VOICES OF LEWISHAM
“What we’ve found is that our older members have really embraced our online content”.
Nick Walsh has been the vicar of St Luke’s and St Mark’s Church in Downham since January 2017.
The pandemic has led to expansion of the drop-in club he runs to help people cope with isolation. He’s found connecting with screen-fatigued young people a particular challenge.
“I run the two congregations of St Luke’s and St Mark’s, as well as The Front Room Club – a drop-in for people who are isolated or at risk of isolation, particularly related to loneliness and mental health, but not exclusively. We’ve been expanding it since I arrived in 2017, opening it extra days and providing extra services, reaching out to more people and trying to build a sense of community and hope for people who live in Downham.
“A big thing that I’ve noticed and I’ve learnt about myself is that I lead and communicate when I see people, face to face. Communicating and upholding relationships within the community has been a big challenge without the normal face to face contact.
“We’ve also found it a big challenge to connect with young people. Lots of organisations work with elderly people who aren’t online. What we’ve found is that our older members have really embraced our online content. It’s the young people that I think have screen fatigue and are overwhelmed by options so are struggling to connect with us like they did before the pandemic. This is quite the reversal of the narrative that you usually hear. “We have a nurse that works for the church and her work has been absolutely central to what we’ve been doing. Her interaction with people has multiplied massively and has brought a wonderful sense of encouragement and resource for us.
She helps people continue to get support for their ongoing health needs, particularly in the first lockdown. A lot of people felt like their ongoing medical condition needs were stopped and needed to be put on hold.
“My faith has really helped me in the last few months. The sense within the Christian faith, and other faiths, that God is with us wherever we are has been huge for me. Technology has really helped too and allowed us to continue to do work in the community through Zoom, YouTube and social media.
“I’ve noticed a lot of community spirit that wasn’t there before. The support we’ve had from grant makers, like the council and housing associations have really helped. The flexibility from funders, the community and the church has helped hugely. And not forgetting my cat!
“I fear that the mental health impact is going to be huge, based around loss of jobs and change of circumstances and loneliness. There’s definitely a concern for any charitable organisation about finance, and long term we’re doing a lot of thinking around sustainability and social enterprise.
We’re aware that the traditional forms of funding for charitable organisations are likely to dry up.
“Another big fear of mine is about the people who aren’t going to come back to the church or the drop-in, for various reasons. We’ve had a couple of members that have sadly died too. The difference when we go back to normal and the people we will miss is a big fear.
“There’s been quite a few positive experiences in the last few months too. From a church perspective, we’ve seen new people join us who may have seen our social media, and feel the need for a new form of support. People have contacted me saying that ‘this pandemic has made me realise that I need community, I need people’. I also had the privilege of baptising someone back in October which is hugely exciting for a church minister.
“From a community perspective, I’ve had people contact and thank us for what we’re doing. We’ve had partnership opportunities with organisations that have been newly formed – the Downham Mutual Aid group started a ‘social supermarket’, which is a locally based project that offers food and goods at a discounted price. It’s a bit different from a food bank, it still meets the needs of people who don’t have enough to eat, but it gives a sense of ownership as people are paying something for the food – they’re amazing there.
“We’ve also started hosting another fantastic organisation out of St Mark’s called Legendary Community Club which has been helping to feed families from the local schools as well as young people in partnership with Youth First.
“My greatest hope for the future is that this year will show us that society needs to change; for people to realise that we need each other, and the importance of kindness; communities looking out for one another and not just being in it for ourselves.”
Nick spoke to us in December 2020.