Dance and smile: how virtual social clubs are connecting older and younger neighbours this Christmas

A Lambeth and Southwark charity’s virtual social clubs are bringing together older and younger people this Christmas.

The free Zoom sessions by South London Cares (SLC) range from chair yoga to discos, building friendships in the community to tackle loneliness and isolation.

The clubs have been keeping neighbours in virtual company since March, allowing members dial in straight from their bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms.

Diana Wee who has lived in Streatham Hill for more than 40 years has attended more than 101 SLC social clubs since joining in 2016.

Whilst she’s been keeping busy this year jogging in the park three times a week and sewing dresses for her daughter, she’s missed face-to-face socialising.

GRATEFUL: Diana Wee (right) at South London Cares. Credit: SLC

She said: “I really look forward to the virtual clubs, they help us make friends and relieve any of our stress.

“I was just so grateful when Zoom came in because for the first three weeks of lockdown I was so stressed and emotional seeing the deaths around the world. It’s so good for the community and when it’s lockdown there’s nowhere else for us to go. I don’t like to stare at the TV all the time and to see people and talk to them is such a relief”.

Diana joined Friday’s social club which featured a swing dance class learning 30’s Charleston moves to Christmas classics.

The keen dancer who never misses an episode of Strictly Come Dancing is looking forward to the time when she can meet her new SLC virtual friends in person.

She said: “When we can meet I know we’ll all be so excited! I really am looking forward to it”.

Loneliness lifeline

Since March SLC has run 161 virtual social clubs and introduced an extra 15 this month for its Christmas programme, including film clubs and a New Years Eve Disco.

An SLC impact evaluation with social researcher Renaisi, found that 65% of older neighbours say that The Cares Family is their only form of social activity.

For those who cannot attend the clubs, SLC offers other programmes like its one-to-one telephone friendship scheme and a tech support club to help older neighbours stay connected.

Harry Jenkins, head of programmes at SLC said: “There has been huge demand from our existing network and new members during the pandemic.

“Like everything else this year, it’s been a challenge for everyone to adjust to our new programmes. But when you see younger and older neighbours dancing around their living rooms and smiling during one of our online dance workshops, you know it’s been worth it.

“Even in non-COVID times, it can be very difficult to meet people who aren’t your own age in London: there aren’t many spaces or activities shared by younger and older neighbours.”

‘It’s a two-way street’ intergenerational friendships

SLC reminds us that loneliness doesn’t only impact older people and its programmes also aim to address isolation during the pandemic among younger generations too.

Its impact evaluation with Renaisi found that 97% of younger neighbours say that through SLC programmes they feel more able to appreciate and interact with older people.

Australian freelance lifestyle writer, Serena Coady, joined SLC last year after she moved to London from Canberra.

She attended a range of SLC in-person social clubs before the pandemic hit including a brunch club in Peckham and has joined in on virtual sessions too like life drawing.

The 27-year-old writer was keen to volunteer in the community as she’s fascinated by older neighbours stories and enjoys their company.

She said: “It’s just as much about the volunteers as it is about the older neighbours which I loved, it was mutual.

“From a young perspective I think we all need to remember that we’re all going to be old one day and I think we really need to create a culture where we look after eachother and pay things forward. 

“I think it’s important to be a part of a culture where you contribute and help generations other than your own. I don’t think that life needs to slow down socially when you get older. Other things slow down for multiple reasons but a social life is so critical to wellbeing.”

SLC runs its programmes all year round and is part of the national network of The Cares Family which was set up in 2011. 

You can sign up here to join as a younger neighbour and can sign up as an older neighbour or make a referral for an older neighbour here. 

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