The Story of Connectforce Companions
This week, it’s National Storytelling Week.
We thought we’d share a little more about how Connectforce Companions came about, and what we’ve set out to do.
Once upon a time there was a global pandemic. We know, not your average fairy tale, but go with it...
In early 2020, we were all going about our daily lives, with no real thought about what the year ahead would look like.
Eleanor, one of our co-founders, was following the yellow brick road at Leeds Playhouse, whilst another co-founder, Victoria, was singing like a nightingale around the world. The final co-founder had returned home from her adventure in the Middle East and was looking for her next journey.
At this point, our paths had barely crossed.
Then, along with the rest of the world, the COVID-19 outbreak changed our lives beyond recognition.
All theatres were closed overnight, and we were all in lockdown.
Naturally, this threw us into disarray, but it did mean that we suddenly had the one thing that we always felt short of; time.
Wanting to use this time productively and most importantly, to help those who were struggling most in this time, we each took to volunteering at Mealforce. That mission was simple… We peeled, chopped and packaged meals with love for those incredible NHS workers in hospitals during COVID-19.
It was at this time that we met, and came together to do more.
We quickly realised that there was a whole section of society who were spending weeks alone without any social interaction at all.
In fact, according to the ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’, the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6. This can be critical to the wellbeing of an ageing population.
The show must go on
Joining forces with our shared ideas, we set up Connectforce Community CIC. We wanted to create a community to help the often disconnected elderly to stay in touch with friends and family at a time where they couldn’t visit in person.
We set out to provide electronic tablets to care homes for residents to stay connected. By 20th May, we had provided 15 tablets to 4 care homes.
We researched, packaged and delivered so intensely that by 5th August, we had donated 230 devices all over the country. We were proud to know how we had opened up a way for 4500 elderly residents to talk to their families.
It felt like we could go further though, and then we had our double-whammy lightbulb moment.
As trained actors with no idea of when we ourselves may be able to perform again, we too were feeling isolated and underrepresented during the pandemic. A whole industry of talent is just waiting to be able to return to work with little financial or emotional support.
Why not connect the elderly with the arts community to tackle loneliness and social isolation. After all, we’re all trained to be natural and confident communicators.
After a lot of work behind the scenes, we launched a pilot scheme in October 2020, called Connectforce Companions.
The idea was to create a virtual befriending service to pair artists with older people for a weekly chat via one of our tablets. The joy was immeasurable.
Our wonderful volunteers in the arts were able to support the most vulnerable people in our society through their own talents. This not only provided much-needed contact for the elderly person, but also a creative outlet for the volunteer who may also be feeling the effects of loneliness.
We’re not stopping there…
For us, this is merely the start of the story.