In this blog Fun Palaces Ambassador for North Wales, Bethan Page, shares her experience of holding online and in-person coffee mornings and offers advice on how she did this, should you want to do the same.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020, my Fun Palaces Ambassador role involved supporting small, socially distanced projects and events in my own community in rural North Powys, through which I met many new people and got to know others better. I saw how doing things together was good for our wellbeing, even when ‘together’ was socially distanced and often far apart. But throughout this time, I was aware that many people felt isolated and were missing contact with the community, their relatives and friends.
One day, the conductor of the local Male Voice Choir told me that she was arranging weekly Zoom gatherings with choir members, and that the focus was on creating opportunities for friends to check in on each other during lockdown. This inspired me! In January 2021, I decided to set up weekly Coffee Mornings by Zoom, to call them ‘Penybontfawr Coffee Morning / Paned Pennant’ and promoted them on local social media.
Early on, many of those who turned up had never met before – simple activities gently encouraged conversation and the gatherings became more informal as the weeks went by. The challenge of ensuring that Welsh speakers and learners could speak the language of their choice was easily solved by arranging two separate 45 minute sessions. The Coffee Mornings never became more than ‘intimate’ in size, (a maximum of 13 people) – this was ideal – my favourites were the ones where the conversation flowed naturally and the feeling of warmth and kindness was palpable.
Almost without me realising what was happening, off-shoots of the Coffee Morning started happening. Someone suggested litter-picking walks while we were chatting, we found ourselves discussing small improvements to our village and put them to the community council, and we invited pupils at the primary school to design signs which we want to print and put up around the village.
When the days got longer and fewer people turned up on Zoom, arranging outdoor coffee mornings seemed like the logical thing to do. The first one was in my garden, then someone else offered to host one, then another – we’re about to hold our third and they are taking place every 2-3 weeks. So far there has been an additional element each time – a plant swap and book exchange, and next time we’re meeting outside Pennant Melangell Church before having our coffee in a local garden.
“Attending the coffee mornings as a carer with one of my clients who has dementia has allowed her to socialise with new people and partake in the sort of events that she loved before dementia changed her way of life”.
I can’t tell whether any of the people who come along feel any less lonely or isolated as a result of coming along, or whether this is even a consideration for any of them, but we’ve all made new friends and got to know each other better. And while members of our community want to host coffee mornings or join in again on Zoom, I’ll be here to support them and to take part.
Bethan Page, Fun Palaces Ambassador North Wales, June 2021.
How to: Arrange Weekly Coffee Mornings on Zoom
1. Having arranged a day of the week and a time, publicise your Coffee Morning on local social media groups, and on your own feed or if you want to make sure it stays small send it to groups of friends. You will need to include a Zoom invitation. There are instructions online for doing this, or ask someone who has done it before. If you’re using a free Zoom account, your coffee morning will only last for 40 minutes.
2. Don’t be dismayed if only one or two people turn up – it’s still an opportunity to chat! Keep on turning up every week at the same time and see how it goes.
3. Continue publicising the coffee morning every week on the day before the event. With the participants’ permission you can take a screenshot of those who were present and share it on social media to encourage others to join you.
4. As more people turn up, make sure people are introduced or have an opportunity to introduce themselves. Think of some gentle ways to encourage people to chat, for example invite everyone to bring an item along that means something to them, which tells a story or is interesting and take turns to say something about them. Otherwise ask if anyone has a recipe, craft technique or hobby that they could share – something that takes no longer than 5 minutes to explain – people will ask questions and ask for the recipe / instructions – it’s a great way to get people chatting! Try and relax, enjoy listening and don’t panic if there are any ‘awkward silences’. Someone will say something and the conversation will get going again.
5. If you want to take a screenshot of everyone present, ask their permission first.
6. Make sure you keep an eye on the time! If you’re on a free version of Zoom, start thanking everyone for coming a few minutes before your 40 minutes are up – it’s disappointing and shocking when the meeting ends abruptly and you haven’t said your goodbyes!