I’ve been asked to tell you about St Ed Connect, and in order to do that I need to mention the Covid-19 volunteer programme, because St Ed Connect was, in a way, a branch of that support.
A team of volunteers was formed; how this happened, I don’t recall, but I know that there was a conversation in early 2020 regarding the advancing pandemic and how St Edmund’s could support our senior parishioners and others who would have to isolate when the time came. Two groups were very quickly set up on ChurchSuite: (i) volunteers willing to give support during lockdown and (ii) senior parishioners who might appreciate support.
We were ready for action and as we went into our first lockdown on 23rd March, two other volunteers and I began to contact all those on our ‘senior’ list to identify the kinds of support that might be required, as well as finding out from the volunteers what kinds of support they might be able to give. We then began to link volunteers to need. Most often this was regular shopping, but another identified need was that of simply being able to talk, and some welcomed the possibility of linking through a telephone conversation with another person at least once a week. Out of this much valued support were born new friendships and strong bonds which, in many cases are ongoing.
As we began our support work, I spoke with one or two volunteers about an idea I’d had regarding a newssheet for our senior parishioners. Many people were feeling imprisoned in their own homes and I thought this might be a way for the group to keep in touch, through sharing their news and stories in print; I hoped it might go some way towards replacing the post-Mass chat outside church or in the cafes of Beckenham High Street, so enjoyed in better times and so missed. I ran the idea past Fr Steve and ‘St Ed Connect’ came into being. It continued for seventeen issues from April 2020 to March 2021, at first appearing weekly and then less often, depending on my receiving sufficient material.
As with many new ideas, there was a slow start, but the project soon began to gather momentum. Most contributions came in by email, but others arrived by post: yes, even handwritten or hand-drawn! There were articles about shops of ‘old’ Beckenham, historical memories of St Edmund’s church, book reviews, excerpts from the autobiography of a certain (now published) parishioner, ’Desert Island Discs’ and jokes-a-plenty (some of these had to be censored by the editor!), as well as some very touching stories of kindnesses received. There were photos of gardens bursting into spring colour early in lockdown, and during winter 2020-21 some snowy scenes in Kelsey Park. D-Day was celebrated with articles of ‘living history’ and family news was shared too.
Most parishioners in our senior group received their St Ed Connect by email via ChurchSuite; it was also sent to the volunteers, many of whom were good enough to print a copy, along with a copy of the Parish Newsletter, and deliver it to those without internet access or technical know-how.
Feedback received by email, telephone call and eventually face-to-face, was always positive. It seemed that St Ed Connect had achieved its aim of helping our seniors stay in touch and finding some enjoyment during a most challenging time in all our lives.