When you strip away race, and religion, and the colour of your skin, there’s just someone who wants somebody to talk to.

Shahin Ashraf is Head of Global Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide, and a local Councillor in Solihull for the Green Party.  She has taken part in Big Ideas First World War centenary projects including The Last Post Project and The Unremembered. In her Lockdown Lookback, Shahin reflects on the opportunity to build a stronger community:

“What this pandemic has taught us the potential to unlock the key to shared and common values that we all inhabit. In spite of our differences that we have, the bonds that we create with people are the greatest asset that we possess. For me this is the root of happiness: having rich social bonds and meaningful relationships.

During the first lockdown last year “We set up our first local food bank in the local mosque. I went to deliver food to someone’s house, an elderly gentleman called Stan who said he was 100 years old. I remember placing the food by his gate and he came to do the door and said he hadn’t spoken to anyone in three weeks. We talked right then for 45 minutes, and we are still in touch, we speak regularly. When I first spoke to Stan, he drew on his memories of 1945. He talked to me about the practice of caring: we didn’t have much, he said, but what we had, we shared our knowledge, or helped to fix a broken item. Stan has inspired me through his thoughtfulness and wisdom that friendships matter, even if they on the surface look like the unlikeliest of partners.

Across the UK we have seen many communities in isolation and loneliness, we know that isolation is different from loneliness. Loneliness is never a desired trait and lessening these feelings can take a long time. Throughout the lockdown I have got to know many elderly people in my community in a new way. Often, we’ve chatted on the latest soaps or what each of us have had for our supper, and at one time we had discussions on the right way to make a good brew. It really comes down to emotions and storytelling, we may have lived in different ages, come from different cultures but peoples stories are ever so powerful, they create a memory like no other to create a collective narrative, a trust, a history, a bond from a shared and inspirational thought.

It is really simple. At the heart of it, when you strip away race, and religion, and the colour of your skin, there’s just someone who wants somebody to talk to.

There is an opportunity in this crisis to renew our communities, creating new stronger connections. I wouldn’t have got to know Stan and other older people in my community without this crisis. It is breaking down barriers: we are the same, we go through the same things.

This is the opportunity: all we have is each other and by creating stronger communities and deeper and more meaningful relationships, we create a community towards a common purpose, after all is that not the pursuit of happiness that we so desire?”