CUF’ recently published report, Let’s Get Together, reveals our latest research around how being part of a social group can improve a person’s resilience and wellbeing. (If you haven’t seen the report yet, you can read it here).
 
The research involved surveying a range of 22 social groups; those that offer social opportunities and a chance to get involved in an activity, rather than groups that purely provide a service, like a foodbank for example. The resulting report confirms our understanding that being part of a group is helpful for our wellbeing, but also, interestingly, that groups which bring diverse types of people together, often under a shared interest such as a sport, hobby or faith, are valued more highly by the group’s members than those part of demographic groups such as an over 50’s club or an African group.
 
One example of such a group that’s been developed and expanded across the country through CUF’s Together Network is Places of Welcome. This began in CUF’s Birmingham Joint Venture several years ago, as part of the Birmingham Social Inclusion enquiry. The project asked: Is Birmingham a welcoming city? Certainly, for those who are well-connected, well-resourced and with a network of friends, and money to travel to them, Birmingham can feel a welcoming place to move into. Yet for a newcomer to the area who doesn’t have many connections, is less resourced and perhaps doesn’t have English as their first language, Birmingham can be a very isolating place to be, even after living in the area for many years. We know all too well that this isolation and loneliness is a growing and widespread problem. CUF’s Church in Action survey found that, irrespective of the affluence of the area of England in which you live, loneliness remains a significant social problem.
 
Places of Welcome is now a network of Around 150 places across the country
Developed from this work in Birmingham, Places of Welcome began by bringing together existing drop-ins that offered friendship and hospitality to anyone in the city, under one banner, networking the groups together and encouraging other groups and Churches to do similarly. Places of Welcome is now a network of 150 or so places across the country, each run by local community groups who want to make sure that everyone in their area has a place to go for a friendly face, a cup of tea and a conversation if and when they need it. It’s certainly not a new idea to bring people together without an agenda; indeed, Places of Welcome is such a successful concept in part due its simplicity.
 
The primary aim of the Places of Welcome network is that “Every neighbourhood has places where all people feel safe to belong, connect and contribute.” Places of Welcome are open to everyone, regardless of their circumstances or situation, and offer an unconditionally welcoming and accessible place where people actively listen to one another. Whilst every Place of Welcome is different and operates in a different context, each is united around this idea and commits to a set of guiding principles; the key elements of a Place of Welcome which are known as the 5P's. (You can read more about these here.)
 
Perhaps most key to each Place of Welcome is the idea that every person coming to a Place of Welcome is recognised as brining talents, experiences and skills, which they might be willing to share, and which will enrich others. Those who come along to a Place of Welcome are not considered ‘service users’, but as equals; at its best one cannot tell who is a regular volunteer from who is here for their third week. The Places of Welcome ethos embodies CUF’s beliefs around asset based community development, a particular approach to development that uses the skills and capacities of local people to build stronger, more sustainable communities. Those considering running a Place of Welcome are encouraged to consider questions such as: how can people move from being a welcomed visitor to someone who belongs?; how can we recognise people’s skills and talents, so that they can contribute?
 
Places of Welcome is a wonderful example of just one of the ways that the Together Network incubates, develops and spreads ideas, enabling groups locally to begin new work, or connect existing groups with each other, thereby building capacity.