The need for people to keep in touch and support each other is of even greater importance now than in ‘normal times’.

Places of Welcome happen every week in over 440 venues nationwide, run by local community groups who want everyone in their neighbourhood to have a place to go for a friendly face, a cup of tea and a conversation.

However, owing to the Coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on social interaction, Places of Welcome have suspended their operation of face to face meetings so we need to think of other ways to connect people together. The need for people to keep in touch and support each other is of even greater importance now than in ‘normal times’.

Regardless of the organisation that is running it, be it a church, mosque, library or community centre, each Place of Welcome agrees to hold to 5 values

5 Ps
The five values that hold together the Places of Welcome network

Using these values, Places of Welcome Facilitator for the Black Country, Su Parker, has some tips for using technology to keep ‘remote’ Places of Welcome alive and thriving, even when people can’t meet in person.

Place

– which is accessible. There are many different video communications available over the internet that can help connect people together and enable them to talk or have written conversations online / virtually. Some examples include whypay.net, Whats App and Zoom. Of course, all potential participants / guests will need to be notified in advance of how to take part in the meeting and when it is going to take place. It is OK to start small and build it up as more people can be contacted over time (although make sure people give their permission for their email or phone details to be shared with other people). A regular meeting slot is likely to help with getting more people involved and to provide ongoing support

People

– an important principle of Places of Welcome is that everyone can take part. However, it may not be possible to get in touch with some people to tell them about the video meeting whilst others do not have access to the internet or the skills / confidence to use it. In this case, phone conference calls may be a good alternative or phone chains / circles where each person in a chain has one other to contact with the final call being made to the person who started the chain. Again, make sure people agree that their phone number can be shared

Presence

– we need to listen as carefully to each other in the ‘virtual’ world as we do in the real one. However, we need to be mindful that some people may be less comfortable in a large group environment (even if they are not actually face to face) or may feel confused or inhibited by the technology. If possible, try to offer an opportunity for 1 to 1 conversation should the need arise; if somebody is having difficulties being at home or feeling upset or lonely, they may not want to share this with the rest of the group.

Provision

– when inviting people to a online Place of Welcome you could suggest they bring a ‘real’ drink with them whilst they chat. This may make things seem more ‘normal’ and may also help people relax more rather than just staring at a screen! It is also possible to use the video meeting to play games, play music, exercise, do jigsaws and quizzes. You could do a treasure hunt as a group or even cook together!

Participation

– people are participating by just being there. However, people might want to volunteer to take a lead on certain activities such as develop a quiz, share recipes or lead a discussion. This is a great way to help people get to know each other better in a safe environment. Keeping everyone participating in the conversation may be harder remotely, so it is always worth thinking about ideas that get everyone talking, for instance any things that people like or challenges that they face at the moment, to get people talking.

Of course, nothing beats face to face and we will let you know when Places of Welcome are up and running again - www.placesofwelcome.org.uk

If you need any help or advice about phone or video conferencing, there are many blogs online which could help, one that Su Parker has found helpful is https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/free-online-video-call-apps or contact me Su Parker on 07791044311 or su.parker@tctogether.org.uk

*Banner photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash*

An important principle of Places of Welcome is that everyone can take part!