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My Chatty Cafe Zoom Experience, by Colin.

Posted on 16 January 2023

I am writing to share my experience of becoming a regular member of the Chatty Cafe Scheme Zoom chats. I think I discovered the scheme around October 2020, obviously that was a unique year and I was scrambling around for activities to combat isolation. More than two years later the special qualities of these Zoom chats still have me tuning in. There is a lovely mix of a few regulars and others who come and go, giving me the chance to “meet” people from different areas of the country, hearing different accents, different stories, getting a glimpse into different lives. The hosting is done with such a light touch that I feel gently included in the conversation without feeling pressured to talk (I am quite a shy person). We talk about anything and everything within the course of a half-hour lunch break and I always leave feeling better about myself and brighter about my day. I don’t work due to disability but I wish more people who work from home knew about these little chats as I imagine that little break of connection could be invaluable during a day and not everyone would have the time to pop out to a coffee shop every day.

The online chats help remind me that we have so much more in common than we have as differences. I join in some online support groups for my disability which are great for sharing very specific tips to our condition, but it’s lovely to be part of something which is more mainstream and be connected by our common humanity, through something as simple as a chat about everyday topics. Perhaps more now than ever, we all need to find community, connection and belonging where we can. For some people there is no substitute for meeting face to face and feeling seen and having a physical place which gets them out the house where they also feel safe and relaxed. Some might feel less comfortable with technology but really treasure a phone call and sharing a laugh and a chance to forget our cares for a little while. Personally I became quite used to using the Zoom technology during lockdowns and I really thrive having that little anchor to my week of knowing I don’t have to go too long without having the opportunity to chat or just relax and be amongst company online. We are so lucky that different strands to the work of the Chatty Cafe Scheme offer all these things. As an introvert and a bookworm I perhaps have less need than most for a lot of social contact, and I do have existing friends I speak to on voice chat, but it’s essential for my wellbeing just getting that minimum quota of connection with the outside world. I am so so grateful to the Chatty Cafe Scheme and it’s backers for making this available not just during lockdown times but continuing as we move into the “new normal” where some people, for whatever reason, might still feel that need for connection and benefit from the offerings that create that little social opportunity each week.

I take an interest in books about either living well solo or combating loneliness and recently enjoyed one called “Love 2.0” by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. The theme of the book is about how there can be a lot of health and emotional and other benefits in smaller moments and forms of connection, which is something I certainly believe in and which seems to align with the Chatty Cafe ethos. A quote I like from the book is “little by little, these mind-expanding moments of positive emotions add up to reshape your life for the better, making you more knowledgeable, more resilient, more socially integrated, and healthier”. The author goes on to say “I’ve since learned to plan my day and week around love and other opportunities to feel good. I also stay open to those impromptu chances to forge meaningful connections with the people at work and in my community, and even with complete strangers”. In their own humble way these Zooms give a way

for me to be amongst company in an online environment where I feel safe, relaxed, and happy. Ideally I’d have quite a few local friends available to meet regularly for coffee, but in practice it can be quite hard firming up a specific time and place. I have had to adjust to my circumstances and the modern world, making use of the new technologies, and also giving more priority to the online friends who are there for me every day – before I used to categorise “online friends” and “real-life friends” differently with the latter being valued more, but now I see both as very valuable connections in their own way. Likewise, I feel a lot of value in being a regular at the Chatty Cafe Zooms – I have learned a lot from people sharing tips and asking for advice with problems where someone else in the group might recommend a resource or a web site, I have felt better emotionally from all the laughs we have had – “laughter is the best medicine”, and I have felt a sense of community from the continuity of regular meetings which got me through the pandemic and continue to make it a lot easier to cope with living alone. Thank you Chatty Cafe Scheme and bless you for all the work you do for us all!

Zoom Chatty Cafes run every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 1pm – 1:30pm. If you would like to join, please email je***@th*****************.uk for the link.