Elevated Exchanges is a meetup that provides a space for local neighbours to connect as a community in the context of themes such as: how to work towards unity in the face of inequality; how to uphold justice both in our own lives and at a community level; and the connection between the transformation of ourselves and our society. Having these discussions helps bring a community closer, which is the aim of the group, guided by the principal of unity and inspired by the values of the Bahá’í. The group activities are open to everyone living locally in the Dollis Hill, Dudenhill, Willesden Green, West Hampstead, and Kilburn wards.
Marta Albright Autran Dourado speaks to Elika Roohi and Soraya Sanatian.
Tell me a little about your initiative. How did you get involved?
Elika: We were already involved with community-building activities before we all went into lockdown. We had a group for 11 to 15 years old, at the Kingsgate Community Centre in Kilburn that would meet weekly, and they would think about questions like ‘What does my community need? What can I do for it?’ And then – this was before Covid – take practical steps to meet those needs, such as litter picking in the park, visiting elderly care homes, or supporting similar gatherings for their younger siblings.
So we were having these same conversations before that now are happening on our Zoom calls, but in person. When we couldn’t meet in person anymore, we realised that there was still a need for people to come together, to meet each other, and to talk about these ideas: how we’re connected to each other, how we can serve each other. So we decided to move online.
Soraya: We were also thinking of what could be our contribution to the community during this time. There were so many amazing efforts with food distribution or delivery of medication. But then we were also thinking about our emotional, mental, spiritual well-being. How can that also be maintained during this time when people are at home, more cut off from family or friends, and how can we enhance that sense of community and cohesiveness, even though we are not really able to be together in person.
You’ve organised quite a few talks on mental health, how did they turn out?
Soraya: During mental health awareness week, we looked at concepts like kindness and explored questions like ‘how does being kind to another person contribute to another person’s mental wellbeing and mental health?’ One of the quotations we looked at was ‘Let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path’. What does that look like in action? Practically, what does it mean to show kindness to every person who’s path you cross? And another quotation was ‘Be sincerely kind not in appearance only’. What does that mean, to be sincerely kind? How would it change our community if we were kind not in appearance, but sincerely? I think these ideas, about our connection to each other, all contribute to mental health.
I think that the fact that you provided an open space to talk and share your feelings about certain ideas already helps so much when it comes to mental health.
Elika: No matter what we are talking about – whether it’s race unity or mental health during lockdown or even the influence of the creative arts on our lives – people who participate in the conversations always come back to the fact that being connected to one another and having a sense of community is so vital.
What do you currently offer residents?
Elika: Outside of our Zoom conversations – which have done a lot to bring people together and form friendships, as well as provide a bit of support during such a challenging period – we also have programmes for the empowerment of junior youth (11-15 years old), the moral and spiritual education of children, and building capacity in youth and adults to contribute individually and collectively to the progress of the neighbourhood. Our hope is that every child, youth and adult feels empowered to make a contribution to the community.
What experience did you gain with the project?
Soraya: I think one thing would be how to have these conversations with people that you’ve never met before. How to take a topic, and how to invite a group of initial strangers who just live in the same area and how to actually be in that space and have a conversation. Find points of commonality and find that unity of vision as well, so that it is not voices that are countering one another or kind of debating. That is not really the environment I think we are planning to promote, but one of seeking truth together, collectively. That doesn’t mean that everyone agrees but it’s an open exploration and if people ask questions and sometimes have different views and opposing views, that is fine and that is what is actually beautiful about it and what ultimately makes it enriching.
Anything that people don’t know about you two?
Elika: A lot of our interactions with people from the Mutual Aid group have been through these Zoom conversations, and I was mentioning before that actually a number of us have been involved with community-building activities even before lockdown, where we were working with youth and different populations to envision the transformation of our communities and movement towards some sort of unity and cohesiveness. I see this group as part of a larger process that is not just a couple of people here, but that is actually connected to a global process of transformation.
Soraya: I don’t know if this is something that people know, but, everything that we do is with this ultimate aim and vision of unity, which is described in the Bahá’í faith. I believe in the oneness of all people and in the oneness of humanity ultimately.
To learn more about the group and get up-to-date information about the meet ups, follow them on Instagram at @elevated.exchanges
Writtent by Marta Albright Autran Dourado
CLITTERHOUSE FARM PROJECT I knew of the Clitterhouse Farm Project, a community garden and café in a corner of the playing fields off Claremont Road, before I moved to the area. But my own life had to take a difficult turn before I felt confident strolling up to an event and asking to volunteer. 2019 was a terrible year for my family, one that saw first my granny and then my young aunt diagnosed with what turned out to be very aggressive terminal cancers. I find that when someone dies, nature can almost feel like a bit of an affront — why is all of this living just going on as normal, as if nothing has happened? But it can also be a huge comfort.
Our small flat has no outdoor space, and not even any usable window sills, and so the garden, and the amazingly welcoming team who run it, offered me an opportunity that I wouldn’t otherwise have had to be around green things that I have seen develop. I only do very basic tasks: planting seeds, weeding, watering, and I’ve just learned how to take cuttings. And yet, I found that even these small acts of tending to plants made me feel that I could help something to grow and live, which did something to counteract the feeling of helplessness that attends seeing loved ones go through cancer treatment and palliative care. The tasks are also meditative in and of themselves, allowing you to enter the state of “flow” that is so rewarding. And if you are ever having a really terrible day, you can go and take it out on the ever-encroaching brambles!
The garden is absolutely beautiful at this time of year, and I encourage you to go up and see it in September. Although the vegetable-growing area is closed to the public because of COVID-19, this year the team built a new wildflower and herb garden that is always open, and is full of flowers. You can bring your own watering can to do some watering from the rain butts, and there will be apple pressing workshops on Saturdays throughout September. You can find out more about the project here, and events tend to be posted on their Twitter feed.
They also recently hosted a day of workshops with Ali Alzein from the group Bees and Refugees. Ali found solace in beekeeping when suffering from PTSD after fleeing Damascus. Ali’s project aims to support refugee mental health and black bee populations by bringing the two together.
Written by Jessica Stacey
Free food falling out of the sky...so why not try launching your own local harvest.
When we talk about mental health, being in harmony with nature brings wonder. Let’s talk about this well known initiative about local fruits harvesting.
Have you noticed food lying about in Brent? Several tons of apples and pears are falling in gardens all over Brent. Sadly, most are thrown away. Local community project Kensal to Kilburn Fruit Harvesters saves between 1 and 1.5 tonnes of fruit every year and donates it to community projects.
The Kensal to Kilburn group is offering to show other areas of Brent how to set up harvesting groups. The season lasts until the end of September, so you will need to respond fast!
It takes about an hour to harvest a tree, using a pole with a hook to shake branches and a tarpaulin below held by four volunteers. People enjoy being outside, meeting others, peeking in at people’s homes and gardens, plus getting closer to nature and where food comes from.
You can see for yourself with a four minute film available online, produced by local photographer Jonathan Goldberg who won an Environmental Video of the Year award.
If you are interested in setting up your own a harvest group, you can contact Michael Stuart for more details : firstname.lastname@example.org