04 / 05 / 21
By Jessica Hazrati
One of my highlights from the Community Dialogue Project was sharing special objects with three participants in a breakout room as part of the link between One Love and Midland Mencap. Everyone can relate to the fact that it can be disorientating to be zoomed through cyberspace into a small discussion group with people you have never met. At the first experience of sharing my “special object” I was a bit nervous – how much would I be comfortable sharing with people I have never met? Would they be interested in what I had to say?
As the F&BF representative I offered to go first and shared a cross necklace that was given to me by my grandma during my confirmation when I was 15, I shared how it represents my faith and values that have been inspired by my family and religion and how during a time of isolation, I find comfort and connection in it – especially as I have not seen my grandma in over a year. After I had spoken, I felt very vulnerable and unsure of what others would think, what unfolded was 20 minutes of warm and enriching conversations.
To my surprise, the role faith had played in my journey and experience of the pandemic was reflected in the experiences of others in my breakout room. Faith had been a solace for everyone – One person shared how their prayer mat had become a physical space of calm and meditation during the lockdown and the ritual of laying it out in their room each day to pray had helped them find peace during the pandemic and supported their mental wellbeing. Another participant shared how they have a shelf in their living room with religious relics that they have meditated on whilst their Church has been shut.
We discussed how our faiths and values have helped us look outwards during this time and to support others in our neighbourhoods. One participant shared that in her Islamic practice, it is a duty to get to know not just the neighbours who live directly next door but to build relationships with 30 neighbours, although this is quite a challenge, the fact that since she had moved to the area 2 years ago she had set out to know each of her neighbours came very handy during the pandemic when local mutual aid was most needed – she didn’t need to start from scratch.
This conversation led to another participant lamenting on the fact that she has not been able to meet with her walking group of female friends, who met socially once a week in the Arboretum. She shared that this group included women from different backgrounds and she loved discussing faith and religious practice with them and looked forward to when they could be reunited. Unfortunately as the Zoom countdown timer ends, you are zoomed back into the wider group. Through the plenary debrief my dialogue partners shared that they had enjoyed the conversation, and once we ended the meeting I thought that was the end of my encounter.
That was until a couple of weeks later when I met online with the group again and to my joy, one of my previous dialogue partners shared that she had been so inspired by our conversation on faith, lockdown and new connections that she had reached out to her walking group and suggested they meet online! It was a challenge at first to support her friends to get online but they have now been meeting weekly and have brought joy and friendship into what can be a quite isolating time.
It’s great to see that our online community dialogue sessions have inspired others to connect with old friends. It shows that it is possible to stay connected and have meaningful conversations and that despite not meeting physically with friends, we can make steps towards addressing isolation during lock down. Another highlight has been that One Love and Midlands Mencap have already made plans to meet in person when the lockdown is over at One Love’s community café.