Creating Chance Encounters

A blog from our Creative Engagement Producer, Bryony:

Since October 2020, we at Attic have been working with a group of residents at Oaks Court in Morden to co-create a toolkit to bring people together. We began this project in response to a call-out from Clarion Futures in early 2020, asking organisations to develop a resource that could combat isolation in older people.

They hoped for a resource that could create “chance encounters, opportunities for people to interact, chat, make new friends and access support where needed.” Working with our local community to produce creative activities with social purpose is at the heart of what we do at Attic, and so we felt confident that we could rise to this challenge!

But as the unforeseen events of last year began to take hold, leading this project proved to be a unique challenge. But the purpose became all the more important due to the impact of COVID.

The original plan was to run the project through a series of weekly workshops. But we had to find new ways to work, with our expert facilitators Gal Lesham & Will Hudson leading discussions, creative workshops and ideation activities online instead. We also found that the nature of the project naturally shifted due to the isolation experienced by all. Many of the participating residents hadn’t been able to see their children & grandchildren in months. In these circumstances, the prospect of sparking new connections with people felt a quite alien, and less important than treasuring existing connections with friends and family.

And so as world events shifted everyone’s priorities and perspectives, we felt it was important to reflect these changes in the final toolkit. Over 6 months, we worked with a group of residents to decide the content of the Toolkit, make shared decisions about the form and design, and how to ensure it appealed to other Clarion residents.

After months of discussion, imagination and creativity, the final Chance Encounters Toolkit includes:

  • The Chance Encounters Dial: The centre of all creative inspiration! The dial can be used as a table cloth, picnic blanket, wall hanging, a canopy…. However a group chooses to use the dial, it’s there to transform a space and bring people together around it.
  • Monthly Activity Booklet: With a starter activity (Chance Encounter) and follow-up activity (Close Encounter). Each is inspired by the seasons and important associations our group had for each month. These activities invite people into new creative endeavours whilst getting to know each other, fostering more long-standing relationships as the months go by.
  • Conversation Starters: To kick things off, break the ice, and get everyone talking, thinking and sharing ideas!
  • Help Pack: A collection of resources that includes useful tips on creating a safe space, health and safety, risk assessment, event management and networking.
  • Glue, Pens, Seeds, And Other Bits And Bobs: Physical materials to help get activities off the ground straight away.
  • and a Poster Template: To advertise Chance Encounters meetings in each housing scheme or neighbourhood.

At the end of the project, residents reflected on how positive the experience of working together had been, and had actually helped them through lockdown. They considered how ‘building something together” for a future out of lockdown had given them a sense of hope. That taking part in creative workshops had kept boredom at bay and improved their sense of wellbeing, with one person saying, “Once you sort of started, it was very easy to carry on and your mind, you know, your imagination would go all over the place.” Another said, “I’m looking forward to now actually meeting up with people and to be able to use the dial and everything.”

All the residents expressed a sense of achievement. The process of creating the toolkit together (especially online) wasn’t always easy. But one of the biggest takeaways for all participating residents was that “Anything’s possible.”