On Sunday 16 February, our Executive Director, Kate Shurety, travelled across London in the middle of Storm Dennis to speak and take part in a unique community event. The Aga Khan Social Welfare Board were holding their 2020 Convention called ‘Listening for Loneliness’. In this blog she shares what she learnt from the experience.
I arrived from the downpour into the beautiful calm of the Ismaili centre in South Kensington as delegates for the Convention were arriving.
Around 100 people from across the Ismaili Muslim community had come from all over the UK to take part in the day. The programme consisted of a series of very active talks and open, often personal, discussions about loneliness including: what it is, and how to recognise it in oneself or in others. We also discussed how to take action to create meaningful connections as a community.
A universal experience
Everyone there was a volunteer of varying ages and from different backgrounds and skill-sets. There were retirees alongside working professionals, all sharing the common desire and commitment to support and work with vulnerable and older people within their community.
“By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and ask each other some difficult questions, we created a real sense of connection in a very short space of time.”
On arrival I was met by Tameeza Henriot, one of the Board members, who introduced me to some other colleagues. They explained how voluntary service is fundamental to their faith, and core to their identity.
And we talked about all our experiences and understanding of loneliness, sharing deeply personal stories. This was led by Yasmin Neky, a counsellor, who presented a session that put everyone in the room on the spot; we turned to our neighbours and examined several questions: What are we feeling when we feel loneliness? What are we thinking when we experience loneliness? What are the situations in which loneliness arises in us?
“It made me think about how necessary it is to take time, patience and compassion to create connection.”
As you would expect, the results were hugely varied, but the common themes around how loneliness can create barriers to connection was immediately visible; feeling angry, left out, wary and unworthy came up as common feelings associated with loneliness. Acknowledging that in a group was a powerful feeling. It created common empathy with how hard it can be for those who experience constant loneliness to reach out. It also made me think about how necessary it is to take time, patience and compassion to create connection.
One of our aims at the Campaign is to support communities and encourage them to provide a place of belonging for people who are lonely or at risk of loneliness. To that end, it was wonderful to be part of such an active, participatory day, although the Social Welfare Board did not need much support and encouragement with their work, as they are already leading the way.
On the tube back to east London, I kept thinking about the people I had only just met. I thought about how, by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and ask each other some difficult questions, we created a real sense of connection in a very short space of time. I’m looking forward to meeting Tameeza again and spending a bit more time in the centre.