6 months in and still loving bringing people together

‘Come and be a Community Builder’, they said. ‘Go out into the community and make friends with people.’ Well, that was six months ago now for me, and what a rock ‘n roll roller coaster those months have been. I have loved (almost) every moment of it.

Naively, I completely underestimated the amount of learning required. As I understand it, when the concept of Community Builders began in Torbay in 2015 it was a case of ‘having a go’, seeing what worked and what didn’t, and building on the good.

Now, eight years later, the Torbay Community Builders have built up a vast resource of knowledge, information, contacts, and experience. When I arrived in February, I faced this mountain of learning. Occasionally, I get to peep over the top of the mountain, but I still have a long way to go, and the learning continues for all of us every day.

What a privilege to have the opportunity to delve into a community, to be involved with those who have a certain amount of power and those who feel invisible. To reach out to those feeling lonely, lost, or just a little bit wobbly and perhaps experience the joy of helping them find a new community group or connect with new friends.

I am frequently reminded what a struggle life can be, and the numbers seems to increase daily with the numerous national and local crises we are all facing. Yet, what fortitude we witness as people dig deeper within themselves to try to get along without complaining, and we salute those quiet angels who step into the breach and offer a helping hand.

At Torbay Communities we meet a lot of angels who offer their time and energy to help others. I was at Babbacombe Fayre and Paignton Children’s Week where we set up our chrysalis bus, a Pandora’s box full of all sorts of surprises. We set out a mat with a mound of assorted Lego pieces, and a table with various crafts children could partake in free of charge, and watched the magic happen. Both times a lady and her daughter took charge of the craft table and gently assisted the children to create their masterpieces.

Similarly, there are angels who drive our minibuses to ensure that those communities who have lost their commercial bus routes are still able to get about and connect with groups. Others take groups out on day trips to exotic places like Exmouth, Endsleigh, Estonia… Okay, maybe not Estonia, but these trips create happy memories and a topic of conversation which last long after the event.

We are always looking for minibus drivers who could offer a few hours once a week or even now and then. All you need is a clean driving licence with a D1, and even I have one of those. We supply the van, fuel, insurance, and a bus full of happy people. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact our lovely Kelly Bedoyan on 07816 407495 or [email protected] and she can explain more.

There are a raft of volunteering opportunities to get involved in if you have a little spare time. This can often be at least as rewarding for the volunteer as for those who are helped. Lonely? Volunteer! Bored? Volunteer! Feeling you’ve got nothing to offer? Give us a chance to prove you wrong! There are lots of ways to find out more – ring the Helpline on 01803 446022 and say you’d like to volunteer; explore Torbay Together on https://devonconnect.org/torbay to look thought volunteering opportunities; or contact your local Community Builder who you can find on https://devonconnect.org/torbay/community-builders or through the Helpline. We would love to hear from you.

And finally. HOT OFF THE PRESS! In Paignton, there is a new men’s group, MAN TALK, starting on 30th August and each Wednesday morning thereafter, between 10 and 12. It is purely a social drop-in with no agenda, just a chance for men to get together and chat. It will be held in Leon’s Custom Coffee Co. at the end of Littlegate Road, which is the next left after Church Street on the edge of the town centre heading towards Torquay. It is a very cool coffee shop set in an open garage. Check it out here: https://www.customcoffeeco.co.uk/ or ring Jo on 07716 074903 or email [email protected] for more details.