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How to Love a Community

Just under a year ago, God put a desire in the hearts of a group of us to invest in our community. We didn’t know what that looked like, but knew we wanted to start a Connect Group that focused on our immediate neighbourhoods and the surrounding area. We would be based in Earlsfield and therefore called the group Connect: Earlsfield.

We have dreamed big – imagining what it would be like if London saw Earlsfield and the surrounding areas as the friendliest around. Not a happy-go-lucky friendliness but one based on a community that really cares for each other. We knew we would be unlikely to achieve this by standing at the station and telling passers by they looked nice; or by distributing flyers with ‘10 tips on how to be a better neighbour’! Our aim would be to change things by example.

We decided to start with our attitude towards our own neighbours. This came in the form of small and larger challenges which, in my opinion at least, became easier the more we tried. For some, just saying ‘hi’ to their neighbour was the step they needed to take, that would result in longer conversations down the line; for example chatting to the guy in the courtyard fixing his bike. Others have invited neighbours over for cake or drinks. One group member found themselves annoyed by their neighbours’ noise and smoking but after helping the neighbour one day found their attitude had changed. A small gesture and some time talking resulted in many more opportunities to speak to and even visit this neighbour.

Pip and I took on the challenge to know each of our immediate neighbours by name and have invited them for drinks and braais (South African for barbecues, BTW). Although we’ve had some breakthroughs, it’s still clear that we live in London where people are suspicious and tend to keep to themselves.

Still, we felt challenged to keep trying, with even with the smallest of actions. This translated into taking flowers to our elderly neighbour on Mother’s Day and to another when we heard they were having a tough time. It was interesting to see their reactions to the gifts but we pray it showed something different and eventually breaks down walls. Another avenue for interaction has been our garden, where we teamed up with one of our neighbours to remove a big tip-full of rubbish one Saturday – any chance for interaction has been a blessing. We have begun to see some relationships forming. We have been invited by one couple to their birthday drinks and were joined by them for some swimming training recently. We’re sure this can happen with our other neighbours too.

It’s been encouraging to see discussions in our group develop to begin focusing wider than our direct neighbours. One particular discussion about having more headspace for other people stuck with me. A girl in our group challenged us to avoid the express checkout at Sainsbury and instead go to the counter and speak to the assistant. This nudged a few of us to get to know our local flower guy, Aberdin. Some took opportunities to pray with colleagues who were unwell, and see some of them healed as a result; whilst others decided to get to know their cleaners at work.

One particular story  stood out to me. A member of our group got to know a cleaner at work and learned that he had come over to London to learn English but lost all his savings in the first week because his card was stolen. The police enquiry was complicated and so he was without money for a long time. He started cleaning to make do as he didn’t have enough money to head back home. It seemed that his circumstances were genuinely bleak and not just a sob-story. The Connect Group member wanted to help and felt they should offer him some money, which he refused – almost offended to take it. Instead, he jokingly asked that his good work be mentioned to his boss. It was such a simple request, but one which could have been so easy to ignore or forget.

Unsure if anything would come of it, the member decided to email this man’s boss, complimenting his good work. What followed was more than anyone would have expected. The cleaner was given a promotion, which meant more working hours and higher pay. As a result he was able to get a better place to live and now attends English classes. All from one of our Connect Group members obeying a nudge and writing a simple email. Others in our group have been encouraged by this and now greet and speak to their cleaners at work.

A particular area we’d like to work on is our outreach into the community. We have done little bits but we are still trying to find a particular area we can get involved in. Our group has visited a nearby old age home and even sang carols for them last Christmas. We’ve realised that finding something that everyone wants to do or can do is difficult and we have instead decided to allow people space to do their own outreach during a week where we don’t meet together. For one group member this meant trying to get to know people at his local pub. Another member sometimes hosts a tea party at their place for elderly ladies through Contact the Elderly. We hope that these side projects will eventually catch momentum.

One of these other projects we are trying is a free gardening service, which we are offering to houses in our streets. We would provide labour in return for a small donation towards Foodbank.  Unfortunately we haven’t had any requests yet, but have heard from one person who recently moved to Earlsfield who would like to join the project. Hopefully the little bit of summer that is left will still produce some work for us.

We are looking forward to all that God may have in store for us in this Connect Group. We have already learnt so much in the short time we’ve been going, and it has been exciting to look back at the small things that have happened, which have built our faith for even bigger things to happen in our community.

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For more information about Connect: Earlsfield, get in touch with and , or to find out if there are other groups near you, visit our Connect Group page.

Image: Earlsfield Station by Jon Curnow, used under CC

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