens’ creation of Ebeneezer Scrooge with a touch of Bah Humbug? Or maybe you’re just wavering somewhere in the middle. Wherever you are, it’s important to recognise that not everyone is in the same place as you.
I’ve mentioned Camerados in this blog before and for this week’s blog, I’m actually handing the rest of the space over to them. Their CEO Maff Potts, a former colleague of mine in Salvation Army homelessness work, has just written a fantastic blog entitled (in his usual mildly eccentric way) “Why we all need to be a little alien this Christmas”. Maff describes his “complicated relationship with Christmas”. He says “it’s a time of year when I remember witnessing the very best feeling of belonging – and yet all the noise, the Christmas fanfare everywhere you look, is rarely about that magic.” The blog is a fantastic read that focuses on the pressures on all our Mental Health this Christmas time and how we can get through it together by simply being more human. Please take the time to read what Maff has to say – I promise you won’t regret it. You can get to his blog by clicking on the image below.
Allow me to introduce you to the movement that is … Camerados. Being a Camerado basically means to look out for each other and, as the title of this blog suggests, to be more human.
So why am I telling you about this movement? Well, basically because here at OPCT HQ we have joined up with them (for free) on your behalf, to gain ideas, resources and support that will help us grow even more as a strong united community. (Have a look at their website for yourself if you want!)
Already we do pretty well at this strong community stuff across Camelon and Tamfourhill but there are always opportunities to do more, to grow more, to be more, well, human! You see, so often, as we live stressed and struggling lifestyles, relying on overstretched and underfunded services, the answer to our problems could lie right here in our community – with each other.
The official blurb says that “Being a Camerado is about recognising we’re all going through stuff and that it’s ok to be a bit rubbish sometimes… but that tough times get easier when you’re alongside, not being fixed or fixing, but having a laugh, mucking in, putting the kettle on and looking out for each other. Why? Because when we look out for each other we get the two essentials that make life worth living: friends and purpose.”
Regular readers who pay attention to this blog will recognise a word in there that I use a lot – alongside. That’s the key in my eyes. To stop doing things for or to people because we think it’s right, and to start coming alongside people and doing things with them. And do you know what? The other person might even be able to help you!
Camerados operate through 6 principles as shown in the image below but I’ll explain them too:
It’s ok to fail. And thank goodness for that! We don’t have to get things right all the time – just as long as we learn and try not to make the same mistake again. It’s okay to try something out and for it not to work – at least you tried when many might not even have bothered starting.
We don’t try to fix other people. Just be alongside them. There it is again – alongside! But the fixing thing is important to flag up. I love to help people reach their inner potential. To help them achieve what they were designed to achieve. But in my heart, I am a fixer. Show me a problem and I’ll find a solution. That’s fine in a lot of settings and has served me well in project development work over the years. But here, the biggest challenge for me in this job is to help people to develop – not to develop the people. That’s where our impaCT coaching programme comes in too. Helping people to ask the right questions and come up with the answers they need to move forwards. And training for this has helped me as well! So I’m here to help people – yes, you – to find their own fixes in life – and, as the graphic above says, to have lots of tea too (am I allowed to add cake or at least a biscuit onto that as well?)
We mix with people who don’t look like us. This is not just about race or religion but even people who have a different outlook on life – a different career path – different tastes. As an Englishman who supports Spurs, I’m used to being different! But I live in Camelon and have mixed with many people over the last nearly 5 years, who you wouldn’t normally think would mix with the likes of me. Yes there’s a light hearted element to those last 2 sentences but this is equally a serious point. We are a strong community but a community that has changed a lot over the years and is now proudly multi-cultural. Let’s embrace difference more and really celebrate community.
Remember – have fun! I often get accused of being a bit frivolous in life. I like a laugh and a joke even if my kids despair at most of my jokes (don’t they realise that just makes me tell them more!) But that is not to say that I don’t put in a hard slog, get stressed out, lose the plot and other things like that. But at the heart of everything we do, we need to keep returning to this principle – a lot.
If we disagree, level with other respectfully. Similar to principle 3, we’re all different – but that’s ok. We will have different opinions and views on things – but that’s ok. The trick is to disagree respectfully. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean everyone else is wrong – nor does it mean you’re wrong and they’re right. But speaking with people – attempting to see the other side of the story – not necessarily agreeing but accepting – these are such important things to take on board. Having a rant on social media is so easy – probably too easy. You can even do it behind a veil of anonymity if you choose. And then it’s very easy to respond and how many posts have we seen with dozens of comments ranting and raving at each other. Stop. Take a breath. Try to engage respectfully. And if that’s not an option because the other person is just looking for an argument – well it’s also okay to say nothing sometimes.
If someone is struggling try asking them to help you…it gives them purpose. I love this so much. It goes back to the not-fixing principle. This is so rarely thought of as an option but the thing you ask that person to help you with could be the one thing that stops them from going down a really bad path that day. You’re not fixing them. You’re giving them a task to do which in turn, will help them think differently about themselves.
How good are those principles? None of this is rocket science as they say. But how often do we miss out on these simple truths in life – and what a difference it would make if we all tried to live by these.
