I F Cwf2 TJ X2

Perry Common forged strength and community during COVID

Before Covid hit the Body, Mind, Spirit Partnership had created a network of communities which host activities and groups across Birmingham including Places of Welcome sessions, exercise groups, tea dances, gardening clubs, work sheds, knitting groups, and many more. These were all face-to-face activities run by the participants and helped to reduce loneliness and build relationships and community.

When the first lockdown was announced on March 20, 2019, all activities had to stop and the many people who had previously attended were at risk of being completely cut off from the communities they had thrived in.

The Body, Mind, Spirit Partnership had to change the way they worked quickly and innovatively and Debbie Tye, community development worker at St Martin’s Perry Common, was one of those to rise to this challenge.

She said: “It was really bad when the pandemic first hit as a lot of people who use our facilities were already isolated, already bereaved, already vulnerable and already on their own. So, saying you can’t come out and see other people anymore was really hard on them. We didn’t want that, so we had to make sure that they all knew that we were here for them and that their community still existed and cared.”

Keeping the contact during the lock down.
Although restricted to her house, Debbie decided that Covid was not going to restrict her community’s spirit. On the first day she collected contact details and, although she had never used it before, she invited the 19 participants who owned a smart phone to join a WhatsApp group to keep them connected. She described it as “a very steep learning curve!”


But she also wanted to make sure that the other 25 people in the community weren’t completely cut off:
“Being a teacher previously I had a garage full of bits and pieces, so I started to make bags up for people which I put in my porch and Ruth, Vicar of St Martin’s, delivered them. By the beginning of April, I had made up and Ruth had delivered bags to everyone so they had stuff to do and felt connected to one another. The idea grew and we had February Feelgood bags, Mindful May, Joyous July bags, Christmas bags, and Easter Bags.

“They contained a newsletter updating what was going on with the pandemic, quizzes, wordsearches, crosswords, silly puzzles, stories, and crafts, gifts and things. On the newsletter I always said, ‘whatever you do make or create, keep, and we’ll display it at the end of lockdown’ thinking it would be a couple of weeks.”

And it is this richness of creativity and endeavour which is currently on display around St Martin’s Church centre today: “…they kept everything that they did, even crosswords and word searches. I wasn’t expecting what we got but it was amazing to see what the community had created and how much talent there was.”

Coffee club

Colin’s virtual coffee club

But it was in finding a way that the community could continue to connect which proved to be one of the most important lifelines during the darkest days of the pandemic.

Debbie went on: “Colin’s virtual coffee club came to be because at Place of Welcome, in person before the pandemic, Colin always used to make the coffees. So, when the WhatsApp group got created the participants said that it should be called Colin’s virtual coffee club.

“We all met every Tuesday online. Everyone would have their phone on at the same time and we would play Dingbats or bingo and have coffee and chat. I even had one lady Dot, who didn’t have WhatsApp but wanted to play bingo so I would have her on the phone and would be passing on the numbers and everybody’s messages so we could all play together. It was hard work keeping up.”

It gave the community a set time in the week to catch up and just be together which was so important, especially for those living alone. It has also had the extraordinary outcome of creating a space where some feel more comfortable. Debbie tells me of Cindy, a lady who has agoraphobia and social anxiety, who was very uncomfortable leaving her house and being around other people before the pandemic. She has come to life in the group on What’sApp as it has given her the space and confidence to join in and she has gained her voice, made friends and become an integral part of the community.

She told Debbie that it is the most contact she has had with other people in her life. Debbie smiles as she reminisces: “She was talking to all these people, she was joking, she was playing Dingbats, but she was still in her safe space so she could enjoy it. She says that if we hadn’t of done this and the group, she just couldn’t have coped with it on her own. To see how she has changed is incredible.”

Cindy has work displayed in the exhibition and made the Main sign with her new wood burning skills. She delivered it in person the day before. Then she amazed everyone by asking if she could have a job for the opening day and came and helped serve food around people.

Debbie smiles again: “She is so happy, and she wants to promote what we do as it has made such a big difference to her. I don’t know if she realises what a journey she has been on.”

The online group has continued even when lockdown rules were relaxed and runs alongside all the in-person activities.

Cindys work
Cindy's lockdown creations

What is open now?

As the lockdown restrictions were relaxed the face-to-face groups have come back into being with a full schedule of participant led activities:

Place of Welcome takes place on a Tuesday morning 10-1 and provides a safe place for anybody to come for free tea, coffee, biscuits and toast. You see people talking, knitting, people sharing a cup of tea and toast. It has become a place of contact for those who live alone or have lost partners.

Image00030 Copy

Wednesday is community garden time from 10-1. The group decide what they want to do based on the needs of the garden. Some weeks it would be pruning bushes, and others weeding or tending to the vegetables. And then at 12 o’clock they share soup which is made for vegetables form the garden when they are available.

On Thursday, they do a range of activities from trips out and Tea Dances to Film clubs and Fun days – see the website for the full range of activities run by the community for the community.
Next month members of the community are starting actives on Fridays which will include St Martin’s Music Mayhem and Baked Potato and Bingo.

When I ask what has changed Debbie replies:

“Our community is stronger than ever as we all helped each other over the past two years. And now, thanks to a typo from the parish vicar during the pandemic on one of the coffee mornings we all say “God morning instead of good morning” to one another. As our vicar says, ‘a God morning is the same as a good morning, but it brings more blessings!’”

Music group

You can visit the exhibition and see the extraordinary lockdown creations on Tuesday 10-1 at:
St Martin’s Social Care Project
140 Witton Lodge Road,
Perry Common,
B23 5AP