The art of conversation
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With the rise of social media and text messaging you could be forgiven for thinking that we don’t spend much time actually talking anymore.
My working day is mainly spent in front of a computer screen. I spend a lot of my time using social media, both personally and professionally, and could easily get drawn into the idea that everyone is communicating in this way.
So it was great to get out of the office and meet some ‘real’ people a couple of weeks ago on a trip to the Cotswolds. The first stop on my mini tour was Market Close in Bourton-on-the-Water where I met a group of ladies who meet every Monday morning at the community hub. There was a really friendly welcome for me as I arrived during their regular exercise class and Ann Lattimore, our community connector working from the scheme, told me that the sessions are organised completely by the ladies themselves. After a couple of circuits of the room, singing along to their favourite tunes, it was time for coffee and chat.
It was fascinating to watch just how organised they were – no sooner had the music finished and Rose was putting the kettle on.
Whilst the drinks were being made I took the opportunity to talk to Dorothy – she’s 94-years old and been living at the scheme for over 23 years. She told me how they had all been friends for years and how good it was to be able to get together every week.
Gladys, who lives close by, chipped in: ‘It’s good to get out and spend time with friends, especially if you live on your own.” A sentiment that was echoed by Alice, who also lives in the village, when she told me that she got involved three years ago after her husband passed away. Joyce went on to say: “You’ve got a choice. You can sit in your house and think ‘what if’, or you can get out there and get on with it.” A statement that was greeted with approving nods from the rest of the group.
The conversation then turned to who would be having fish and chips later in the week and how many of them would be going to the bingo and card sessions that are regularly held at Market Close. It was obvious from my short time with the group that this is a thriving, welcoming community who enjoy spending time together.
As the coffee cups were cleared away, Ann told me about a gentleman, John, who lives at the scheme who has a love for gardening - which prompted Doris to announce that she takes the 'Prince Charles approach' to gardening by talking to her plants: if it’s good enough for Prince Charles, it’s definitely good enough for Doris! Whilst I say my goodbyes, Ann disappears to get John so that he can talk to me about his plants.
Admiring the many pots that welcome you to Market Close, I found out a little more about the man responsible for all the hard work. John has lived at Market Close with his wife for the last nine years. He’s always worked outside doing jobs such as farming, tree felling and shed making and because of working in the damp for long periods, developed arthritis in his knees and hips. This didn’t stop him from starting his own gardening business which he made a real success of – until he fell from a ladder causing his arthritis to flair up again.
John now has an artificial knee and hips – meaning that he relies on a mobility scooter to get around. But, in true John fashion, there’s no way that his mobility problems will keep him from tending to his beloved plants.
As we admired the fig plant, sweet peas and Acer John explained that he is a member of the Digger’s Club at Market Close. The community project was helped to get off the ground with a £250 grant from the Barnwood Trust and is kept going with contributions from customers who live at the scheme. John is so proud of his work, and rightly so – it’s such a welcoming sight as you approach the entrance. He said: “I pick up most of the plants when they’re on their last legs; I love the challenge of bringing them back to their full potential and really enjoy seeing the joy they bring to other people.” As we left we could see what an excellent conversation starter the plants are, as John shared his enthusiasm and knowledge with everyone around.
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Next stop was Fisher House where we met six lively ladies who make up a sewing group. They meet every Monday at the community hub in Stow-on-the-Wold to work on various projects whilst putting the world to rights.There's a real buzz of activity around the table, and there’s certainly no shortage of conversation and opinion here.
Ann told me how the group started: “A few of us met on a quilting course. We got on really well and decided that it would be a good idea to set up our own group so we could meet up regularly. Some of the ladies live here at Fisher House but there are a few of us who live in the town and just come in to use the room.”
At the moment they’re working on a community quilt to send over to America. Lynn explained: “The battle of Stow-on-the-Wold took place on 21 March 1646 and was the last major skirmish of the English Civil War. Because of this, Stow has built a relationship with the US town of Appomattox, Virginia where General Lee surrendered his troops at the Battle of Appomattox Court House towards the end of the American Civil War on 9 April, 1865.
They proudly showed off the quilt and explained that they had had a fabulous time at the Stow Cotswold festival that took place on 4 July to coincide with American Independence Day. The quilt proved to be extremely popular, with the group raising money for local charities by getting sponsorship for every single hexagon that make up the quilt.
Over £800 was raised and will go to help the Sue Ryder Hospice at Leckhampton Court, Stow Sure Start children’s centre and Stow disability association.
As I drove back to the office I thought about how much I’d learned and how interesting the day had been, simply by taking the time to meet new people and get involved in their conversations. The few hours that I spent in the Cotswolds proved how valuable it is to be part of a community of like-minded people.
My trip taught me that we need to take a step back every now and then, take the time to look around at what’s going on and get involved.