Places of Welcome back for cuppas and company

Published: 15th July 2021

An army of volunteers have remobilised across the Black Country to offer a warm welcome and a cuppa to scores of people in churches and other neighbourhood hubs.

Places of Welcome is a growing network of local community groups providing places where all people feel safe to connect, belong and contribute.

They were forced to close as Covid spread last year with many regulars having to isolate due to their vulnerability. As Places of Welcome reopen across the region in churches, community centres and other buildings – or outdoors – stories of loss and loneliness during the pandemic have mingled with the joy of being together again.

Alongside established Places of Welcome, new ones have sprouted up – some in unlikely settings like The Priory Pharmacy Community Garden in Dudley or at Wolverhampton’s Kingswood Trust outdoor education centre.

Kingswood

Each is offering a weekly haven for people to connect, natter, eat and drink and take part in activities including gardening, and offer advice and support to each other.

New to each venue has been hand sanitisers, check-in desks, extra ventilation and social distancing to ensure the safety of visitors – none of which have stopped people getting back together.

“It’s early days, but people are glad to be back,” says Leslie, who helps run the Place of Welcome at Holy Ascension Church in Lower Farm, Bloxwich, accompanied by her friendly dog Alfie (pictured below).

Alfie

Places of Welcome Coordinator for the Black Country Carrie Blount has been visiting the hubs as they reopen in recent weeks. Recounting attending the Place of Welcome at St Andrew’s Church in West Bromwich, she says: “There was a smiling face and someone to tell me what to do. The tables and chairs were all set out in groups of six, with plenty of space between, but still set close enough to have a good conversation and what great conversations we had! Our conversations ranged from talking about the Eurovision results and the best dramas on TV, sharing information of some of the wonderful craft and art activities that go on locally, to all of the things we had experienced over the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We shared our first experiences of having to wear masks, our ways of coping with the virus, the funny stories that happened with our first attempts at online shopping. We also talked about how we had missed our relatives and missed the giving and receiving of hugs. Over a couple of cups of tea, I spent a lovely hour getting to make some new friends, sharing experiences, and finding out about the local area.”

For those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, reconnecting with others at a Place of Welcome for the first time has been particularly poignant.

Brownhills

The drop-ins have always been important for people who have become isolated. Carrie shares the story of Ron (pictured below), who was referred to Bentley All Ages Activity Centre’s Place of Welcome by his concerned daughter:

“Ron had recently lost his wife to cancer and had become very insular and isolated. He had also lost a daughter to cancer and the daughter seeking support for him had, herself, undergone surgery for cancer and was waiting for the all-clear. The impact on her father had been enormous as he felt he had not protected his family and he could not control what was happening. He had become frail; didn’t leave the house and he too became ill with cancer. 

“Ron came to the Place of Welcome, made friends and spoke openly about his bereavements and his concern about his daughter. He spoke of his feelings and the loneliness he felt since losing his wife. He was happy to begin by attending the Place of Welcome coffee morning but quite quickly joined other social activities and luncheon clubs.

Ron

“As time went on, Ron became more and more confident, becoming one of the larger characters at the centre. So much so, that when we approached him about becoming a befriender he was absolutely delighted.  We put Ron through an online qualification. Ron had never used a computer, so we attached another of our befriending team to him and they navigated the course together. Ron proved to be a very willing student and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Ron has now become the clown of the befriending team and his daughter’s concerns have changed from worry about his health and mental health, to ‘don’t be out too late and behave yourself’. 

“Ron says he has found a life for himself that has allowed his daughter to return to work without concern for him. He greets everyone that comes into the coffee morning and other activities, putting them at their ease, offering a hand of friendship. His skills and service have become invaluable. We are pleased to say, that both his daughter and Ron have now been given the all-clear from cancer.”

Priory

Places of Welcome are sponsored and supported by Transforming Communities Together - formed in 2014 as a joint venture between the Church Urban Fund and the Diocese of Lichfield - which exists to respond effectively to issues of poverty and social justice in the Black Country, Staffordshire and northern Shropshire.

They are found throughout the diocese, including Places of Welcome in Staffordshire and North Shropshire, coordinated by Lesley Bovington, and have also reopened in areas including Rocester, Cannock and Brereton.

A Places of Welcome Buddies scheme is also being piloted in Walsall Borough, offering one-to-one support to community members, helping them attend Places of Welcome and providing company and confidence to try out new things. If you’d like to volunteer, you can learn more here.

Find out more about Places of Welcome – including those in your area – at https://tctogether.org.uk/initiatives/pow


Page last updated: 15th July 2021 4:12 PM