Yesterday, I posted this picture on twitter, saying I was excited to see what was inside. I added #publiclivingroom, #beacamerado and #watchthisspace to the tweet.
So, this is the space you’ve been watching! Why was I excited? Well partly because I’m a bit sad, but mainly because this was our free Public Living Room kit. “What’s a Public Living Room, Dan” I hear you shout. I’m glad you asked! (Is anyone actually still reading this?!) Well, to return to the official Camerados blurb, “What if there was a place you could go on tough days to weather the storm? We call these Public Living Rooms, comfortable places where people look out for each other, human to human. Where it’s okay to be a bit rubbish and folks will be alongside you, listening, chatting and with no expectations.” How amazing does that sound?
So what’s inside the box I hear you ask (that’s good – you are still there!) Have a look at the images below (they’ll go bigger if you click on them) then I’ll explain a bit more:
Games, decorations, flyers, cards, badges, stickers, cushion covers, throws, mugs. A fantastic mix of resources to help us (I mean you!) to set up a Public Living Room. And here’s a few images of what a room could look like:
But what is so special about these public living rooms? Aren’t they just another café? Well basically yes apart from these are usually free. They’re a place to gather, chat, drink tea and eat biscuits. But more than that, they’re a place to be more human. If you’re in any doubt, have a read of this account from a Public Living Room down south that even explains why there’s a Connect 4 game in the box:
Right beside our Public Living Room was a mental health drop-in centre. We met lots of people who were visiting it. If your life consists of short appointments what do you do the rest of the time? One half hour appointment about deeply challenging issues then leaves you 23 and a half hours of that day to walk around with nothing to do but worry before or after that appointment. There was a little fella who looked like McKenzie Crook of The Detectorists, dressed in a cagoule and jogging pants with a strangely expressionless face and he said to us: “I was wandering up this street looking for somewhere to kill myself today, but then I came in here and played Connect 4 with people, had a cuppa and a few custard creams. It was nice. Don’t think I’m gonna go through with it today.” Connect 4 made a difference that day.
Wow. Just wow. Never underestimate the power of the simple things. Tea. Custard Creams. Connect 4. A friendly face. These things that cost next to nothing, actually saved someone’s life.
So let’s work on this together shall we? Alongside each other? Where would you like to see a public living room set up in this community? Indoors or outdoors? Where can we best be of help to you to make that happen? Why not message us today so we can resource you as needed.
When you look at other people in the community – what do you see?
It may seem a strange question, but it’s an important part of community development especially when we take time to focus on the real assets around here – the people. We need to see past any initial reaction and purely focus on the person within. That can be hard especially when we look at the different types of people we might come across and the labels we may attach to them, even subconsciously. But it’s really important. Here’s some categories that came to my mind:
Local (Kemlin); Incomer (New/Recent Resident); Refugee; Scottish; People of Colour; ‘Foreign’.
Local; National; International; BSL; Digital.
Do any of those ring true for you? You may have thought them but have you even said them? Or have they been said to or about you? Some may be said in jest but have you really meant any of them in a less than positive way? Don’t worry – I’m not asking for feedback here! These are all questions for you to think about yourself or to reflect on any things that may have been said to you.
Everyone of these labels that will have been applied to someone locally at one stage in their life can cause people to act and speak differently towards them. Whether positive or negative, they can create a stigma that usually is unhelpful. It can weigh that person down and not make them feel part of the community or alternatively, can create an elite kind of group. Either way it’s not great.
We all have a label that is much more positive to use – our name. It’s how we’ve been addressed since birth and is who we are. That’s not to say we are not any of the things listed above, but they do not define who we are. Every person – yes even you! – was born to change the world and deserves to be seen as the individual that they are. Every person has the right to achieve the potential they were put on this earth to achieve. Whether the time you’ve had up to this point has been positive or negative, it is never too late to achieve that potential – and to help others achieve theirs.
One further question for you. If you’re looking to support someone to move forward, to grow, to achieve their potential – how do you approach that? Essentially, do you see a person or a project? (Okay, sorry, that was actually two questions!) However positive you may have been about the labels we explored above, if you simply see them as a project you can ‘do’, then you might as well have been negative with those labels. Whoever they are – whatever the journey they need to go on – they are still a person. Our role in supporting them is to do just that – support them. Have a look at this quote from my friend Maff Potts, who heads up a fantastic organisation called Camerados.
This is a perfect summary of how I see my role. But to be honest – I do struggle with this because I’m a fixer! I love to sort things. But I have learned over the years – and especially over this last year – that this doesn’t really help – not in the situation we’re in just now. I came across the use of the word ‘alongsider’ last year and it’s perfect. I have worked in this way before and I do love it. It is perfect again for what I do and how I want to encourage you to do as well. Come alongside people – just as they are and as who they are. Step out among the people who you might not even naturally go towards. Hey, you might be pleasantly surprised. And next time you’re walking around the area, don’t just see things – observe. Truly look at what you see. Look beyond the labels and see the people that live here. Everyone has a part to play in the development of our community and I look forward to more opportunities to play my part.